Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- David Hicks, an Australian charged with training with al-Qaeda, becomes one of the first Guantanamo Bay detainees to face a U.S. military tribunal when he appears before a panel tomorrow, his military lawyer said.
``David is the first to face this commission hearing,'' Marine Corps Major Michael Mori said in an interview from Quantico, Virginia. ``It doesn't have a judge and a jury, but I hope it sets out a timeframe for the process and trial.''
Hicks, a 29-year-old father-of-two, was charged in June with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder by ``an unprivileged belligerent'' and aiding the enemy, the U.S. Defense Department said at the time.
He is one of 15 Guantanamo Bay prisoners named by the U.S. as being eligible to face military commissions. The U.S. is holding about 600 people from 40 countries at its naval base in Cuba. Many suspected members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were captured since 2001 when the U.S. began the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
``Hicks is able to be fully represented, we recognize there is the capacity to be able to cross examine witnesses and we recognize there is a presumption of innocence,'' Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock told reporters in Canberra. ``We recognize in that process, if there is a conviction, there is the opportunity for appeal.''
Human rights lawyers have demanded Guantanamo Bay detainees be classified as prisoners of war, which would allow them protection under the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. says they are unlawful combatants who may be tried by military tribunals.
The tribunals will consist of six officers, John Altenburg, the official for the commissions, said last week, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The cases will involve preliminary hearings and no date has been set for actual trials to begin, Altenburg said.
The U.S. alleges Hicks attended al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan and took a course in surveillance. He used this knowledge to scout the U.S. and British embassies in the Afghan capital, Kabul, according to the Pentagon.
Hicks returned to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon to join al-Qaeda in the fight against the U.S. and its allies there, the Pentagon said. He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001.
Mori said the hearing may set a timeframe to prepare for trial ``to fight for David's acquittal.''
``The most important thing is that we have sufficient time to conduct a thorough investigation and we get all the evidence,'' Mori said. ``The U.S. has had two-and-a-half years to question everyone down there at Guantanamo, when do we get our turn?''
David's father Terry said he will visit the U.S. for the hearing. Terry has spoken to his son by telephone twice since he was captured.
``It's going to be a very emotional thing to see him,'' Terry said in a telephone interview from Adelaide. ``They'd have had him eating the best at this stage so he looks good for the hearing.''
Mamdouh Habib, another Australian national held at Guantanamo, may be one of the other nine detainees named to face a tribunal, said Steve Ingram, a spokesman for Ruddock.
Habib, a 38-year-old Egyptian-born resident of Sydney, was found on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in October 2001. He hasn't been charged yet, Ingram said.
Australia has assurances from the U.S. that Hicks will have a fair trial, Prime Minister John Howard said in June. Howard said Hicks may serve any sentence in Australia.
Melbourne barrister Lex Lasry was chosen by the Law Council of Australia to attend the hearing for Hicks as an observer.
``A lot of people have criticized the system, so I am going as an observer to study the proceedings and the documents and report back to the law council on that,'' Lasry said. ``I will be determining whether there is any basis for the criticism.''
Stephen Kenny, Hicks's Australian lawyer, said he has concerns about the commission and a following trial.
``The rules of the commission will not offer the same standard of proof that would be acceptable in Australia,'' he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. ``That is our major concern at the moment.''
Australian media has claimed U.S. officials Hicks and Habib have been abused, mistreated and refused medical attention at Guantanamo Bay. Three British ex-inmates made the most recent claims in a 115-page statement released this month.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Gemma Daley in Canberra at email@example.com