David Hicks appeared at the Sydney Writers' Festival to discuss his autobiography Guantanamo: My Journey. And along for the ride was an audience of 900 credulous fools, who gave him a standing ovation and queued at a book signing afterwards.
During his rare public presentation, Hicks proclaimed the purity of his intentions. The festival program provided no opportunity for challenges that might test the plausibility of his claims. To cap it off, the session was chaired in the finest echo-chamber style by none other than former Iraq War human shield Donna Mulhearn. The organisers couldn't have put together a more ideologically slanted event if they tried.
For those who have an interest in the facts rather than a self-serving rewrite of history, a quick reprise of Hicks's past is in order.
His latter day effort to portray himself as some sort of harmless, hapless dilettante is belied by letters written in his own hand. In these missives he talks of undergoing weapons training that included ''anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets, rapid-fire heavy and light machineguns, pistols, AK47s, mines and explosives''. His words, not mine.
Hicks's hamfisted dishonesty is on full display when his autobiography presents a bowdlerised version of a foray to the front line between India and Pakistan. Hicks travelled to Kashmir courtesy of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. In his book, he declares: ''We did not fire upon Indian soldiers or any other people. We only participated in the symbolic exchange of fire.''
But in a letter written in August 2000, Hicks described his Kashmiri experience in more robust terms. ''I got to fire hundreds of bullets,'' he crowed. ''Most Muslim countries impose hanging for civilians arming themselves for conflict. There are not many countries in the world where a tourist, according to his visa, can go to stay with the army and shoot across the border at its enemy, legally.''
During his festival appearance at the weekend, Hicks claimed the first time he ever heard the name al-Qaeda was ''from the lips of an interrogator in Guantanamo Bay''. But once again, he is busted by those pesky notes he penned to his family.
In a May 2001 missive he wrote: ''By the way I have met Osama bin Laden 20 times now, lovely brother, everything for the cause of Islam. The only reason the West calls him the most wanted Muslim is because he's got the money to take action.''
And of course, Hicks's epistolary boastfulness comports with the view held by the Australian intelligence community. During Senate estimates hearings in May 2002, the former ASIO director Dennis Richardson said that ''certainly Mr Hicks has received extensive al-Qaeda training''.
It is easy to establish that David Hicks is a fraud. Far more perplexing is why purportedly intelligent people have become so morally unhinged that they see him as worthy of applause.
Equally puzzling is why any of the festival's sponsors would want to be associated with such an event. One would think that the Plain English Foundation would be repulsed by his doublespeak and deceit.
And then there are the NSW and Australian governments, which misused taxpayer dollars to provide a platform for it.
This is not about freedom of speech. I will defend Hicks's right to stand on whatever street corner he chooses to tell whatever lies he wishes, but I don't want my tax dollars to pay for it.
Some audience members may take the view that whatever Hicks's crimes, being held for so long without charge in Guantanamo Bay was unjustifiable. But this is a war, and in wartime it is entirely justifiable to detain enemy combatants until the conclusion of hostilities. We're not even talking about legitimate POWs, but rather illegal combatants who don't enjoy the protection of the laws of war because they themselves routinely violate them.
What the writers' festival audience seemed to ignore is that al-Qaeda would just as soon cut off their heads as look at them. The novelist Martin Amis put it well on BBC TV's Q&A when he described the phenomenon of Western lefties making common cause with Muslim radicals: ''People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.''
The eagerness of this naive crowd to excuse the jihadi transgressions of David Hicks is, quite simply, masochism in the service of sadism.