EARLY on Thursday, news arrived in Australia that the US Court of Military Commission Review had “dismissed” the verdict against David Hicks and “vacated” his sentence. Immediately the ABC Radio National’s Breakfastprogram opened its microphone to members of the Hicks fan club.
Hicks had pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism in March 2007. Following this plea bargain, he was released from incarceration at Guantanamo Bay and returned to Australia, where he served part of what remained of his sentence in an Adelaide prison before release.
In bringing down its decision, the Court of Military Commission Review followed a precedent set by the US Court of Appeal in the al-Bahlul case. Put simply, the court found that a charge of providing material support for terrorism could not be backdated to before this specific crime was enacted in legislation.
In David M. Hicks v United States of America, which was decided on February 18, the Court of Military Commission Review also set down a statement of facts. In summary form, it is this. In 1999 Hicks travelled to Pakistan and the following year joined the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba. Following two months of training at an LeT camp in Pakistan, he joined an attack on Indian forces by firing a machinegun at an Indian Army bunker.
In January 2001, Hicks travelled to Afghanistan with LeT’s assistance to attend al-Qa’ida training camps, where he met Osama bin Laden. Hicks returned to Pakistan and was there when al-Qa’ida attacked the US on September 11, 2001. Subsequently, he returned to Afghanistan and joined a group of al-Qa’ida and Taliban fighters near Kandahar airport, where he guarded a Taliban tank. He was captured by the Northern Alliance, which transferred him to US forces. Detention at Guantanamo Bay followed.
RN Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly announced the Court of Military Commission Review’s decision at the start of her program on Thursday. Soon after, Terry Hicks — David’s father — was interviewed on the program. Kelly asked Hicks on two occasions whether the Australian government should now apologise to his son. Each was a leading question.
At the second opportunity, Terry Hicks replied in the affirmative, declaring: “I believe so … they’ve already said that he’s committed no crimes against Australia. Americans have also said he’s committed no crimes against America. So someone has got to say something.”
Kelly did not suggest that David Hicks should apologise for joining LeT, for supporting bin Laden, for firing machinegun bullets at Indian forces on the Indian side of the Kashmir line of control, or for linking up with al-Qa’ida after its murderous terrorist attacks on Americans and foreigners. She also implied that “someone” should pay compensation to Hicks.
Kelly then interviewed Paul Bongiorno, Network Ten’s contributing editor and a columnist for the leftist The Saturday Paper. The Coalition has always regarded Bongiorno as the most left-wing journalist working for a commercial media outlet in the Canberra press gallery. So it’s of little surprise that the ABC, which is a conservative-free zone, has engaged Bongiorno to be a regular commentator on RNBreakfast and 702 ABC Sydney.
Bongiorno soon demonstrated that he, too, was a member of the Hicks fan club. After Kelly asked whether Hicks deserved “an apology from the Australian government”, Bongiorno declared that “David was in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
The clear implication was that Hicks was unlucky to be where he was when handed over to US forces. Not so. As Bongiorno should know, Hicks consciously entered Afghanistan to fight after what the Americans refer to as 9/11.
Bongiorno went on to wonder whether Hicks was “an adventurer” or “an idealist”. The Indian soldiers Hicks fired on in 2000 would tick a “neither of the above” box. They would almost certainly have regarded him as part of the Pakistani enemy that was firing at them.
Then there is Bongiorno’s suggestion that Hicks was some kind of idealist. If Ten’s contributing editor had done his research, he would be aware that Terry Hicks provided some of his son’s letters to the producers of the sympathetic documentaryThe President versus David Hicks, which first aired in 2004.
David Hicks’s letters from Pakistan and Afghanistan, voluntarily provided to the media by his family, present the writer as anything but an idealist. Hicks declared that he was “officially a Taliban member” at a time when Taliban forces were enslaving women. He praised beheadings in a poem that included the verse: “Mohammed’s food you shall be fed / To disagree so off with your head”.
In this same correspondence Hicks boasted that he “got to fire hundreds of rounds” at the Indian Army and added “there are not many countries (like Pakistan) where a tourist … can go to stay with the army and shoot across the border at its enemy, legally”. You can say that again. Hicks also raised the (alleged) “Western-Jewish domination” of the world. He advocated “true Islam” and blamed “the Jews” for preventing Muslims from attaining their full “capability”.
Needless to say, in his soft interview with Kelly, Bongiorno did not mention Hicks’s attempt to kill members of the Indian Army or his apparent endorsement of Islamist beheadings or his evident anti-Semitism. Nor did Bongiorno mention the disturbing revelation in Leigh Sales’s book Detainee 002 that, while in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Hicks involved himself in the practice of “catching mice and stringing them up in his cell”.
With a record like this, members of the Hicks fan club might think it appropriate for Hicks to apologise for what he did and what he wrote when he was voluntarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Clearly Kelly and Bongiorno believe that apologies are owed to, not by, Hicks.
A similar view was recently expressed in Guardian Australia by leftist Jeff Sparrow and endorsed by fellow academic Scott Burchill. It is unlikely that such naivety will receive wide support in the general Australian community.