April 7, 2007
The Canberra Times

At long last he will be free to tell his story, but should we listen?

So the kangaroo skinner, terrorist wannabe Abu Muslim al-Austraili – as he was affectionately known among the terrorist set – may not be gagged after all. What a shame.

David Hicks makes Houdini look lame. Not only has the self-declared supporter of terrorism escaped death and life in prison – he’s going to walk free on New Year’s Eve, in time to party.

By then the US imposed gag will be well and truly loosened. After all, if the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, doesn’t think the Australian Government can enforce it, who can?

We might soon be hearing plenty from David Hicks. But should we listen? Do we really want to hear the self-serving excuses that spill from the lips of a man who is so full of hate and a lust for bloody warfare and mass murder that he went in search of it?

South Australia’s Democrats leader, Sandra Kanck, says there should be ”a little bit more forgiveness in our society” in regard to Hicks. Oh Sandra, gag me with a spoon. On Thursday Kanck announced she wants to recruit Hicks as a candidate for her party. She may well be in luck. On all accounts Hicks seems like a willing recruit – easily drawn to an edgy cause. (And Kanck certainly has a dose of edginess about her. She’s the MP who argued for supplying ecstasy to bushfire victims, to ease their pain.) But there was more to gag about this week. In explaining their anger over the botched political and military treatment of Hicks, GetUp! campaign director Lillian McCombs made a strong case in an ABC TV interview for upholding those ”bedrock” Australian values of the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech and prohibition against torture. But just when this feisty spokesperson seemed to have nailed her argument, she slipped into vaudeville by suggesting that Hicks, after all, ”wasn’t actually accused of hurting anyone”. Hicks did not face a murder charge, that’s true. But to suggest David Hicks wasn’t interested in ”hurting anyone” is profoundly absurd. As a young ”father of two” Hicks deserted his kids when he was about 21 years old and took off in search of adventure. Butchering animals no doubt got blood on his hands, but the stench of death perhaps wasn’t strong enough. He wanted more. The Australian Army wouldn’t have him too dumb. But terrorist groups don’t have entry exams. Just sign up to a militant Sunni Islamist terrorist organisation, such as al-Qaeda; sell your soul to an Allah that condones bloody jihads; promise to devote every effort to the spread of terror and its war on the West and you’re in. Even if you are a hick from Adelaide, with poor Arabic language skills.

There is a lot about David Hicks we don’t know and now never will. Being free to speak does not mean being free to speak the truth. David Hicks may have been stupid in the past but, if nothing else, surely by now he understands the power of his words – the highly prized value of false ”confessions” and the thrilled response he gets when he feigns contrition. You can be assured that any gun-wielding grub, who is capable of training to slaughter ”filthy Western foreigners” (like you and me), can also work out how to spin a line about being sorry. I can already hear the words tumbling out about his misguided ignorance and how he didn’t really support Osama bin Laden’s September 11 attacks.

Why Hicks raced back to Afghanistan to rejoin al-Qaeda after he saw the TV footage of 9/11 will never be known. Why he boasted to his family about seeing Osama bin Laden ”about 20 times” will never be truthfully explained. Nor will he tell us why another Guantanamo Bay detainee said Hicks was ”al-Qaeda’s 24 carat golden boy”.

Why any local bloke would hitch himself to organisations that hate Australians is hard to understand. Hicks won’t dare explain it. Why he was so attracted to regimes like al- Qaeda and the Taliban that rejoice in blowing up, killing and maiming Westerners is a mystery. That the Taliban, which makes a virtue of treating women as trained animals to be whipped and beaten, could hold such appeal to him is enough for me to never want to hear the man speak.

David Hicks is a national embarrassment and should be treated as such. Does he deserve a fair and free trial? Of course. Did he get it? No. But in the end, having become a prison ”pin-up” and fashionable cause celebre he got even better. In nine months he walks free and cold beer will be waiting. David Hicks, the gag-free ”hero”, will then be the subject of a furious media bidding war. I hope he just sticks to Dancing with the Stars.

As for the allegations of torture and mistreatment Hicks made in a statement when arguing his case for British citizenship, he may well have been telling the truth. Or part truths. Again, we’ll never know. While torture of any sort can never ever be justified, nor can the tortuous activities of the terror groups Hicks adopted and supported.

So that leaves us with the issue of free speech. In Australia this is a cherished and precious value, for which we will always fight. But how to balance this fundamental human right against the infiltration of poisonous preaching and blatant lies is becoming increasingly fraught in Australia. David Hicks might be free to speak – just don’t expect truth.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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