Australian Charged as Enemy Combatant in Guantanamo
26 March 2007
U.S. military authorities have filed terrorism charges against Australian David Hicks who is being held at a military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports Hicks is the first detainee to be tried as an alleged enemy combatant under a revised set of procedures.
David Hicks appeared before a military judge at Guantanamo Bay to face charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization. The 31-year-old Australian has been awaiting trial at the U.S. military base for more than five years, following his capture in Afghanistan in 2001.
Military prosecutors accuse him of belonging to the Pakistani Islamic group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and say he met al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. They also say he went to Kosovo in 1999, where he received weapons training and fought alongside Albanian Muslim fighters.
His father says Hicks was on a religious pilgrimage in Afghanistan when he was captured.
Defense lawyers have said Hicks may agree to plead guilty in the case to avoid a trial and allow him to serve prison time in Australia.
Hicks' trial had been scheduled to begin in 2005, but it was canceled while U.S. courts considered legal challenges to the system of military commissions authorized by President Bush in 2001. In a ruling last June, the Supreme Court set aside the commission system, saying the president did not have authority to create them. Since then, Congress has approved a new set of procedures for trying enemy combatants.
Avi Cover, senior counsel for Human Rights First, says the latest hearings at Guantanamo will be a test for the new commissions. "These military commissions are not something that previously existed. This is the first time around in this second version of the commission, since the Supreme Court ruled the earlier version unconstitutional and illegal. We'll need to see what will transpire," he said.
Many human rights groups have welcomed changes to the commission system. But Cover says there are still concerns about whether detainees will receive fair trials at Guantanamo, and whether evidence gained through controversial interrogation methods will be allowed in the courtroom.
Scott Silliman, a law professor at Duke University and former Air Force judge advocate, says the new commission rules are a marked improvement. "I think the procedures that Congress enacted into law last fall have more due process embedded in them, incorporated in them, than the prior system that President [Bush] created in 2001," he said.
Silliman says the revised commission system is similar to the uniform code of military justice, which is used by all military justice personnel.
Military officials say they plan to hold trials for as many as 80 of the 385 individuals being held at Guantanamo. They say 80 others are to be released or transferred to another country, if those nations are willing to take them.
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