Today marks five years without a day in court for David Hicks, one of the first 20 detainees transferred on Jan. 11, 2002 — shackled, blindfolded, and wearing orange prison jumpsuits — from Afghanistan to the prison camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Like most of the 395 detainees who remain at Guantanamo, Hicks, a 31-year-old Australian, languishes in solitary confinement, spending 23 hours a day in his concrete cell.
In the past five years, more than 750 men, ranging in age from 10 to 80, have been rounded up in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo, where critics say, they have endured mistreatment tantamount to torture — isolation, sleep deprivation, stress positions, hooding, stripping, no Korans or any reading materials — and denied legal rights normally afforded terrorism suspects. Dozens of detainees went on hunger strikes. Three committed suicide.
FBI agents detailed to Guantanamo witnessed some mistreatment, as described in more than 200 pages of documents obtained last week by the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act request. Detainees underwent interrogations in rooms either very cold or very hot and were observed in dark rooms with exposure to extremely loud rock music and strobe lights.
"I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor; with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours, or more," wrote one agent in a 2004 report.
One detainee was seen almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of his own pulled out hair next to him, another with a full beard had his head covered in duct tape, according to the documents.
Hicks claims he was beaten before, during and after his interrogations, and that he was drugged and deprived of sleep. His open-ended captivity is an ongoing cause for public protest in Australia, where rallies press the government to demand his return. Prime Minister John Howard says he discussed the case again with President Bush yesterday.
"Our position on David Hicks is we want him tried as soon as possible," Howard told reporters in Sydney. "We are unhappy that that he's been held so long without trial."
After 30 months in Guantanamo, Hicks became one of only 10 detainees the U.S. military has actually brought charges against — accusing him of conspiracy, attempted murder, aiding the enemy for allegedly training with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and taking up arms with al Qaeda and the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The charges allege he guarded Taliban tanks at the Kandahar Airport and engaged in combat, along with American John Walker Lindh, near Konduz.
"Their case is weak," says U.S. Marine Major Michael Mori, appointed to defend Hicks in 2003. "There's no valid law of war violation that can be charged against David."
Hicks pleaded not guilty at a military commission hearing in 2004, but the process went on hold after the Supreme Court deemed the procedures unconstitutional. The Pentagon is due to submit new rules to Congress next week and hopes to resume the tribunals later this year. The government says Hicks will be one of the first detainees charged again and put on trial.
"After five years of litigation, no detainee has had a hearing in court. After five years, the government continues to argue the detainees have no rights," says attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, who represents a number of detainees.