DAVID Hicks woke on a concrete slab with the sun in his face. Then he saw cyclone fencing and it took him back to Australia and his childhood in suburban Adelaide. His primary school had it as a boundary fence. Except now he was in a cage at the Guantanamo Bay US military prison in Cuba as a suspected terrorist.
X-Ray was a rudimentary, brutal jail. It was January 2002. His cage there was ''three steps wide by three steps long''. He had two buckets. He had a foam mat and a sheet and towel. Shampoo smelled like ''industrial cleaner'', the toothpaste tube oozed ''a white, smelly liquid''.
He could only sit or lie in the middle. A small wooden covering above the cages blocked the sun for two hours a day. He would lie on his back and stare at the sky, ''an escape, so peaceful, so blue''. There was no standing up, no touching the wire, no talking, no looking around. Breaches meant punishment from the military police's Instant Reaction Force, or IRF, whose beatings came to be known as being ''earthed''.
David Hicks reveals these things in his book Guantanamo: My Journey, out today. It is the first time -- apart from a legal affidavit submitted early in his incarceration detailing allegations of torture -- that he has told what really happened to him in the notorious prison that became a central tenet of the US administration's post-September 11 ''war on terror''.
Hicks was imprisoned at Guantanamo until 2007, spending most of his time in a cell at the newly built Camp Delta, first as a terror suspect and then, to secure his release, as someone who had pleaded guilty to ''providing material support for terrorism''. The book re-affirms his claims to innocence. ''I … have never been a supporter of terrorism,'' he writes. ''I did not harm anyone - I have never attempted or planned to - nor was I accused of such.''
Hicks was in Camp X-Ray for four months. It took only a few days to witness his first prisoner being ''earthed''. It was an Afghan man with a prosthetic limb.
A military policeman asked why he had scratched ''Osama Will Save Us'' into the concrete of his cage floor. The Afghan prisoner didn't understand. The MP went away and came back with six more MPs in riot gear. One pinned him to the floor with a shield while the others beat him. Then one came in with a German shepherd.
''The dog was encouraged to bark and growl only centimetres from the Afghani's face while he was being beaten,'' Hicks writes. ''When they had finished, they chained him up and carried him out. His face was covered in blood.''
Later, Hicks writes, an MP told him he had scratched ''Osama Will Save Us'' on the concrete himself, before prisoners arrived at the camp. It was a brutal set-up, a game.
The book took Hicks two years. He wrote it himself. He has married social justice advocate Aloysia Brooks and works at a native plants nursery in Sydney after businessman Dick Smith persuaded the owner to give him a go. He is now a manager.
Guantanamo: My Journey details Hicks's extraordinary journey from a disconnected Adelaide childhood to a conversion to Islam after serving with the Kosovo Liberation Army to a 1999 Middle East trip that included training in camps linked to al-Qaeda. He paints himself as a wanderer and a seeker. He confesses to being ''impressionable''.
He became obsessed with Afghanistan as ''a romantic last frontier'', with information gleaned from Lonely Planet. But he was then captured in Baghlan, Afghanistan, in 2001, after training at the camps and fighting for the Kashmiri cause for independence. He was seized by a Northern Alliance soldier, he writes, and handed to the Americans, after a taxi ride from Kunduz to Kabul was mysteriously diverted.
The US Supreme Court has subsequently backed him against the US Bush administration twice, first finding that Guantanamo fell under US law and prisoners could challenge detention in US civil courts, and then that the subsequent military commission system was unconstitutional.
One of Hicks's Australian lawyers, David McLeod, told The Age this week that when Hicks was finally able to fly home from Cuba to Adelaide, in May 2007, the transfer from US to Australian jurisdiction was done at midnight on an airstrip.
McLeod was waiting there to accompany Hicks home among an ''overwhelming'' display of American military firepower. Hicks arrived in an armoured van for a rendezvous. ''It was like something out of a John le Carre spy novel,'' McLeod says.
Hicks's wrists were bound with plastic ''flexicuff'' cable ties and his legs were chained. Two guards from Adelaide's Yatala prison, where he would serve out the rest of his sentence until the end of 2007, were with him. He was uncuffed and led on to the plane, a luxury Gulfstream jet chartered by the Australian government.
McLeod sat next to Hicks. It was a 24-hour flight. There was a movie. Hicks spent a lot of time sleeping or looking out the window. McLeod gave him ABC journalist Leigh Sales's book Detainee 002. He skimmed it, but gave it back.
Hicks's father, Terry - who worked with lawyers through the saga to help secure his son's release from Guantanamo - says David would not have been interested in the Sales book. He always wanted to write his own story.
Despite Terry Hicks having boxes of newspaper clippings and legal documents at his home, he says his son never asked for them as reference.
''This book is written from his own mind and his own soul,'' Terry says.
The book is still a potential target of proceeds-of-crime laws stating that money made from convictions, including from overseas, could be confiscated after action by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
A spokeswoman said yesterday the CDPP could not comment on whether that might happen to David Hicks.