This week


In the hysteria that followed the bombing in London last week, two men, Mamdouh Habib and Terry Hicks (father of David, who remains in custody in Guantánamo bay without charge), fronted the media in Sydney.

Both men choked back tears and bowed their heads as they tried to speak at a forum that followed. These were the tears of individuals caught up in the asymmetric ‘war on terror’. Tears that are the same whether, as for Hicks and Habib, they’re about the denial of human rights, or, as they have been elsewhere, for family members killed in London, Fallujah or Madrid.

Thanks to Scratch

Thanks to Scratch

Meanwhile, our leaders were spouting the usual hackneyed and baleful nonsense that has become typical in response to such large-scale attacks on Westerners. Kim Beazley bellowed about terrorists as ‘sub-human filth who must be captured and eliminated’, while John Howard, in the voice of supplication he reserves for these occasions, suggested ‘the depraved character of the people’ was ‘a mark of their utter alienation from the mainstream of any noble thoughts and religious convictions’.

For Mamdouh Habib, noble thoughts were hard to find during his years in captivity at Guantánamo bay. Wishing to escape the torture, he often hoped to die, he told the crowd. ‘They give me injection. I don’t know what, electric shock. Put me in water up to my neck with hand cuff and chains on.’ At one stage Habib suggested the ASIO agents who regularly break into his house move in and live with his family. ‘Perhaps they can help take the kids to school’, he said, adding that he now leaves his car unlocked because it’s cheaper than having the locks fixed each time.

His religious convictions, however, are still with him and he regularly and publicly thanks God for his release — a release Terry Hicks is desperate to secure for his son.

‘David spent the first eighteen months of his captivity in solitary confinement and most of that was in the dark’, he said. And although he doesn’t seek to compare David’s plight with that of Schapelle Corby, he said that the assistance Corby was receiving from the Australian Government, as a convicted drug smuggler, only showed how twisted things have become.

‘My son’, he said, ‘spends twenty-three hours a day in a cage and they let him out for an hour each day to exercise. I don’t know about Corby, but she gives television interviews from her cell.’

Terry Hicks came to Sydney to finally meet with Mamdouh Habib — or ‘Mamdow’ as he inflects his name — and said he was looking forward to ‘having a good long chat’ with the man who shared conversation and a cell with his son.

‘He’s seen more of David than I have in the last three and a half years, so it’ll help me get a sense of how he is’, Hicks said, wearing a Guantánamo bay baseball cap on which was pinned a ‘justice for David’ badge bearing a photo of his son.

Throughout the afternoon there was a great deal of affection between the two men, an understanding that was evident in arms over shoulders as they huddled together, shared cigarettes and talked quietly.

Habib said he felt sorrow at the level of trust David gave to his captors in Guantánamo.

‘He say to me you gotta tell them what they want to hear, you got to tell them everything and then they send you home. He really believe they’re gonna send him home.’

But Terry Hicks despairingly admitted it might be another two years before he sees his son again. Once again his voice broke as he talked of a thirty-minute phone call he had had with David only a week before.

‘It was a terrible call, the phone kept cutting out, which was probably them cutting it whenever David said the wrong thing. He told me that they use my appearances in the media against him. If I say anything bad about the Americans they go tougher on him.’

Amnesty International reports that the number of people now held without charge in the war on terror is estimated at over 70,000. See the full report here.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.