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Homeland Security

SLUG: 5-55107 Australia / U-S / Detainee









INTRO: The U-S military lawyer appointed to defend a detainee at Guantanamo Bay has just visited Australia to investigate the case of David Hicks, an Australian who has been held without charge for more than two years. Major Michael Mori has been a fierce critic of the Bush administration's policy toward foreign detainees, describing the military panels that may try Mr. Hicks as "kangaroo courts." From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

TEXT: Major Mori is an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He volunteered to represent the Guantanamo Bay detainees and was appointed to defend Australian David Hicks late last year.

He sees no conflict between his military service and his legal responsibilities. Major Mori told reporters in Australia earlier this month that the tribunal process offends his understanding of justice.

His client was captured more than two years ago in Afghanistan, allegedly fighting with the Taleban. He has been held without charge ever since at the U-S Navy's Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba, and is expected to be among the first group of detainees to be tried by a military tribunal.

His lawyer is convinced he will not get a fair hearing.


I've been outspoken in the media and that's one avenue, I think, to raise awareness about the unfair commission process.

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Major Mori says he was pleased when the British foreign secretary said that trials for four Britons held at Guantanomo Bay should meet international standards or they should be returned home. He hopes the same applies for Mr. Hicks.

Mr. Hicks is one of only a handful of detainees who have been assigned a lawyer.

Both the U-S and the Australian governments have insisted the trial process will be fair and transparent.

Canberra has successfully lobbied Washington to make a number of changes to the way the tribunals will work. An independent legal expert approved by the authorities in Canberra will observe the proceedings.

Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock told Parliament he had confidence in Mr. Hicks' lawyer.


The accused will be represented at all times by a military defense counsel who have considerable expertise in military law and will provide a full and expert defense. An accused may also retain civilian defense counsel. To assume that a military defense counsel will act other than in the best interests of their client has no basis in fact.

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The 28-year-old Mr. Hicks has yet to be formally charged with a crime. Australian authorities indicate that any charges are likely to deal with the time he allegedly spent training with the al Qaida terror group in Afghanistan.

Opposition politicians in Australia share his lawyer's concerns that the military tribunal will not be fair.

Robert McClelland handles homeland security issues for the opposition Labor Party. He believes Mr. Hicks should be allowed to appoint an independent counsel.


Fundamentally, we do have concerns with the trial process. The defense counsel will be military. The tribunal itself will be appointed by the military. The defense counsel will be under strict undertakings, for instance, they can't challenge the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

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Mr. Hicks is one of two Australians being held at Guantanamo Bay. The other is Mamdouh Habib. The United States has yet to decide if he will be tried before a military commission.

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Mr. Habib's Australian lawyer, Stephen Hopper, also doubts his client will get a fair hearing.


The problem with any of these military commissions is they're very limited in their scope. For instance, say the lawyer in any court that brings issues of process against a client of mine, I can go in and challenge the jurisdiction of the court to hear that process, and you can't do that in these military commissions.

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Major Mori says the tribunals have unchecked power and can be misused for politically motivated prosecutions.

Although Major Mori looks the Marine stereotype - fit, confident, with a regulation short haircut - he has been a vocal critic of the system that holds Mr. Hicks.

In Canberra, he met senior Australian police officers and then with Mr. Hicks' family and friends. If Mr. Hicks is convicted he is expected to be allowed to serve his sentence back home.

Major Mori says that will give him some comfort.


You know, at this point all he knows is he's been held for two years and he's facing an unfair process. I think that the opportunity that if he is convicted and has to serve time then he'll get to come back to Australia, is going to be something that will give him some sense of confidence in that he's finally going to make it back to Australia, which he misses terribly.

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The tribunals are expected to be held at the U-S base at Guantanamo Bay. Around 680 people are incarcerated there as "enemy combatants" - most were captured in Afghanistan when the United States invaded in 2001 to oust the Taleban regime and try to capture leaders of the al Qaida terror network. (Signed)


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