One of the most widely publicized controversies in Australia this week involves former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks. Hicks pled guilty to providing material support for terrorism before a military commission at Gitmo as part of a plea bargain and was repatriated to Australia shortly thereafter in 2007. Hicks and his many advocates have been trying to overturn that plea deal ever since.
As part of his public relations campaign, Hicks has published a highly selective memoir that whitewashes his own story and flings smears at American military personnel. (The U.S. government should declassify all documents related to Hicks’s treatment while in custody.) This “autobiography,” if we can call it that, has apparently sold 30,000 copies and Hicks wants to keep his proceeds. Here is where the controversy comes in.
Australian law prevents Hicks, or anyone else, from profiting from a crime. So, the Australian government wants to permanently confiscate Hicks’ royalties. Hicks and his lawyers have responded by claiming that his plea deal was agreed to under duress because of the supposed horrors he faced at Guantanamo. Therefore, his conviction should be voided, in the Australian government’s eyes, and Hicks should get to keep his book’s royalties.
There’s just one problem – in addition to Hicks’s wildly unsubstantiated claims of abuse. There is no material dispute about the facts of Hicks’s time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was clearly a jihadist recruit who sought to fulfill his paramilitary fantasies by training with and fighting for al Qaeda and its allies. You don’t have to take the American government’s word for it, or even rely on the copious record created in Hicks’s case. You can read excerpts of Hicks’s own letters and diary, which he authored many months prior to his detention.
In 2000, for example, Hicks wrote (apparently in hurried English) about the jihadist training he received in Lashkar e Taiba’s (LeT) camps:
Dear family I spent around three months in a muslim military training camp in the mountains. I learnt about weapons such as ballistic missiles, surface to surface and shoulder fired missiles, anti aircraft and anti-tank rockets, rapid fire heavy and light machine guns, pistols, AK47s, mines and explosives. After three months everybody leaves capable and war-ready being able to use all of these weapons capably and responsibly.
Then in May 2001, according to the Australian, Hicks wrote (again, in broken English):
I have told you about the non-Muslims they send a lot of spies here especially to Osama Bin Ladens Arab organisation which is where I am.
One way to get around (the spies) is to direct a letter to Abu Muslim Australia I have met Osama bin Laden about 20 times he is a lovely brother the only reason the West call him the most wanted terrorist is because he got the money to take action.
Im going back again (to afghan) and this time with the Arabs direct to the Arab camps. So I will get to meet him (Osama) again. There is a group of us going.
There are a lot of Muslims who want to meet Osama Bin Laden but after being a Muslim for 16 months I get to meet him.
This is just the beginning of the evidentiary trail in Hicks’s case. The really interesting aspect of Hicks’s stint as a jihadist was how easily he moved from the LeT’s training camps to the company of senior al Qaeda operatives, including even Osama bin Laden. Hicks also had some interesting things to say about the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate’s role in controlling LeT’s operations in Kashmir.
The real story of David Hicks’s life demonstrates just how fluid the terror network is, with one terrorist organization (LeT) spilling into another (al Qaeda). That story, however, is largely lost in the imbroglio over Hicks’s book profits.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.