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August 3, 2006

FORMER Governor-General Bill Hayden has accused the Howard Government of being a servile accomplice to the US's inhumane treatment of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks.

The former federal Labor leader also challenged Prime Minister John Howard to get Hicks a "fair go".

Adelaide-born Mr Hicks, who turned 31 today, has been detained since shortly after he was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

He faces trial on charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

Mr Hayden said today that the circumstances of Mr Hicks' detention were intolerable "to any person who faithfully embraces the rule of law as the keystone of a free, democratic society".

"In so many important respects those principles have been crudely violated by the US administration while the Australian Government has been a servile accomplice to this shoddy conduct," Mr Hayden wrote in an article for today's Courier Mail newspaper.

"Hicks has been rotting in prison since 2001. He was only charged with offences in June 2004, a flagrant violation of proper processes.

"Much of his time has been spent in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, one small window, a steel door and release for exercise two hours a day.

"That is cruel and inhumane treatment which will almost certainly leave him with serious personality damage.

"His complaints of torture have been scornfully dismissed by government spokesmen - quite unjustifiable when the International Red Cross has declared that the US military was treating prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in a manner 'tantamount to torture'."

Mr Hayden, also a former foreign minister, said the Howard Government had been "silly" in dismally failing an Australian citizen.

"I don't know Hicks personally but he deserves justice, as all Australians do when in trouble, but our government has announced that Hicks will be left to whatever fate the US serves up to him and, presumably, for however long that may take.

"How about a fair go for Hicks, Prime Minister?"

US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales today said his government could hold foreign "enemy combatants" indefinitely at sites such as Guantanamo Bay.

But he said the Bush administration would propose trying enemy combatants based on military court martial procedures, with a number of key changes.

Those include admitting hearsay evidence, limiting rights against self-incrimination before a trial, and limiting defendants' access to classified information.

Evidence obtained under duress would also be allowed, unless a military judge considers it unreliable, he said.

"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," Mr Gonzales told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them," he said.

The changes proposed by Gonzales still fall short of what the Democrats say would meet the US Supreme Court's demands for fair trials.

The Supreme Court last month declared that President George W. Bush's administration had overstepped its authority in forming military commissions to try Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Mr Gonzales said neither the Bush administration nor the US military wanted "to remain the world's jailers indefinitely."

Hicks had been due to face a military commission until they were held to be unlawful.

- with Reuters and AAP

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