David Hicks’s Guantanamo Memoir

Posted in: Book Reviews

Given the hundreds of prisoners who have been released from the military facility at Guantanamo over the more than nine years of the prison’s existence, it shouldn’t be surprising that some number of these former detainees have written memoirs. Ranging from mass-market, English-language books available on Amazon.com to Pashto- and Urdu-language texts published by local presses, these firsthand accounts have given readers a personal glimpse into what goes on behind the notorious prison’s bars.

Books like Moazzam Begg’s Enemy Combatant, Murat Kurnaz’s Five Years of My Life (Fünf Jahre meines Lebens), Abdul Salam Zaeef’s Guantanamo’s Picture (Da Guantanamo Anzoor), and Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost’s The Broken Shackles of Guantanamo (Da Guantanamo Mati Zawlanay) detail interrogation methods, detention conditions, and other practices at the once-secretive facility, which remains closed even now to independent outside scrutiny. Some of the books, according to the BBC, have been best-sellers in the former prisoners’ home countries.

At this point, the Guantanamo memoir might even be described as a distinct literary subgenre, with a common array of set-pieces, characters, and tableaux: the abusive guards, the barking dogs, the beatings, the hunger strikes, the interrogations—“Where is Osama?”—the iguanas, the boredom, the heat.

David Hicks, an Australian who was detained at Guantanamo for five-and-a-half years, is the author of the latest addition to the Guantanamo canon. His book, Guantanamo: My Journey, was published last October to generally favorable reviews.  Some critics said the book elides  the disagreeable aspects of Hicks’ biography, relying on half-truths and selective omissions, but others found it to be a powerful and moving story.

Though the book’s arrival was touted as a “long awaited” publishing event, it was not an enormous best-seller, selling some 30,000 copies to date. What has put it in the public eye in recent weeks has not been the contents of the book itself, but rather the Australian government’s aggressive efforts to confiscate the book’s earnings.

Based on the country’s Proceeds of Crime Act, the Australian prosecutor’s office has pursued an asset-freezing case against Hicks, obtaining a judicially authorized restraining order covering the book’s modest profits in early August.  By the time this column is posted, prosecutors are expected to have asked the court to allow them to seize all the funds that Hicks has earned from the book’s sale.

The Proceeds of Crime

Australia’s Proceeds of Crime Act, passed in 2002, is meant to deprive criminals of the benefits of their criminal conduct.  Besides its obvious targets—stolen goods and other criminally obtained assets—the law extends to funds obtained by telling or publishing a criminal’s story.  In that sense, it is quite similar to United States’ “Son of Sam” laws, which authorize the government to seize any money that criminals may have earned from the sale of their stories of crime.

These laws, in the United States, have a fraught relationship with the First Amendment.  Indeed, in an important 1991 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York’s “Son of Sam” law, finding that the law was overinclusive in its sweep. The Court emphasized the extent to which the law could hinder the publication of valuable works, and noted that even works like The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Confessions of Saint Augustine could be covered.

The free-expression considerations that arise with any use of such laws are even more pressing in the present case.  Hicks’s story, whether or not it has a basis in his own criminal conduct, is very much a story of crime: one of state-sanctioned criminality at Guantanamo. Particularly given the Australian’s government’s own failure to push back against Guantanamo’s abuses, it is extremely troubling that the government would seek, in effect, to punish Hicks’s revelation of information about the prison.

It is far from obvious, moreover, that Hicks should be considered a criminal under the Australian law.  After his capture in Afghanistan, Hicks was held in U.S. custody for several years without trial.  Following the enactment of amended military-commissions legislation in 2006, Hicks was accused of providing material support for terrorism, a charge with a possible life sentence.  In exchange for the guilty plea that he entered in 2007, Hicks received a short sentence, only nine months of which he actually had to serve.

The Australian prosecutor is relying on Hicks’s guilty plea, plus a statement of facts that Hicks signed in connection with the plea, to prove Hicks’s criminal activity.  But a guilty plea entered  in flawed proceedings under conditions of extreme duress should hardly be considered dispositive.

Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, put it simply: “A conviction in an unfair and illegitimate system should not be considered proof of a crime.”

The Proceeds of Crime Redux

A final irony in this case deserves attention.

It is not only Guantanamo’s captives who have recounted their experiences in print.  There are memoirs by soldiers who served there, by chaplains who ministered to detainees, by lawyers who represented clients there, and, inevitably, by the political leaders who created the prison.

Former president George W. Bush and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld have made far more money from the sale of their self-serving and tendentious memoirs—books that brag openly of crimes like water-boarding, a form of torture—than David Hicks will ever make from his. A prosecutor with a better sense of priorities would investigate their crimes long before going after Hicks.

  • David Hicks is an admitted and convicted al Qaeda terrorist who abused U.S> Military Police guards while at Gitmo.  I write about him in my book, “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior”  http://savinggraceatguantanamobay.blogspot.com which was before Hick’s book.  Whether or not Hick’s should receive benefit from his book is up to the Australian justice system, for which I have the utmost confidence.  However, the real culprit here, and in all books written by former detainees, most of whom were at LEAST unlawful combatants, is the profiting from terrorism of the book publishers.  Not only is every move and murder by terrorists publicized, but now major profits can be won for more mayhem and bomb-making through book deals, movies, and legal settlements, like the one the British government awarded to it’s citizens who were former Gitmo detainees.  Lastly, your comments about Gitmo being off-limits and secretive are ill conceived.  The problem with Gitmo is that it was and is too accessible.


    Montgomery J. Granger
    Major (Ret.), Medical Service Corps, U.S. Army Reserve
    Former ranking U.S. Army Medical Department officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group, Joint Task Force 160, U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, February to June 2002, and similar duties in Iraq, 2004-2005

    • The above comment is what one would call BS.  As the above stated that David Hicks abused guard while at Guantanamo is completely false many former guards who knew and dealt with David on a daily basis have confirmed that at no time did he abuse Military Guards. 
      As for the fact Montgomery states he wrote about David in his book this is the only true comment in his whole post.  In his book he states that when David arrived to Guantanamo that he threatened to kill an American soldier before he left there.  This is completely false for a couple reasons.  The first reason being that Montgomery was not even at Guantanamo when David arrived at GTMO which was the day the camp opened January 11, 2002 he did not arrive until approximately 4 – 6 weeks after this day.  Second reason is I am one of the two Military Police Guards that escorted David from when he arrived at GTMO until he was placed in his cage inside Camp X-ray.  Here is a video I made speaking about David Hicks for the launch of The Justice Campaign I answer many of the David Hicks questions in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrNN07qTG7Y
      Montgomery Granger was not a Military Police officer he was not a guard he was not even a medic who worked at the camp he was someone with limited access to the camp and was not here 12 – 16 hrs a day like myself and most other where.  Montgomery goes on to state that publishers are profiting from books by former detainees well I ask him this what is he attempting to do with his book? 
      When it comes to the issue of Guantanamo the fact is the Untied States knew from the day Guantanamo was opened that hundreds of the soon to be detainees where innocent of any charges many where farmers, aid workers etc.  This is something that has been claimed by many people from inside even the Bush administration for many years and now has been even more proven since the release of the wiki leaks file dump on Guantanamo. 
      Guantanamo is one of the biggest disgraces in American history something does have to be done with true terrorism, but the fact is America got it wrong doing it this way.  America lost its moral high ground in torturing and denying many innocent individuals there right to face their charges in a legal manner.
      Brandon Neely

    • Renaissance_Arts_Today

      Do you think all that rhetoric above actually MEANS something?!!?  


      It means you are a trained MONKEY….nothing more and nothing less.  Here is a quote from Kissinger–the man CURRENTLY in a position to make your life a living hell over a simpleton decision YOU make:

      “Military men are NOTHING more than DUMB STUPID ANIMALS USED AS PAWNS for policy….and WAR”

      So you see, all that rabble about what a big bad “major” DUMB STUPID PAWN you are is how we see you.  And I’ll take the words of a ‘guy in charge’ than you.  The reason they are calling you “dumb stupid animals” is because the military is a CULT using NOTHING BUT MIND CONTROL to keep you spouting the rhetoric you do.  They use BAD PATTERNS to disconnect and re-connect your ENTIRE RIGHT BRAIN!  This is the ONLY side of the brain that recognizes truth.  Your left brain lies or “weaves plausible stories.”  In other words–they get your right brain AUTOMATICALLY spouting their rhetoric–then your left-brain logic will have NO CHOICE but to follow.  In order to SEEK TRUTH….you must be willing to drop the “K”—the military cannot take your eyes, or YOUR free will.  Obviously today you are giving them freely to Uncle Sam.  Therefore–no one cares what you think.

  • Anonymous

    “A conviction in an unfair and illegitimate system should not be considered proof of a crime.”

    This pronouncement by Human Rights Watch (from the article) perfectly describes Nuremberg.

    Remember the Nuremberg “Trials?” Nazi war crimes, the Holocaust, and all that. 1948. A long time ago, right? No, they’re still “trying” them.

  • Coming from an uneducated and desperate-for-attention fraternizer of Gitmo detainees, the comments of Brandon Neeley are farcical at best.  Brandon admits in his “testimony” that he fraternized with detainees, and then later hugs a pair of former detainees in a BBC documentary. He also testifies that he witnessed alleged abuse, but did not report it.  In fact, he reported nothing of his own misconduct while a guard at Gitmo, something he was not even trained to do. As for my experiences, I stand by the content of my book, which is a small piece to a big puzzle, which is the enigma we call Gitmo.  I certainly don’t claim the whole truth about Gitmo, but I arrived with and worked within the command group that would run the camp for several critical months in 2002, and visited detainees every day, attended staff meetings every day, toured Camp X-ray for health, safety, and environmental control issues; I lived with and spent a great deal of time with the camp commandant, who was also my Reserve unit commander, helped write operational SOPs, etc.  Brandon had a very limited view of Gitmo, and feels guilty because he never truly understood his role as jailer, not friend, of these unlawful combatants.  “Innocent?”  He’s now judge and jury of unlawful combatants as well.  I am a professional educator, so does that mean I’m “innocent” if I choose to train and fight as an irregular Islamist extremist soldier?  Of course not.  As a veteran of 22 years of service as a U.S. Army Reservist and Citizen Warrior, my book allows the reader to understand and appreciate what it’s like for someone who had to leave family, career, and friends to serve in the Global War on Terror.  Taken from my personal journal and notes, and reviewed by the U.S. Army Reserve Command History Department before publication, my book is an honest story about real events.  Brandon Neeley can say whatever he wants, and spread his disgusting and treasonous ideology far and wide, but we don’t have to listen, those of us who still believe, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) physicians I worked with told me at Gitmo and later in Iraq, that “nobody does detention operations better than the United States of America.”  God bless the USA.

  • Here’s the truth of it.  Nothing justifies the abolishment of the rule of law, nothing, that’s why we have laws.  Prosecute under the law and if the accussed party refuses to speak and you have the proof to convict, then convict and sentence him or her and if that sentence includes the death penalty then apply it.

    When you throw out the rules we are no better than those we seek to punish.  I didn’t participate in this war but I was in the last one and where did that get us.

    A lot of people I knew have the honor of being remembered on that memorial in Washington but to continue with the injustices, by both sides, from that war is to dishonor what they gave the ultimate sacrifice for over 40 years ago.

    I guess it’s true that we will never learn and therfore never change.