Australian former Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks yesterday said he was a “political scapegoat” and insisted his training in Pakistan and Afghanistan was “very far removed from acts of terrorism.”
In a rare interview, his first public comment since the release of his controversial memoir Guantanamo: My Journey, Hicks hit back at criticism that he deliberately glossed over the events that saw him detained in Cuba.
He also denied that his account deliberately played down the training he received and the extent of his involvement with al-Qaeda, saying the politics of the time had overshadowed real events.
“I was used as a political scapegoat,” Hicks told the Sun-Herald newspaper.
“If I had been treated according to the law no one would ever have heard my name,” he said.
Now in his mid-30s and living in Sydney, Hicks spent five and a half years in the US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay before being convicted by a military commission of providing material support for terrorism.
He said that if he had “actually injured someone, attempted to or even trained to,” he would have been tried in a regular court and made an example of, something which he said “never happened.”
Hicks returned to Australia in April 2007 and spent nine months in prison completing the commission’s sentence before being freed, on condition that he report to police and give no interviews for a year.
Captured in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001 and once dubbed the “Aussie Taliban,” Hicks said he attended “mainstream” military training there and only learned that there were secret al-Qaeda camps once he was in Guantanamo.
“How would a white boy, new to Islam, not understanding local customs or languages, largely uneducated in the ways of the world, get access to such supposedly secret camps planning acts of terror?” Hicks said.
The former farmhand also defended the lack of detail in his book about the training he received in Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying he had edited it out fearing the events were dull.
“I couldn’t imagine the public wanting to wade through pages of anecdotes such as how I learnt to smear mud on my face and camouflage a uniform, or basic map-reading and using compasses,” Hicks said.
“These were situations very far removed from acts of terrorism such as bomb-making, hijacking or targeting civilians.”
Hicks described his decision to convert to Islam in 1999 as an “impulsive,” one born of a desire for “somewhere to belong and to be with people who shared my interest in world affairs” rather than for spiritual reasons.
Hicks is fiercely private and said his years of isolation and brutality left him fearful of human contact.
“Lights, cameras and being the focus of an interview is reminiscent of a Guantanamo interrogation,” he said.
“This is why I chose to write a book.”