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Australian detainee writes of beatings at Guantánamo

Raymond Bonner
IHT
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

LONDON: The first Guantánamo detainee to be formally charged under the new military commission rules, David Hicks, has alleged in a court document filed here that during nearly five years in American custody he has been frequently beaten during interrogations, and that as a result he "cooperated" with his interrogators.

The document said that beatings and other abuse included being thrown on the ground along with other detainees and walked on by soldiers, being stripped naked, having all his body hair shaved, and being subjected to injections. The maltreatment began during interrogations in Afghanistan and continued aboard U.S. Naval ships where he was held before being taken to Guantánamo, in early 2002, according to an affidavit by Hicks that has been filed in support of a request by Hicks for British citizenship. Hicks is Australian; his mother was born in Britain.

A spokesman for the military commission, Commander J.D. Gordon, described Hicks's allegations as "false," and "completely lacking in merit."

At a U.S. military commission hearing scheduled for March 26, Hicks will plead not guilty to the charge of material support for terrorism, his lawyer, Major Michael Mori, said. The initial charges against Hicks, including attempted murder and aiding the enemy, have been dropped.

Major Mori's aggressive representation continues to draw fire from the chief prosecutor of the military commission, Colonel Morris Davis. In an e-mail last week to the judge who oversees the military commissions, Colonel Davis said that Major Mori appears to be in violation of Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits an officer from using "contemptuous language" against the president, vice-president, secretary of defense and other senior officials.

Davis then cited numerous statements by Major Mori on his trips to Australia, which would be considered insulting, rude or disrespectful. A copy of the e-mail, from Colonel Davis to Judge Susan Howard, was provided to the New York Times by a person who supports Major Mori and who likened Davis's attacks to the removal by the Justice Department of several U.S. Attorneys.

Major Mori declined to comment on Colonel Davis's latest criticisms. Earlier this month, after Colonel Davis first voiced disapproval of Major Mori's conduct, Major Mori said that it might force him to withdraw from the case.

In his e-mail, Colonel Davis also expressed concern that "Major Mori's campaign is having a direct impact on an elected government of one of our closest allies in an election year and while they are support us in a war."

Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, of the center-right Liberal Party, was now trailing in the polls, Colonel Davis noted, adding that "David Hicks is a factor."

Commander Gordon, the commission spokesman, declined to discuss Colonel Davis's e-mail.

In Australia, Major Mori is widely credited, by Hicks's supporters and critics, with having changed the public attitude toward Hicks. At the time of his arrest, Hicks was often described in Australia's tabloids as "Australia's Taliban." Now, across the political spectrum, there is pressure on Howard to have Hicks returned to Australia soon.

Major Mori has also been praised by former detainees for his representation.

Hicks said he was picked up by the Northern Alliance, which was fighting with the Americans against the Taliban, and was treated well for two weeks.

"When the U.S. interrogators showed up my treatment changed," Hicks wrote. He said he was interrogated by five Americans, who were dressed in black combat gear and without any insignia. "The U.S. interrogators would question me, and after my responses I would be slapped in the back of the head and told I was lying."

At one point he was forced to sit on a window ledge, and outside there were six American soldiers with their weapons pointed at him, he wrote.

One interrogator, "obviously agitated, took out his pistol and aimed it at me, with his hand shaking violently with rage." It was at this point, "I realized that if I did not cooperate with U.S. interrogators, I might be shot."

He was first taken to the USS Peleliu, which he knew because of announcements over the public address system. Among the detainees was John Walker Lindh, the American who pleaded guilty and is now serving 20 years.

Hicks said he could hear other detainees "screaming in pain" when being interrogated.

He was later transferred to the USS Bataan, where the conditions became "drastically" worse, he asserted. He was fed only a handful of rice or fruit three times a day, and on several occasions, he and other detainees, blindfolded, hooded, and handcuffed were thrown onto helicopters and taken to an unknown location, and put in a large hangar.

They were forced to kneel for 10 hours, during which time "I was hit in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle several times (hard enough to knock me over), slapped in the back of the head, kicked, stepped on, and spat on. I could hear the groans and cries of other detainees."

He was flown back to the ship, and a few days later back to the hangar.

A week or so later, he was flown to Kandahar, where he and other detainees "were forced to lie face down in the mud while solders walked across our backs."

He was stripped, all his body hair shaved, and a piece of "white plastic was forcibly inserted in my rectum for no apparent reason," he wrote. Soldiers make crude comments about the plastic insertion.

A detainee with only one leg, was "set upon" by a special military team and its dogs. He was dragged out of his cell, and there was blood on his fact and the cell floor. "It put me in such fear that I just knew I would 'cooperate' in any way with the U.S."

He said he was also shown a picture of another Australian, Mamdouh Habib, who had been rendered by the United States to Egypt, where he has alleged he was badly tortured.

"In the photo, Habib's face was black and blue," Hicks wrote. "I first thought it was a photo of a corpse." The interrogator told Hicks that if he did not cooperate he would be sent to Egypt "to suffer the same fate," Hicks said in his affidavit.

"This regular brutality left me in a heightened state of fear and anxiety about my own safety," Hicks wrote. "I realized that if I pleased the interrogators I could avoid the physical abuse."

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