- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

The United States announced criminal charges yesterday against a detainee at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, accusing Australian David Hicks of terrorism-related offenses in Afghanistan.

Hicks is the third prisoner at the 660-inmate facility in Cuba to be formally charged. He, like the other two, will be tried by a military commission set up by the Pentagon to handle terror suspects.

The United States charged Hicks with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent and aiding the enemy. Allied forces captured Hicks in Afghanistan as he fought with al Qaeda and the Taliban regime against U.S. forces who invaded to end the terror group’s grip on the country.

The Pentagon said it will not seek the death penalty if Hicks is convicted. It also said that the intelligence information involved in the case does not require the government to monitor conversations between the defendant and his attorney, Marine Corps Maj. Michael Mori.

“David Hicks has not violated any law of war and shouldn’t have been charged,” Maj. Mori told the Associated Press. “It’s unfortunate these charges will never be tested before a fair and established justice system.”

The Pentagon addressed the fairness issue yesterday, saying the military, as in a civilian court, must prove Hicks’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He also can present evidence and call witnesses. The commission is to be made up of military officers, who are yet to be selected.

The charges say Hicks, formerly of Adelaide, Australia, converted from Christianity to Islam and went to Albania to fight in the Kosovo Liberation Army. The army battled Serbian forces when they were methodically killing Muslims in the province.

After the civil war was ended by NATO in 1999, Hicks went to Pakistan and joined an Islamist militant group, according to U.S. charges. He trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan operated by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, which carried out the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Detainees can appeal convictions to a special panel. But under the military commission system authorized by President Bush, defendants cannot appeal to the U.S. civilian courts.

In laying out its case, the Pentagon said yesterday that:

“Hicks is alleged to have attended a number of al Qaeda terrorist training courses at various camps in Afghanistan, including an advanced course on surveillance, in which he conducted surveillance of the U.S. and British embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“It is also alleged that after viewing TV news coverage in Pakistan of the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States, he returned to Afghanistan to rejoin his al Qaeda associates to fight against U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, Afghan and other coalition forces. It is alleged Hicks armed himself with an AK-47 automatic rifle, ammunition and grenades to fight against coalition forces.”

Hicks is one of six detainees whom Mr. Bush designated last year as eligible for trial by military commission.

In December, the United States reached agreement with Australia on how its two citizens at Guantanamo would be adjudicated. The United States agreed not to seek the death penalty or monitor attorney-client conversations.

Mr. Bush has designated as “enemy combatants” al Qaeda and Taliban members captured in Afghanistan. The designation denies them all the rights of a prisoner of war.

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