Written by Jason Leopold, Truthout
To mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison to house “war on terror” detainees captured after 9/11, Truthout will republish a handful of exclusive reports by Jason Leopold about the facility.
This exclusive interview with former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks was originally published on Truthout on February 16, 2011.
David Hicks was the Australian drifter who, years before 9/11, converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammed Dawood and ended up at training camps in Afghanistan the US government claimed was linked to al-Qaeda.
Hicks was picked up at a taxi stand by the Northern Alliance in November 2001 and sold to US forces for about $1,500. Hicks was detainee 002, the second person processed into Guantanamo on January 11, 2002, the day the facility opened. He is one of the small group of detainees who challenged President George W. Bush’s November 13, 2001 executive order authorizing indefinite detention, which led to a landmark 2004 Supreme Court case, Rasul v. Bush, in which the High-Court said detainees have access to federal courts to challenge their imprisonment at Guantanamo.
Hicks spent five-and-a-half years at Guantanamo, where he was tortured physically and psychologically. In 2007, he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of providing material support for terrorism in order to be freed from the prison facility. Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of Guantanamo, told Truthout in an interview that Hicks’ war crimes charge was a “favor” for Australian Prime Minister John Howard from the Bush administration.
In October 2010, he published a memoir, “Guantanamo: My Journey.” The book is unavailable in the United States and is not available for sale on Amazon or other online booksellers to US readers. Last year, the Australian government initiated legal proceedings to try and seize an collect proceeds Hicks received from the publication of his book, alleging he violated the country’s law by profiting from a crime.
This is his first interview Hicks gave following his release from the “least worst place” on earth.
Please click here to read the main story about David Hicks, which includes exclusive interviews with former Guantanamo guards who he interacted with, one of whom was barred from reenlistment in the Army reserves for speaking to Truthout about his experience.
Truthout: Can you describe for me what you felt, emotionally, as you were writing the book and having to relive the torture you were subjected to?
David Hicks: At times I wrote as a third person, as if I was writing a chronological research report as part of my day job. At other times I had moments of vivid clarity. I would stop typing, sit back, and stare into nothing. The smells, sounds, the feeling of actually being there came flooding back as if had been transported to the camps of Guantanamo, clearly remembering what it was like to have actually been there.
TO: Solitary confinement appears to be among the worst of all the terrible experiences prisoners faced at Guantanamo. Can you explain what it does to you in a way that Americans, with no experience of such things, can understand what such isolation, especially with no knowledge of how long it will last, does to a person?
DH: Solitary and indefinite detention are two different things and are devastating when combined. Isolation has a powerful impact on the mind, especially when coupled with incommunicado detention as in GTMO. Everything outside the four walls is quickly forgotten. With no mental stimulation the mind becomes confused and dull. That state of mind is an advantage to interrogators who manipulate every aspect of your environment. They create a new world reality. Time ceases to exist. Talking becomes difficult, so when conversations do take place, you cannot form words or think. Even when hostility is not present such as during a visit with a lawyer or International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visit, coherent sentences become elusive and huge mental blanks become common, as though you are forgetting the very act of speaking. Everything you think and know is dictated by the interrogators. You become fully dependent with a childlike reliance on your captors. They pull you apart and put you back together, dismantling into smaller pieces each time, until you become something different, their creation, when eventually reassembled. Indefinite detention is draining and cruel. Only after five and a half years when I had been promised a date of release did the intense battle with insanity subside, and that I started to feel a little more normal again. I finally had some certainty and felt a glimmer of control return. I began to remember that another world existed and could once again dream about what that world used to feel like. Indefinite detention is draining because you are taken prisoner and thrown into a cage. No reason is given or any relevant information or explanation offered. There are no accusations, no court rooms or judges. Nobody informs “you will be here for X amount of time.” It’s an impossible situation to accept and every minute is spent silently asking and hoping, “this cannot last forever, I will have to be released soon‚”. But when the mind is so desperate, when you are on your last legs, you can’t let go of the thought that you could be released any moment, even if all seems lost and hopeless. In a strange way it is one of those things the mind latches onto for a source of strength, a reason to keep going: false hopes and dreams are better than nothing.
Photo from Walt Jabsco via flickr
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