It’s a tale of two memoirs. John Howard’s Lazarus Rising will be launched in Sydney today by the broadcaster Alan Jones. The former Liberal prime minister is engaged in a media campaign to state his case and sell his book.
Last week, David Hicks’s Guantanamo: My Journey was released by Random House. The Adelaide adventurer – who was detained by the United States for five years at Guantanamo Bay and served a prison sentence in Adelaide after pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism – has not spoken about his book.
Some extracts of Guantanamo: My Journey have appeared in newspapers but there has been no high-profile launch by any of the author’s well-connected supporters. Moreover, Hicks is not scheduled to undertake a book publicity tour. This is in spite of the fact that he maintains: “This is the first time I have had the opportunity to tell my story publicly.”
Since his release from prison, Hicks has had many opportunities to tell his story. As the author makes clear in the final chapter of his memoir, he “had no interest in talking
to the media”.
It seems that Hicks has decided
to write a book and leave it at that. This means that he can state his case without being questioned about his life or his story.
Reading Guantanamo: My Journey, you can see the rationale for such an approach. In the author’s note, Hicks declares that his book will address how he “came to Afghanistan and many other topics truthfully, honestly and in full detail”. It doesn’t. A few paragraphs later the author asserts that he “did not harm anyone”. How would he know?
Hicks became a Muslim before he left on his journey to the subcontinent in 2000. In Pakistan he joined the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET).
As a member of LET, Hicks engaged in military action from the Pakistan side of the Kashmir Line of Control against targets on the Indian side
of the line.
In his memoir, Hicks presents this military action as of no moment.
He writes: “We did not fire upon Indian soldiers or any other people. We only participated in the symbolic exchange of fire. Both sides remained safely housed within their stone bunkers, so we knew we were in no danger of actually hurting anyone … nor was that our intention.”
That is what Hicks asserts in 2010. But it is not what he claimed a decade ago. On August 10, 2000, Hicks wrote to his family in the following terms: “Every night there is an exchange of fire. I get to fire hundreds of rounds … There are not many countries in the world where a tourist … can go to stay with the army and shoot across the border at its enemy – legally.”
Hicks’s family released his correspondence for a documentary by Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean which was titled The President Versus David Hicks and was shown on SBS in March 2004.
In 2000 Hicks was not claiming that that his firing on “the enemy” was in any sense symbolic. In this same correspondence Hicks stated that he had joined the Taliban, praised Islamist beheadings and advocated the overthrow of what he termed “Western Jewish domination”.
In his memoirs, Hicks describes the letters written to his family as “regrettable and embarrassing”. Well, yes. But they give a clear picture of how Hicks thought when he was an active member of the LET before he was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and handed over to US authorities shortly after the Allied invasion in late 2001.
As Sally Neighbour wrote in The Australian last Tuesday, Hicks was “a highly trained and seemingly dedicated al-Qaeda recruit” who undertook “no fewer than four military training courses run by al-Qaeda in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan”.
Yet, despite his promise of full disclosure, Hicks deals with this issue in just over a page and denies that he had heard of al-Qaeda until he arrived in Guantanamo. He also ignores the inconvenient truths about him documented by Leigh Sales in her empirical and balanced book Detainee 002, which was published in 2007.
During his incarceration, Hicks had many vocal supporters among left-wing professionals. They have been quiet following the publication of his memoirs and his apparent refusal to do as he promised and fully account for his terrorist training and his relationship with al-Qaeda.
Guantanamo: My Journey does not explain the reasons for the author’s journey to Guantanamo. In his final chapter, Hicks declares that “no one requires an apology from me” and he blames his plight entirely on the Howard government. It’s called denial.