Source : - Sydney Morning Herald

January 20, 2007

Prime Minister John Howard cannot pretend assurances by the Bush administration that terror suspect David Hicks will receive a fair trial are anything but worthless, the Australian Democrats say.

Democrats leader Lyn Allison was referring to a comment by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that he had been told by a person who had visited Hicks in Guantanamo Bay that he was mentally sound, contradicting claims by his father, Terry Hicks.

The person has since been revealed as Scott Weinhold, a public affairs officer with the United States embassy in Canberra.

Senator Allison accused the Australian government of allowing itself to be deceived by the US Bush administration about the future of the Adelaide-born Muslim convert who has been held in the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five years.

Hicks, 31, was captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan in late 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

He had previously pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

But the charges were dropped following a US Supreme Court ruling in June, declaring illegal the military tribunals set up to try Hicks and other Guantanamo Bay inmates.

However, new regulations have been issued by US authorities concerning evidence that will be allowed at new trials.

"Why is the Australian government willing to be strung along by Mr Bush and this travesty of justice?'' Senator Allison said.

"Evidence obtained through coercion or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment is apparently inadmissible for US citizens but OK for David Hicks!'' Senator Allison said in a statement.

"You cannot fight to protect democracy by adopting or supporting processes which fundamentally undermine it, and that is what continues to happen with the Hicks case.''

Senator Allison said the Democrats had been calling for years for Hicks to be given a fair trial or repatriated to Australia.

"It is an indictment on the Howard government that it endorses anti-democratic, unjust processes against one of its own citizens, dished out by a major ally,'' she said.

"Since Mr Howard won't act, we call on the new Democrat-controlled US Congress to insist that Australia accepts David Hicks back in Australia, sparing him and his family a lengthy and deeply unjust process.''

Earlier, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer hit back at lawyers representing David Hicks for disputing his report the Australian terror suspect is healthy.

Hicks' Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Major Michael Mori, has repeatedly said his client is suffering from severe depression as a result of his extended incarceration without trial at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Concerns about Hicks' mental state deepened when he refused to accept a phone call from his father, Terry, late last year - a contact that took months to organise.

"I think it is preposterous that I should be attacked for explaining ... that in the last week or so somebody visiting him spoke to him and he seemed to be in good health," Downer told reporters in New York.

Downer was quoted on Thursday as saying that Hicks, who has been held by the US military for five years, had met recently with Scott Weinhold, who said the 31-year-old was in good health.

Australian officials say they have received assurances that Hicks will be among the first to be charged and tried under a revised military tribunal system approved by the US Congress last year.

"We've been given assurances by the Americans that new charges will be brought, replacing the old charges," Downer said.


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