Australian detainee goes before military tribunal at Guantanamo
Associated Press Writer
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) – The father of an imprisoned Australian cowboy accused of fighting with Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban saw his son for the first time in five years Wednesday, as he prepared to go before an American military tribunal on war crimes charges.
After the meeting, David Hicks, 29, wore a suit and tie as he arrived for a tribunal hearing on charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, aiding the enemy and attempted murder for allegedly firing at U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“My expectation was that we would have David back to Australia after the first three months,” said his father, Terry Hicks, 58, after arriving Tuesday from Adelaide with his wife, Beverly, who is Hicks’ stepmother. “I don’t think it is a fair and honest system.”
The U.S. military said it would allow Hicks to meet with his parents after the preliminary hearing. They held a 15-minute meeting Wednesday morning before the proceedings. There were no guards present, and it was unclear whether Hicks was shackled.
Hicks, who arrived at the prison camp in Guantanamo in January 2002, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. He was expected to plead innocent at Wednesday’s hearing.
On Tuesday, the first day of the tribunal, Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur, 34-year-old Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, declined to enter a plea. That hearing marked the start of the first U.S. military tribunal since World War II.
Hamdan withheld his plea until motions filed by his military-appointed lawyer are decided. A ruling is not likely until November.
His defense is challenging whether the hearing should proceed without a ruling on his “enemy combatant” status, which allows fewer legal protections than for prisoners of war. That classification was used to justify trying Hamdan and others before the tribunals, which will allow secret evidence and no federal appeals, rather than at courts-martial or in U.S. civilian courts.
Hamdan’s defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. civilian courts in Washington alleging the illegality of commissions.
Swift also challenged the capacity and impartiality of four panel members – including the presiding officer – and one alternate.
“It is important that these proceedings not only be fair, but appear fair to the world,” Swift said in the hearing Tuesday that lasted more than eight hours.
Hamdan is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, including attacking civilians, murder and terrorism. He isn’t charged with any specific violent act.
Hamdan, also known as Saqr al Jaddaw, has said he earned a pittance for his family as bin Laden’s driver before the Sept. 11 attacks, but he has denied involvement in terrorism. U.S. officials allege that he served as the al-Qaida leader’s bodyguard and driver between February 1996 and Nov. 24, 2001, and that he delivered weapons to al-Qaida operatives.
The only member of the commission with formal legal training is the presiding officer, Army Col. Peter E. Brownback, a former military judge who came out of retirement when he volunteered. Asked by Swift whether he thought the proceedings were legal, Brownback chose not to answer.
John D. Altenburg Jr., a retired Army general, will decide whether any of the commission members should be removed. It was not clear how soon he might rule.
Hamdan and three other men being arraigned this week face charges that could bring life in prison, but other detainees could face the death penalty.
Two others charged with conspiracy are Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul, 33, also of Yemen, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, a Sudanese born in 1960. Their hearings also were scheduled for this week.