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Australia's Hicks alleges U.S. abuse at Guantanamo

Reuters | March 2, 2007

An Australian detainee facing U.S. terrorism charges, David Hicks, has complained of torture and abuse at the Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba, Australian media reported on Friday.

Charges brought against Hicks on Thursday were the first brought against a suspected al Qaeda or Taliban member under a military commissions law passed by the U.S. Congress last year, the Pentagon said.

Hicks, in an application for British citizenship, said he had been shown a photo of a battered fellow inmate, and was told he would be sent to Egypt for similar treatment if he did not cooperate, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Hicks, the sole Australian at Guantanamo Bay, said the anxiety caused by months of abuse forced him to "say anything" to military interrogators. The United States has denied any abuse at the prison.

The 31-year-old has been in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay for five years and ongoing delays in bringing him before a court have led to growing calls in Australia for his release.

Hicks, whose mother was born in Britain, is seeking British citizenship in the hope that London will then seek his release from Guantanamo Bay, as it did for nine British nationals.

The chief U.S. military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Colonel Moe Davis, said he was unlikely to seek life imprisonment for Hicks, who should face a preliminary court hearing within a month.

"I think if you look at the material support for terrorism charge I think that provides a fair representation of the conduct that we seek to hold Mr Hicks accountable for," Davis told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

In the charging documents, the U.S. military said Hicks supported terrorism by attending al Qaeda training courses, conducted surveillance on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, guarded a tank outside Kandahar airport and fought U.S. and coalition forces for about two hours.

Prime Minister John Howard, one of U.S. President George W. Bush's closest allies, raised the length of Hicks' detention with Bush and pressed Vice President Dick Cheney for a speedy trial when he visited Sydney last weekend.

Howard, trailing in the polls and facing a tough election this year, said the charges against Hicks showed the Americans had accelerated the process, but said he remained unhappy it was taking so long to get Hicks to trial.

"I'm not happy about the five years," Howard told Australian radio on Friday. "I am very very pleased that the process has been accelerated. We will continue to press the Americans to keep their foot on the accelerator."

But Hicks's father, Terry, said he felt no better about the process now charges had been laid and accused Howard of using the case for political gain.

"To me it's still looks as if they want this over and dealt with and finished before the elections," he said.

Hicks will be notified of the charges this week, a Pentagon spokesman said. Once notified, Hicks will be arraigned within 30 days and then a military judge will have 120 days to form the military commission.



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