Australian Guantanamo detainee hearing postponed
Mar 20, 2007, 20:47 GMT
Washington - The first court appearance on terrorism charges for alleged Australian Taliban fighter David Hicks has been postponed, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Hicks, 31, was to have been arraigned this week for formal presentation of charges that he provided material support for terrorism. The appearance has been postponed until Monday, the official said.
The trial - the first of any of Guantanamo's prisoners since the detention centre was set up in Cuba in 2002 - is expected to begin by summer. The Australian-born convert to Islam will not face the death penalty, according to Defence Department officials. If convicted, he could be allowed to serve a prison sentence in Australia.
Hicks, an Islam convert who was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, belongs to the first group of 10 detainees being tried under a new system of military commissions.
According to the New York Times on Tuesday, Hicks alleges that he was tortured during more than five years in US custody, according to court documents filed in London to support his request for British citizenship.
He claimed he was slapped, walked on, stripped naked and violated by a plastic object inserted in his rectum. He claimed the abuse occurred on board two US ships - the USS Peleliu and USS Bataan, and in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the story said.
The new legal approach to the so-called 'unlawful enemy combatants' was approved last year by the US Congress in the Military Commissions Act, to replace a special process authorized by US President George W Bush in 2002 that was successfully challenged by defence lawyers up to the Supreme Court.
The top court ruled that such proceedings - which circumvent the traditional guarantees of habeas corpus and other rights under US law - would be allowed if they were explicitly approved by Congress.
The Republican-controlled Congress complied, and charges against suspects brought under the system that was ruled illegal are now being refiled - including those against Hicks and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's alleged driver and bodyguard.
The new rules allow hearsay evidence and the introduction of classified evidence that the defence team may access, the Pentagon said earlier this year.
Hicks' pending trial has reignited legal challenges by defence lawyers. If the legal wrangling means that Hicks will not get his day in court this year, political analysts in Australia expect Australian Prime Minister John Howard to try to bring Hicks back home.
Howard faces a general election before the end of the year and there is public disquiet over how long he has been held without trial.
The United States is holding more than 400 detainees from the war on terrorism at the US naval base on Cuba.
Fourteen high profile prisoners were brought to Guantanamo in September 2006 from secret holding prisons abroad. Over the past week, transcripts of dramatic testimony from two of them, claiming responsibility for the September 2001 terrorist attacks and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, were released by the Pentagon.
But those transcripts resulted from a separate system of annual hearings held for every prisoner to confirm their status as unlawful enemy combatant. They were not part of the trial process.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur