Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Australian MPs petition Congress for Hicks' return

AP , CANBERRA

Almost half the members of Australia's parliament signed a letter to the Democrat-dominated US Congress appealing for help repatriating the lone Australian terror suspect held at Guantanamo Bay, officials said yesterday.

The letter faxed to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for Congress to intervene to ensure that former kangaroo skinner David Hicks is not tried by a military commission at the US naval base in Cuba was signed by 96 senators and mem-bers of the Australian House of Representatives, opposition parties said. There are a total of 226 members in the federal parliament.

The only member of Prime Minister John Howard's center-right government to sign the letter was Barnaby Joyce, a maverick senator from the junior coalition partner, the Nationals party.

Joyce said that "heaps" of others within the government supported the letter's objectives, but for political reasons they refused to sign it.

"From the public's point of view, it's becoming a majority [opinion] ... that this process turns judicial principle on its head," Joyce said.

Lyn Allison, leader of the Australian Democrats minor opposition party, said she was disappointed that all but one member of the government refused to sign.

"It would have been a more powerful letter had they signed, of course, but it's nonetheless a very significant demonstration of the depth of feeling in the Australian Parliament on this issue,'' Allison later told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

"As members of the Australian parliament, we believe that the denial of justice in David Hicks' case erodes the values and principles shared by Australia and the United States," she said.

The Democrats co-wrote the letter with the major opposition Labor Party. The letter was also supported by the Greens party and independents.

Congress confirmed Pelosi's receipt of the letter, a Labor official said yesterday.

The letter suggests Congress pass a resolution insisting that the 31-year-old alleged Taliban fighter be immediately repatriated to stand trial in Australia.

Failing repatriation, the law-makers request Hicks "be immediately put to trial before a properly constituted US criminal court."

Hicks has been held at the US military prison in Guantanamo since January 2002, a month after he was detained in Afghanistan. His lawyers say he is suffering from depression and ill health because of the conditions of his incarceration.

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