Australia's Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks will not face the death penalty under a new US military commission system, Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock said yesterday.
Australia believes that new charges are likely to be levied against Hicks, who has been held at the US detention camp in Cuba for four years, after the US Supreme Court ruled in June that planned military trials for Guantanamo inmates were illegal.
The Australian government has supported the military commission process and refused to seek Hicks' repatriation but had been given an assurance Hicks would not receive a death sentence if convicted.
Ruddock said that would continue to be the case now that Washington is drafting plans to try enemy combatants based on military court martial procedures, with a number of key changes.
"There is no doubt that in the military commission process dealing with serious terrorist offences, the United States might in appropriate cases seek to apply the death penalty," Ruddock said.
"But we have been given a specific assurance, which has been reiterated to me on a number of occasions, that the death penalty would not be sought in David Hicks' case," he said.
Hicks was detained by US forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 and was to have been one of the first Guantanamo detainees to face a military trial on charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
His lawyers have called for his release after the Supreme Court decision, but Canberra expects new charges to be made.
Ruddock has said Australia would seek his return if there are no new charges, just as it had with another Australian inmate of the camp, Mamdouh Habib.
Ruddock has also said Washington wants the Guantanamo trials resolved before the mid-term elections in November.