"It has been a long and very painful struggle for me and my family to finally clear my name": Former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. "It has been a long and very painful struggle for me and my family to finally clear my name": Former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Photo: Kate Geraghty
                               
Last week, the Guantanamo Military Commissions vacated the bogus conviction that I have lived with for the past seven and a half years since my release from prison. It has been a long and very painful struggle for me and my family to finally clear my name.
Not only was I convicted of an invented crime in a system that no American citizen would be subjected to (because it doesn't afford fair trial protections, and they actually have rights), but for years I have been the subject of trial by media, unable to defend myself because I was stuck in incommunicado detention at Guantanamo Bay. For years people have put words in my mouth, skewed my story and have never bothered to read the full account detailed in my book.
I have always been open and answered the so-called "tough questions", like why I was in Afghanistan. When I did my first few interviews, I took the advice offered to me (mostly from journalists), who told me I had to get the "hard questions out of the way" so that I could concentrate on the "real issues" in my case. But no matter how many times I comprehensively answered the questions, the same questions were repeated year after year.
Even after the Military Commissions cleared me last week, the same questions are still being asked, mainly what was I doing in Afghanistan? I now believe that those who are asking the question aren't interested in listening to the answer, either because it doesn't suit their agenda, or they don't have the ability to comprehend the complexity of my story or the legal situation.
Many journalists and "social commentators" have written the same material for years, and would have to admit they were wrong – which, let's face it, has rarely happened.
I was left in Guantanamo Bay for five and a half years, unable to communicate with the outside world. Even now, after being cleared, I am still accused of "admitting to training with al-Qaeda", which is untrue. I was suicidal at the time of the plea, and pleaded what is called an Alford plea, which means that I maintained my innocence, but acknowledged that the Military Commissions system was rigged to secure convictions – even military prosecutors have said this. The only other so-called admissions were obtained after I had been subjected to ten-hour beatings, endured broken bones, and guns pointed at my head, was deprived of sleep, injected with psychotropic substances and left in isolation for months.
That's why evidence obtained under torture is never admissible or relied upon, and outlawed in every civilised country in the world. I can only conclude that those who keep asking me the repetitive questions, and keep retelling the same old misinformation, aren't interested in the truth and think that torture is acceptable.
To just focus on why I was in Afghanistan and ignore the crimes committed against us in Guantanamo, seems to be a diversionary tactic to try to prevent people from asking more pressing questions around my case – like why the Australian government sold out one of its own citizens to protect the Bush administration, and why successive Australian governments have refused to independently investigate what happened to me. What really worries me is that because of the careless and blatantly political way my case was handled, it means that others are more likely to be subjected to the same treatment because those involved got away with it.
My struggle for justice was always about clearing my name and exposing what happened so that it never happens to anyone again. It was never about money or I would have sued them years ago. Asking those responsible for keeping me in Guantanamo to help me with my medical costs is hardly asking much considering that it has now been formally recognised that I didn't do anything. The injuries I continue to suffer occurred as a direct result of the Howard government's refusal to bring me back to Australia, when they had the ability to do so.
At the end of the day, I wanted to help the men, women and children of Kashmir who were struggling to defend themselves. I have always acknowledged that I didn't make the best choices as a young man, but I have paid a huge cost for wanting to help others and being a naive kid.
I can sleep well at night knowing that I have never hurt anyone or committed a crime. Those who ordered and carried out my torture, and the politicians involved in covering it up and keeping me in the hell-hole of Guantanamo Bay to protect their political careers, can't do the same thing. I can walk away from this ordeal physically damaged because of the years of torture, but I can still hold my head up high. For what it's worth, I am grateful for that.
Australian David Hicks was detained in Guantanamo Bay for five and a half years and now works at a Sydney landscaping company.