Protest rally for Hicks

No trial: Protesters mark the fifth anniversary of David Hicks' arrest and jailing in Guantanamo Bay
By Lucy Carne December 09, 2006

MORE than 400 people rallied in Brisbane City yesterday for the release of Australian Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks.

The protest marked five years since the Adelaide man, 31, was arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of terrorism and jailed without trial in the US military prison in Cuba.

Human rights organisations, cultural groups, politicians and families joined forces at Queens Park to accuse the Australian Government of abusing democracy by not pressuring for Hicks' freedom.

"It must be terrible for his family," said 72-year-old retired cattle-breeder Elizabeth Di Tommaso, of Yeronga.

"It is like having him dead, but he is not dead, it is worse than death.

"You can't put people in jail forever without putting them on trial."

Queensland Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett said the protest was not defending terrorists, but defending freedom.

"It's not just a travesty for Hicks but a travesty for the building blocks of our democracy," he said.

Among the sea of orange to symbolise Guantanamo Bay's prison uniforms were several children with their families.

Kangaroo Point environmental officer Simone Marsh, 36, brought her daughter Bryn Bjornsson, 8, to the protest.

"I am trying to educate her about what is happening in the world she is living in," Ms Marsh said.

"As a mother, my heart goes out to the Hicks family and I think a terrible injustice has been done to them."

Following the Queens Park rally, the protesters marched through the City.

In Sydney, more than a thousand protesters, some dressed in orange prison suits, marched on the US Consulate to protest against Hicks' detention.

  • David Hicks Case Information

  • Please, get me out of here: desperate plea

    Hicks' father, Terry, addresses the Bring David Home rally in Adelaide yesterday. Photo: /David Mariuz/
    Penelope Debelle - December 10, 2006

    DAVID HICKS has begged Australia to "get me out of here" on the fifth anniversary of his incarceration at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Hicks, 31, who was visited over two days last week at Camp 5 by his Pentagon-appointed military defence lawyer, Major Michael Mori, was desperate to return home and live a normal life. "That's what it boils down to," Major Mori said from Washington yesterday. "I honestly don't know how David has lasted as long as he has."

    Major Mori said Hicks was still being held in solitary confinement for 22 to 23 hours a day and could walk no more than 10 paces in any direction which affected his physical health.

    He had painful back problems and his eyesight was damaged, possibly permanently, from the prolonged detention which included extended periods of staring out through mesh in harsh sunlight.

    Hicks was extensively briefed by Major Mori on the court action launched last week against the Australian Government which named Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and which begins in the Federal Court in Sydney next Friday.

    However, his spirits were particularly lifted by new photographs of his two children in Adelaide, Bonnie, 14, and Terry, 11, whom he has not seen since for seven years but who have written to him at Guantanamo Bay. Letters from the family had been "turned in" to the US military at Guantanamo Bay and would be passed on to him after being vetted, as was a Year 12 maths correspondence course which Hicks hoped to be able to complete. "It gives him a little bit to look forward to," Major Mori said.

    However, there was a limit to how much a two-day visit could help Hicks, Major Mori said. "There is always an underlying depression that is worsened by the conditions he is held in," Major Mori said. "I see him for two days and that's it. He has got to wait another month and a half to get any contact with the outside world. It's hard for him."

    Major Mori said he believed the Australian people were starting to realise Hicks had not killed or hurt anyone in Afghanistan, which had been admitted by the US Government. Hicks was originally charged with aiding the enemy, conspiracy and attempted murder but the charges were dropped when the military commissions were declared illegal in June this year. The Federal Government has urged the US to charge Hicks again quickly and bring him to trial before new military commissions which have not yet been set up.

    Major Mori said it was encouraging that he had more to brief David on than on earlier visits. "A lot has happened so there was a lot of information provided, and support."

    Meanwhile, the Hicks family believe he may be so traumatised by his five-year incarceration that he may be too unwell to talk to them before Christmas.

    Terry Hicks, his father, said the family was negotiating with US authorities through the Department of Foreign Affairs to speak to David at Guantanamo Bay on December 18.

    But they were worried he may be too withdrawn and depressed to communicate after spending so long on his own in a cell.

    During the last family call in July, Hicks had trouble speaking and was incoherent for almost 30 minutes, Mr Hicks said. "The first half an hour of that phone call was absolutely terrible," Mr Hicks said.

    Hicks had started refusing Australian consular assistance because he no longer trusted the officials and believed they reported back to the Federal Government that everything was fine when it was not.

    Hicks, who trained with al-Qaeda before it was illegal to do so, joined the Taliban and was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001.

  • David Hicks Case Information

  • Hicks' trial day looms

    ATTORNEY-General Philip Ruddock
    December 11, 2006 12:00am ATTORNEY-General Philip Ruddock says David Hicks will face new charges as early as next month.

    And Mr Ruddock said the US has assured him the accused terrorist will receive a fair hearing.

    He yesterday said Hicks, an Adelaide-born Muslim convert, was expected to be charged after January 17, the date new regulations governing the military commission expected to try him take effect.

    His comments came as people rallied in capital cities across Australia, urging the Federal Government to do more to bring Hicks home.

    More than 1000 marched in Sydney, while hundreds took part in protests in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra to mark the fifth anniversary of his detention.

    Hicks, captured by US forces in Afghanistan five years ago, had originally pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

    However the charges were struck out in June when the US Supreme Court ruled the military tribunals were illegal.

    He has since languished in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Mr Ruddock said US laws passed in October, providing for a revised system of military commissions, would take effect by January 17, meaning Hicks could face new charges in a few weeks.

    "The US Attorney-General assured me (last week) his expectation was that they would be able to charge him shortly after the regulations have been proclaimed," he said.

    Mr Ruddock said he did not know what charges Hicks would face.

    "We've sought assurances there'll be a presumption of innocence, that he will know the evidence that's going to be presented against him, that he will be effectively represented in the military commission process, that there are appeals . . . into the civilian court system," he said.

    "We are certainly pressing the US and have received certain assurances from them that a fair trial should be possible under the scheme that they've legislated for."

    Mr Ruddock said he sympathised with Hicks' father, Terry Hicks, who has not spoken to his son since July.

    "I don't think any father should be in the situation where they're having to defend a child who has gone, perhaps, off the rails in some way," he said.

    "And I think we ought to respect the way in which he has fought in his son's interests."

    Terry Hicks said dates had been set before and he no longer trusted the Australian Government.

    "Mr Ruddock has been no help to David's cause -- the American and Australian governments should be the ones facing court," Mr Hicks said.

    "He should be brought home and charged and tried or be set free.

    "Mr Ruddock needs to pin down an exact date, otherwise it's just the same old political spin."

    Mr Ruddock said proceedings against Hicks had dragged on largely due to legal challenges to the process set up to try him.

    Amnesty International Australia spokeswoman Katie Wood said: "Today our leaders should hang their heads in shame over the human rights abuses they now allow at Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp.

    "We're calling on the Government to bring David home and let him face an Australian court. We're calling on them to close Guantanamo Bay."

  • David Hicks Case Information

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