The Letter That Never Arrived
David Hicks predicts his future in 2004, in a never-before-published letter to his father, Terry. Article by Natalie O’Brien.
DAVID HICKS was desperate, lonely and scared he would never get out of Guantanamo Bay unless he confessed to crimes he did not commit. The Americans were playing mind games with him. He was forced to make decisions about his future while chained to the floor of a cell. He was coerced into signing a ”plea guilty” form with ”al Qaida written all over it” in the belief it would be his ticket home.
Despite his predicament, Hicks believed he had a friend in Guantanamo – a guard named Albert Melise. It was to him, in April 2004, Hicks entrusted a long, handwritten letter to his father, Terry, in the hope it would get to him uncensored and reveal publicly the pressure he was under to falsely confess to war crimes.
But Terry Hicks never received the letter. Melise, believing it was too risky to send, kept it.
Now, seven years later, that never-before-seen letter has surfaced as Hicks prepares for his first day in court. He is defending an action by the federal government to seize, as proceeds of crime, the royalties from his book Guantanamo: My Journey.
Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 by the Northern Alliance and handed over to US forces before being sent to Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant. He was a confessed terrorism supporter who received military training in Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden. He says he now deeply regrets those decisions.
Three years later he was charged with conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy. He was committed to face trial before a military commission. Before any trial could proceed, the military commission system was declared unlawful. With a new commission set up, in early 2007, Hicks faced fresh charges and was committed to face trial.
But in March 2007 he struck a bargain and pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism in the new commission, which was later disbanded by the US President, Barack Obama, who said it did not establish a legitimate legal framework.
Under the deal, Hicks was sent back to Australia in May that year to serve nine months’ jail in Adelaide, gagged from speaking to the media for a year – effectively banning him from speaking until after the federal election in 2007.
Just what was going on behind the scenes during that time is clear from the letter that Melise – who has since left the military – gave to US journalist Jason Leopold from the publication Truthout during an interview about Guantanamo Bay this year.
Melise revealed the existence of the letter and said he never posted it because ”I was worried that if someone found out I mailed it, I would have been arrested”.
The candid six-page letter documents the psychological torture of Hicks and how he eventually buckled under the pressure, saying he was ”weak”.
Melise has backed up Hicks’s claims of being mentally tortured. He told Leopold that Hicks’s physical torture had stopped by the time he arrived at Camp Echo but not the pyschological torture.
”He cut deals so [the torture] would stop,” Melise said. ”David is one of those people who was easily manipulated [into making false confessions]. He was an easy target for the interrogators. They knew they could break him mentally and physically, and they did.”
The letter begins with an acknowledgement of how Hicks believed Melise (whom he doesn’t name in the letter) helped him stay sane.
”If you receive this letter it is due to the goodness of somebody who I now feel I owe my life too. This letter is very important because it’s the first and probably only time I will be able to tell you the truth of my situation.
”Before I start I want you to know that the negative things I am going to say about people has nothing to do with the MP’s that are watching me. Some of them are marvellous people who have taken risks to help improve my day to day living. It’s because of such people that I have kept my sanity and still have some strenght left.
”In the early days before I made it to Cuba I received some harsh treatment in transportation including mild beatings (about 4). One lasted for 10 hours I went to camp x-ray, camp delta and now Im in camp echo. I have allways cooperated with interrogaters. For two years they had control of my life in the camps. If you talk and just agree with what their saying they give you real food, books and other special privileges. If not they can make your life hell. Im [sic] angry these days at myself for being so weak during these last two years. But I’ve always been so desperate to get out and to try to live the best I can while I am here.”
Hicks describes how, the year before, in 2003, the Americans asked him to sign a form, saying that if he did he would be moved to a better place and then within months he would be sent home.
”The form was a plea guilty form. It had al Qaida written all over it. It was a very bad form. Being so desperate (and weak) I didn’t care. I just signed it,’‘ Hicks wrote.
But he wrote that, after he signed, he realised it was a test to see how desperate he was. Hicks wrote that they did the same thing to a lot of the detainees at Gitmo but the British detainees who had refused to sign the forms had been sent home.
”They had done the same as me or more and yet I remain. They continue to keep me living in desperate conditions so I’ll make desperate decisions. Because I’ve signed once before they’re confident that I’ll sign again, if I suffer long enough.”
At first Hicks describes how they wanted him to plead guilty to being part of al-Qaeda and to do 10 years’ prison. Then, he writes, they changed their tune, dropping the charges of terrorism and conspiracy, instead trying to convince him to plead guilty to ”aiding the enemy and attempted murder meaning I went to the front lines bearing arms but didn’t have the opportunity to use them. Al Qaida name is still in the charge.”
Hicks writes that they are trying to bribe him with ”small bullshit things” to sign the new forms.
”On the other hand their saying don’t try to fight us in court. Just sign the form. If I sign the form I can go first (quickly) but if I decided to fight them I’ll be pushed down the list, maybe about 2 years. I am writing this in April. They say by signing it I will probably start hearings in May. If I don’t sign it they are going to further threaten me.
I think their next step will be to put me in camp 5. A very bad place with complete isolation. They know this is my worst nightmare. If I end up there I will probably lose my sanity or crack and sign their bullshit forms. Thats what they want.
Thier [sic] next threats after this will be to accuse me of outrageous crimes. Being a member of al Qaida, conspiracy with them such as preparing to kill hundreds of civilians etc. They may even go public with it. I believe they are playing a game of bluff with me. They don’t want to take me to court because surely they know they won’t get away with such nonsense. But they have brain washed me into thinking that they can get away with whatever they want. Maybe they can?”
Hicks tells his father he wants to research and choose his own lawyers and he ”should not be made to make major decisions while being chained to the floor which is how I always am when speaking to lawyers”.
In the letter, Hicks talks about how he was being pressured to drop his Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny.
”The American lawyers are telling me that Steve is not capable of this job and I should get rid of him and take a new Australian lawyer that they choose for me.”
Stephen Kenny confirmed to The Sun-Herald last week that the US lawyers told him the Australian government would not negotiate while he was on the team. ”I was told it was political,” Kenny said.
Hicks writes that if he makes a deal it will be against his will and says that he if tries to fight them it will be hard for him.
”And no matter what they accuse me of you know that I haven’t committed crimes. But I was a soldier. No different to the guards around me …
”As you can see dad, I feel really alone and I’m scared of being f—ed over by the government. It makes me angry how they lie and get away with it. I feel that my only chance of justice will come from outside sources such as public awareness of whats happening here behind closed doors. Why is the government being so secretive. What are they ashamed of.”
Hicks finishes the letter by saying he is disappointed in the Australian government and the lack of help it gave to him.
”If I commited a crime I can be man enough to accept the consequences but I shouldn’t have to admit to things I haven’t done or listen to these people falsely accuse me. We can’t let them get away with it. Especially if a shonky court is allowed to prosecute me with false crime. But it seems to be thier intentions. How do we stop it?
I could go on about all the small things that happen.”
Also see “Howard called in US favour to charge Hicks”, Natalie O’Brien.