*By Steve Larkin*
*AUSTRALIAN Taliban fighter David Hicks could remain in Guantanamo
forever, even if cleared by a US military tribunal, his American lawyer
Adelaide-born Hicks will be among the first six Guantanamo Bay detainees
to face a US military commission.
The 27-year-old was captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan in
November 2001 and has since been held at a US military camp at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He has not been charged and no date has been set for his hearing before
the tribunal, which has powers including the death penalty.
Hicks' American lawyer Joe Margulies said there was no evidence to
support Prime Minister John Howard's assertion that the Australian had
admitted training with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
"I certainly doubt that David in fact trained with al-Qaeda,"
Margulies said today.
"I don't know whether in fact David has said this, because there is
certainly no proof of it and even the United States has never alleged this."
Mr Margulies said if Mr Howard believed Hicks had confessed, the Prime
Minister "would be well advised ... to study the American experience
with the death penalty".
"False confession after false confession has led to the conviction
innocent people," Mr Margulies said.
"He (Hicks) has been held 19 months, interrogated at will in a six
by eight foot cell, no contact with the outside world, no counsel.
"Finally, the United States says to him you have two choices: you
acknowledge a role with al-Qaeda, in which case you can plead to some
crime and get a term of years after which you can go home; or you can
remain in this limbo forever.
"Literally, that is the (US) government's position, that David and
everybody else can be held indefinitely and that the war on terrorism is
"As far as David can see, he has been there 19 months and there is
literally no end in sight.
"In those circumstances it doesn't surprise me at all that any
reasonable person would confess or admit what the United States wants
them to admit."
Even if exonerated by the US military commission, Hicks' detention at
Guantanamo Bay could continue, Mr Margulies said.
"You can win in the tribunal but they could still hold you as this
`enemy combatant'," he said.
"The information that they get during the commission process can lead
you continuing to be held forever, the government has made it very clear
that is the case."
Mr Margulies said Hicks would serve any penalty decided by the tribunal
at Guantanamo Bay.
"The reason for that is they (the US government) have successfully
argued so far that no court has jurisdiction over what goes on in
Guantanamo, "he said.
"If they moved him to the United States mainland, he could seek civilian
review of his conviction, and they don't want that because they don't
want a court looking at this.
"And if he was repatriated to Australia, presumably he could seek
in an Australian court.
"So they are going to keep him in this legal limbo in order to insulate
there quote `conviction' from any kind of civilian review, and that is
one of the very troubling things about the tribunal process."
Mr Margulies is acting on behalf of Hicks and other detainees in a US
Supreme Court appeal challenging rulings that US courts had no
jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay.
The appeal will be heard later this year.
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