David Hicks charged and pleads "not guilty"
After two-and-a-half years in detention at Guantanamo Bay Australian David Hicks has finally been officially charged by the US Defence Department with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder, and aiding the enemy. Mr Hicks' military lawyer has indicated publicly that Mr Hicks will plead "not guilty" to the charges. Commenting on the timeliness of the charges Margo Kingston wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, "Now, as Howard puts his foot to the floor for an election on the American Alliance, David Hicks is suddenly charged". "I bet the trial doesn't start before the federal election, and that the charges will be dropped after it." Tim McCormack, the Australian Red Cross professor of international humanitarian law at the University of Melbourne and a special adviser on international law matters to the judges in The Hague, said that "small fish" overstates the criminal nature of allegations against David Hicks. "Even 'tiny whitebait' might be too large a metaphoric image", said Mr McCormack. "The most that his US accusers have come up with after two years to investigate and prepare his case is that he trained with al- Qaida and learnt certain lethal techniques in the course of his training. "He is also alleged to have spoken personally to Osama bin Laden, offering to translate training material from Arabic into English. No wonder the Australian Government believes we have no law with which to try Hicks ourselves", concluded Mr McCormack. President of the Law Council, Bob Gotterson QC, said the charging of Mr Hicks took "far too long". "It is appalling that Mr Hicks has been confined in non- reviewable detention for two and a half years and now faces trial in a system which has very serious shortcomings." "Military commission trials leave detainees at the mercy of executive government, which has the power to keep them incarcerated even if they are acquitted or serve out their sentence. "There are no independent judges and any appeal is subject to the US President only — and the rules of evidence do not apply. "In our view the military commission process remains an unnecessary and inferior substitute to a normal court martial or a civilian court. However, it is clear that this is the manner in which US authorities intend to proceed", Mr Gotterson said. The charges were made as the US military again denied claims that prisoners at the Guantanamo base had been subjected to abuse and torture. Prisoners who have been recently released without charge from Guant`namo claim they were shackled in "stress" positions for hours, threatened with dogs, and subjected to strobe lights and freezing temperatures. But Brigadier General Jay Hood insists that prison interrogations were conducted in a "safe, secure and humane'' manner, in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. An unnamed interrogation officer described the process as "a mental chess game". "About 99 percent of what we do down here is not even close to the general definition of interrogation.'' He said that although prisoners were brought shackled into interrogation rooms the chains would then be removed as a gesture of trust. He said prisoners' co-operation would often be rewarded with "McDonalds" and "thermos flasks of tea".