David Hicks received a standing ovation at his first public appearance, at the Sydney Writers Festival today.
Hicks is the Australian who was branded a terrorist by the US Government and spent five and a half years in Guantanamo Bay, after he was captured in Afghanistan in 2001,Â and sold to the Americans.
Hicks was being interviewed by journalist Donna Mulhearn following the publication of his book Guantanamo : My Journey about his experiences as a freedom fighter and then enemy of the United States.
The audience of 900 were people of all ages, most of whom clapped during his talk and gave him a standing ovation at the end.
At times, the quietly-spoken Hicks found it difficult to recount some of his experiences of torture inside Guantanamo.
During the interview, Hicks repeated his assertion that not only was he not fighting for al-Qaeda but had not even heard of the terrorist group until his American interrogators mentioned the name.
Hicks, who grew up in Adelaide and was a high school drop-out, said he had converted to Islam to gain a sense of belonging. He travelled to Kosovo and Kashmir to help suffering civilians after he had worked in Japan as a horse trainer.
While he trained in Afghanistan, it was not at a terrorist camp, Hicks said.
“There weren’t al-Qaeda training camps where I was. I spent only a small amount of time in Afghanistan but the media made it out to be the main part of my story,” Hicks said.
“I never hurt anyone, I never intended to hurt anyone. I condemn terror. I was over there to help people.”
He admitted that what he did would seem strange to most people.
His father Terry Hicks, who campaigned for the Australian Government to intervene and have him released, also received a standing ovation and was by his son’s side as David Hicks autographed copies of his book.
After being released from Guantanamo and returned to Australia, he had to serve nine months in an Adelaide prison before being released December 2007. But Hicks, who has married, is still receiving therapy for his physical and psychological scars.
The book signing at the end of his talk took more than an hour as hundreds of people queued patiently to shake his hand and pass on their good wishes.
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