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Pictures of dead Saddam used to 'stimulate' Hicks

Sydney Morning Herald | February 2, 2007

THE photos and articles depicting Saddam Hussein's execution shown to inmates at Guantanamo Bay, including David Hicks, were provided for their "intellectual stimulation", the US military said.

The existence of the display of the articles and photos, and an accompanying message saying liars would meet the same fate, garnered international headlines after they were revealed by Mr Hicks's legal team on Thursday.

Mr Hicks's lawyers said the pictures and message amounted to coercion and intimidation.

The poster has since been removed and Commander Robert Durand, the director of public affairs at the military prison, said he regretted the language in the message "appeared insensitive".

But the material was "neither graphic nor sensational", he said.

While Mr Hicks told his lawyers that one photo showed Saddam hanging dead, Commander Durand said this was not true. "The news articles, intended to provide intellectual stimulation for the detainees, are taken from mainstream news sources such as the New York Times," he said.

Commander Durand said Mr Hicks had access to the best medical and pyschiatric care, "certainly as good as any American service member has".

Australia has been unable to get an independent assessment of Mr Hicks's mental and physical health, but the US insists that, despite five years in the prison without trial, he is in good shape.

While the Australian Government accepts this, Mr Hicks and his legal team have said this is far from true. Recent polling has shown the majority of Australians want Mr Hicks returned to Australia and his case is starting to cause concerns for the Government in an election year.

The Minister for Justice, Chris Ellison, yesterday made the strongest comments yet from a senior government member about Mr Hicks's long wait for justice.

The five years in prison was "totally inappropriate", he said.

There are concerns in government ranks about Mr Hicks's treatment, but only one Coalition member, the National Party senator Barnaby Joyce, was prepared to sign a letter to the US Congress urging Mr Hicks's return.

The letter was drafted by the Democrats leader, Lyn Allison.

"Hopefully Senator Allison's letter, which 96 parliamentarians from both houses have put their name to, will give a clear indication to Congress of the stance Australian people have taken in relation to David Hicks," Senator Joyce said.

"Five years is far too long to be incarcerated without any charges being laid. Let's get on with giving this Australian a fair go and the justice he deserves."

Mr Hicks trained with al-Qaeda and met Osama bin Laden while he was in Afghanistan. He was arrested there during the US-led invasion that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001.

US prosecutors admit they have no evidence that Mr Hicks undertook any specific violent act, but say they expect to "swear" fresh charges against him by late today.

However, the convening authority, Judge Susan Crawford, has to endorse the charges before a trial can go ahead. She has yet to formally take up her post.

The US military said the charges would be finally laid by mid-February.


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