Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 1 News List

US' charges against Australian terror suspect blasted

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

The father of an Australian terror suspect scorned the US military tribunal that his son will face, saying yesterday that his conviction seemed a foregone conclusion and accusing interrogators of abusing him during two years of detention at Guantanamo Bay.

The Pentagon said Thursday that David Hicks will be tried for alleged al-Qaeda activities in Afghanistan including conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who has been under fire at home for not doing enough to press for a quick trial for Hicks, welcomed the news and rejected suggestions that the man would not get a fair trial. He said the trial could start within two months.

"The first indication we had was the military commission could be convened, and I underline, could be convened, in August," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

Thursday's announcement was a relief to the premier, who promised progress on Hicks' case and who discussed the issue with US President George W. Bush last week.

In the southern city of Adelaide, Hicks' home town, his father Terry said he feared charges against his son could be based on information forced from him by interrogators.

"Most of this stuff David has said has probably been said under coercion or threats, so I suppose he could say anything," he said.

Lawyers for Hicks and fellow Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib have claimed both men have been abused while in US custody.

While Australia's federal opposition welcomed the news that Hicks had been charged after more than two years in custody, it also criticized the delay.

"It's a disgrace that he's been held for two and half years without being charged," said Labor lawmaker Nicola Roxon.

Hicks will not face the death penalty, according to terms the US agreed to last year in negotiations with Australia.

Hicks is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy, the Pentagon said in a news release.

His military-appointed lawyers, who await more details of the charges and the trial, have questioned the veracity of the charges.

"David Hicks has not violated any law of war and shouldn't have been charged," US Army Major Michael Mori said. "It's unfortunate these charges will never be tested before a fair and established justice system."

Also see story:

Australian opposition could damage ties, US warns

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