Hicks pleads not guilty
By Marian Wilkinson, in Guantanamo Bay and Cynthia Banham
August 26, 2004 - 4:43AM
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The alleged Taliban fighter David Hicks pleaded not guilty when he
finally faced his accusers in a Cuban courtroom.
Flanked by two US military police officers, Hicks did not look at his
father, Terry, and stepmother, Bev, as he entered the court and strode
to the defence table.
His hair cropped in a buzz cut, his clean shaven face filled out and his
suit and tie had transformed Australia's most famous detainee. "I've
never seen him a suit before," Bev Hicks said. "He looks handsome."
Hicks, 29, is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, as well as
aiding the enemy and attempted murder for allegedly firing at US or
coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Mr Hicks yesterday saw his son for the first time in five years, just
hours before the start of the hearing. The two met at dawn for about 15
minutes. Mr Hicks was allowed to hug his son for the first time in
years, without the presence of the MPs but Hicks, in his suit, was
shackled at the legs. A military spokesman said they would be allowed
another half an hour together at the end of the hearing.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that if Hicks was found innocent by a
US military commission, he would be set free. If he was found guilty,
the Government would negotiate with the Americans for his sentence to be
served in Australia.
Mr Howard insisted the Hicks defence team had received adequate
assistance from the Federal Government, saying that the rules under
which the Australian would be tried had been "significantly altered"
because of requests from Australia.
The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said Australia had told the US:
"Our view is that if he's found not guilty, if he's acquitted by the
military commission, then he should be released."
Mr Downer also defended the military court procedure. "We think that due
process is being followed," he said.
But Terry Hicks and David Hicks's Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny said
they had little faith in the court. Mr Hicks said he did not believe the
system was fair and wanted his son to face court in Australia.
In front of world media gathered for the hearings, Mr Hicks blamed Mr
Howard and Mr Downer for the years his son has spent in US military
In the Guantanamo Bay courtroom late last night, Sydney time, Hicks sat
at the defence table with his military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, and
his US civilian lawyer, Joshua Dratel.
A representative for the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, heard Hicks's
defence lawyers challenge the legitimacy of President George Bush's
special military commission. Observers from the Australian Embassy and
the Law Council of Australia as well as a phalanx of human rights
lawyers followed the proceedings intently as MPs guarded the doors and
sat just behind Hicks.
Hicks, instructed by his lawyers to effect a calm demeanour, answered
only "yes sir" to a handful of questions from the military commission
panel head, Colonel Peter Brownback. He read quietly through the charges
Within minutes of the opening hearing, his lawyers began to challenge
the legitimacy of the court process. Mr Dretel questioned Colonel
Brownback on his close personal and professional relationship with the
senior Pentagon official appointed by the US Defence Secretary to run
the military commissions office. Colonel Brownback acknowledged the
friendship but said he had a record of making independent judgements.
Earlier, an exhausted, emotional Mr Hicks said, "I never, ever thought
I'd be travelling this far from home", before breaking down in tears.
Mr Hicks and his wife, Bev, appeared taken aback by their strange
surroundings at the US naval base. Polite military officers escorted
them around the island, ushering them back and forth to the navy lodge
where they are staying, while Hicks is sleeping in isolation at Camp
Mr Kenny flagged that as soon as Hicks's brief preliminary hearing ends
here, his US lawyers will refile a writ of habeas corpus in an attempt
to force his case into the US courts. That door was opened in June when
the US Supreme Court found that Hicks and other Guantanamo Bay detainees
had rights under US law.