Hicks plans simple new life
By Garry Linnell
December 01, 2007 06:00am
DAVID Hicks has begun plotting his escape from prison – but that will be the easy part. Once free, the one-time Australian terror supporter may face several months on the run.
On December 29, Australia's most controversial prisoner is due to be escorted from his cell in the maximum-security G Division of South Australia's Yatala prison and led to the front gates.
Waiting beyond them will be a new kind of hell for the 32-year-old former soldier of jihad.
David, please meet your new Goliath; a voracious battalion of media stormtroopers.
Hicks, one of few Australians to have met Osama bin Laden, who trained in al-Qaeda-linked camps and was captured in Afghanistan serving with the Taliban forces, is clinging to the hope that he can remain anonymous and return to a simple, unaffected life in Adelaide.
Like so many of the plans he has made, this one is laced with naivety and almost doomed from the start. Outside those gates will be one of the largest media packs assembled in this country.
Hicks was captured by the Northern Alliance in December 2001 and handed over to the US military for a fee of $1000. But the price on his head will be considerably higher this time around.
Few have seen him since the late 1990s and his features are said to have changed considerably from the several aged and out-of-focus photos now in existence.
Hicks wants to keep it that way.
He has received plenty of advice that his best tactic in handling the approaching storm is to make a statement or have one read on his behalf, let himself be photographed and sate the media's appetite, before departing into obscurity. But Hicks has always had a stubborn streak that, despite many of the changes he has undergone in recent years, remains in force.
And so he, his father, Terry, and lawyer, David McLeod, have begun planning his exit from Yatala.
"He's nervous and anxious," McLeod says. "Nobody knows what he looks like and he wants to be released with a minimum of fuss."
Says Terry of the coming showdown: "They'll want their piece of flesh. But at this stage David doesn't want to make any appearances. He just wants to come home and live a normal life."
No one is willing to talk about the details of just how such a plan can be pulled off. But both the South Australian and Federal police have offered assistance.
"It's a fluid plan and it will have to be flexible," McLeod says.
Sources told The Daily Telegraph this week that Hicks may be secretly transferred in the days leading up to his scheduled release to another prison - possibly to Mobilong, an hour from Adelaide, or the more secluded Port Augusta jail, four hours from Yatala.
Under the deal that saw Hicks return to Australia this year to complete his sentence, he agreed to a gag order preventing him from speaking about his experiences until the end of next March.
While it is likely he will consent to a TV interview after that date (the favoured option is the Nine Network's Ray Martin, a critic of the Australian government's handling of the case), it potentially means Hicks, if he wishes to remain anonymous until then, faces months of pursuit by paparazzi.
But getting Hicks out of prison and hidden from public view is one thing. The bigger task facing Team Hicks will likely be in the months and years to come. So how does a man with such notoriety, whose case divided his country and its politicians, who has been incarcerated for six years (much of it in solitary confinement) and who, by so many accounts, has a naive and uncomplicated view of the world, blend back into a normal life?
"He's going to need time - a lot of time - to assimilate into a normal type of life," McLeod says. "He's been totally institutionalised for almost six years and while Yatala's been the Hilton hotel compared to Guantanamo, he will find it difficult to settle back into a normal life."
There are 26 cells inside Yatala's G Division, a home for the depraved, the notorious, the mad and the overwhelmingly bad. For Hicks, this life is as close to normal as he has experienced in almost a decade.
Each prisoner is secluded and woken about 7am. Breakfast is usually toast and spreads, lunch an array of sandwiches and dinner, normally served late in the afternoon, can range from roasts and casseroles to fish and chips.
A solitary stroll in the exercise yard is supervised by three guards. But that is the only company that David Hicks enjoys. Prisoners never mix with one another.
Inside his self-contained cell, where even the shower nozzles are hidden inside the wall to minimise all potential hanging points, Hicks has been watching TV, reading and studying. Having forsaken Islam during his early years at Guantanamo, he would now like to obtain a degree in either ecology or zoology at Adelaide University.
In his cell is a university entrance examination paper but in recent weeks he has put it aside. The deadline for admissions passed last month and he will not be eligible to enrol until 2009. First he must prove he has reached the required academic standards; still a sizeable task for someone expelled from school at the age of 14, even if he spent much of his time cramming while in Guantanamo.
Hicks has received counselling to assist in coping with his experiences over the past six years - he alleged he was badly mistreated by US guards - but his father believes life in the outside world will pose just as many stressful challenges.
Terry says: "Once he's out of the system it's going to be a shock to him. When he was in Guantanamo he had so much time on his hands. He has less in Yatala and already he's finding it difficult to deal with.
"Having to follow more of a set routine is going to place a lot of pressure on him and I suppose employers will need to be lenient (in regards to) that and understand what he's been through."
According to Terry, several prospective employers have already contacted him indicating they would be willing to give David work following his release from jail.
He won't say what type of jobs they are, but reveals the offers come from supporters of Hicks' argument that he was wrongly captured, wrongly imprisoned and wrongly convicted.
"There's been a few offers," Terry says. "David could do anything. "He's not afraid of anything . . . regardless of how dirty it is."
In a letter to Prime Minister John Howard in early 2005 pleading his case to return to Australia, Hicks wrote: "I like to think of myself as a true-blue Aussie. Australia is in my heart and forever will be.
"I have walked her sandy beaches and rugged coastlines. Been a jackeroo in the northern bush and shorn sheep in the south.
"Its memories and character live on inside me."
But one thing Terry says his son will not be doing following his release is requesting a new passport and heading back overseas. He pauses for a moment when asked about this. With just a trace of irony in his gravelly voice, Terry adds: "I think David has done enough travelling."