'Aussie Taliban' to get his day in court
Relations between the US and one of its staunchest allies face a formidable test Monday when Australia’s only Guantánamo Bay prisoner faces an American military commission after more than five years of imprisonment.
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David Hicks is a former kangaroo shooter and jackaroo (cowboy) who was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in December 2001 and handed over to American forces.
The Muslim convert and one-time militiaman for the Kosovo Liberation Front in Albania during the 1990s is expected to plead not guilty to a charge of providing support for terrorism.
In Australia, half a world away from Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay, the issue of Mr. Hicks has grown from a cause célèbre for a few left-wing pressure groups to a mainstream chorus of concern. In recent weeks, Hicks’s continued detention has been criticized by members of Parliament, judges, the head of the Australian Federal Police, and the defense force’s chief military prosecutor, who branded his treatment “abominable.”
Washington alleges that Hicks trained with Al Qaeda and was fighting with the Taliban when US and coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Dubbed the “Aussie Taliban” in his home country, the 31-year-old from Adelaide, in South Australia, has been imprisoned without trial since January 2002.
When he was captured, the national consensus was that Hicks was a troublemaker – a full-fledged recruit of Islamic terrorism who deserved everything he got. But the interminable delays in bringing him to trial have cultivated an image of Hicks as a victim of American bullying.
The issue touches both sides of politics, says Brett Solomon, executive director of Get Up, an independent political movement that has been campaigning for Hicks’s release.
“For the right, it’s a question of nationalism – here is an Australian citizen who has been left to languish in a foreign prison and let down by his government,” says Mr. Solomon. “For the left, the intelligentsia, and the legal community, it’s a matter of basic human rights. All the principles that Australians and Americans hold dear – democracy, the right to a fair trial, the right not to suffer arbitrary detention – are being chucked away.”
Solomon says the “glue” uniting both ends of the spectrum is a recent poll which found that 91 percent of Australians think that, regardless of his alleged crimes, Hicks deserves a fair trial. Less than a quarter believed he is likely to receive one.
“I think Australians are fed up with the fact that an Australian citizen has had his rights denied in order to support a diplomatic relationship with a key ally,” Solomon says.
Hicks’s outspoken American military lawyer, Maj. Michael Mori of the Marines, has made so many visits to Australia that he has become something of a celebrity.