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U.S. files charges against 3 Guantanamo inmates

Reuters | February 3, 2007

The first trials under a new system for trying foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, moved a step closer on Friday when a U.S. military prosecutor filed charges against three inmates.

"The chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions has sworn charges against Guantanamo detainees David Hicks of Australia, Salim Hamdan of Yemen, and Omar Khadr

of Canada," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The move was the first step towards trial under a system of military commissions set up by the Bush administration last year to try foreign terrorism suspects held at the detention camp at the U.S. military base in Cuba.

After a challenge from Hamdan, the Supreme Court in June rejected the administration's previous plan as a violation of international law.

Under the new system, the charges filed by the prosecutor, Air Force Col. Moe Davis, now have to be reviewed by other officials before the men can be formally charged.

Five years after the U.S. military started detaining suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at the Guantanamo naval base, none of the 395 prisoners still held there has been tried.

Hicks was arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and has been accused of fighting for al Qaeda and conducting surveillance of U.S. and British embassies on its behalf.

The prosecutor filed charges against Hicks, 31, of providing material support for terrorism and attempted murder in violation of the law of war, the Pentagon said.

Hicks' military defence lawyer, Marine Corps Maj. Michael Mori, criticised the charges, saying even the prosecutor had stated that there was no evidence the Australian had shot at anyone in Afghanistan.

"The charge of material support is not part of the law of war and does not appear in any U.S. or Australian military manual as a law of war offence," Mori added in a statement.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard had demanded charges be filed against Hicks by the end of February.

"I'm glad that the charges are being laid and that the deadline I set has been met," Howard told reporters in Sydney on Saturday. "They are very serious charges and that is why they should be dealt with as soon as possible."

Hicks' father, Terry Hicks, was quoted by Australian Associated Press as saying, "I would be more relieved if David was facing a fair and just situation, not virtually the same thing that they went through before, which has been ruled as illegal."

BIN LADEN ALLEGATION

Hamdan has been accused by prosecutors of acting as Osama bin Laden's driver and of transporting weapons for al Qaeda. The charges filed against him are conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.

Khadr has been accused of murdering one U.S. soldier with a grenade and wounding another during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan. He was 15 when captured during the clash.

The prosecutor filed charges accusing him of murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, spying, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, the U.S. Defence Department said.

Human rights groups have called on the United States to close the Guantanamo prison but the Bush administration has insisted it is needed to hold dangerous individuals.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that detainees could go to American courts to seek their release or changes in confinement conditions. But in October 2006 President George W. Bush signed a law taking away prisoners' rights to the U.S. court system.

More than 770 prisoners have been imprisoned at Guantanamo since the United States began using the base to hold suspects captured during the war on terrorism that Bush launched in response to the September 11 attacks.

 

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