How Did a Kangaroo Skinner Get to Guantanamo?
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
For more on David Hicks, we turn now to Sydney, Australia, and to Leigh Sales, who is the national security correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and author of the book, "Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks." Welcome to the program...
Ms. LEIGH SALES (National Security Correspondent, Australian Broadcasting Company): Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: ...Leigh Sales. And first, do we have any sense of how influential, how high up, or how low down in the scheme of al-Qaida David Hicks was?
Ms. SALES: There's now this suggestion that David Hicks was one of the worst of the worst, that he's a Khalid Sheik Mohammed-type figure. Even people who were involved in the prosecution side of Hicks' case say that he was simply a foot soldier; somebody who had trained with al-Qaida, but who had not, at any point, signed up to any, sort of, mission. He's actually considered to be a fairly simple person. He doesn't have a high level of education. And the people that I know that have seen the evidence against him say that, quite frankly, he was just not smart enough to be somebody who was ever going to be involved in any level of strategic planning for al-Qaida.
SIEGEL: Sounds like a young man who was hanging around bars in Australia and doing some rather unskilled jobs, and undergoes some moment of conversion. What was this? Do we know what turned him into a, first of all, a Muslim, and secondly, rather radical Islamist?
Ms. SALES: We don't know exactly what the moment was, why he turned. But certainly, if you look back over his life, there's a clear journey that he's been on where he's slipped deeper and deeper into involvement with Islamic fundamentalism. His colleagues, who used to work with him - he had a series of factory jobs, and he was a kangaroo skinner for a while, a farm hand. His colleagues say that he suffered a little bit from short man syndrome. He's a 5-foot-4 guy. And they said he was always trying to convince you that he was a bigger guy.
And so he was drawn to things that tended to set him apart from all of his mates. And so, he went off to Kosovo when the war was going on there, and signed himself up with KLA that basically the war was over immediately. And that gave him his first brush with Islam. He then returned to Australia, and ended up deciding to go overseas again. Once he came back to Australia, he actually started attending a Mosque. And then, he ended up deciding he was going to go to Pakistan and study there. And he got more and more deeply involved.
SIEGEL: Now, I gather, in Australia, a very large majority of the public believes that Hicks should be returned home, to Australia, from Guantanamo Bay. And...
Ms. SALES: They do now, but this is a very recent development. And most of the five years, most Australians haven't being interested in Hicks. People have barely paid attention to the Hicks' case until very recently. And there seemed to be a tipping point when he reached the five-year anniversary of his arrival at Guantanamo Bay. At all of a sudden, the public here began to pay attention. And in Australia, we have this traditional sense of a fair go, and it seems that Australian's sense of a fair go for David Hicks has been offended.
The public, generally, does not have very much sympathy for David Hicks himself. People feel, you know, you made your bed, and now you can lie in it. Its people have found it difficult to separate the issue of what he has done and the process. And it's only - as I said - very recently that people have begun to make a distinction on those two things.
SIEGEL: Well, Leigh Sales, thank you very much for talking with us...
Ms. SALES: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: ...about David Hicks. Leigh Sales of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is the author of the book, "Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks." She spoke to us from Sydney.