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Australian facing war-crimes trial
Description: The Pentagon on Thursday formally charged an Australian citizen held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with a single count of providing material support for terrorism, setting the stage for the first military trial of a terrorism suspect under legislatio
Date: 01 March 2007
Author: Carol Rosenberg
Source: Miami Herald
The Pentagon on Thursday formally charged an Australian citizen held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with a single count of providing material support for terrorism, setting the stage for the first military trial of a terrorism suspect under legislation Congress passed last year.

The charge alleges that David Hicks, 31, a one-time cowboy and kangaroo skinner, was in league with al Qaeda at the time of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, had met Osama bin Laden and joined Taliban and al Qaeda supporters fighting U.S.-allied forces outside Kunduz, Afghanistan, during combat on Nov. 9, 2001.

Hicks fled the fighting as U.S.-allied tanks roared through trenches, the charge asserts, and was captured attempting to flee to Pakistan.

Under new procedures, which Congress approved after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an earlier Pentagon trial scheme was illegal, Hicks must be arraigned within 30 days. His trial must begin within 90 days after that, meaning his case will go before a military commission by July.

It would be the first U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II.

The decision to charge Hicks only with supporting al Qaeda was something of a surprise. Prosecutors initially had also charged him with attempted murder, alleging that he had directed ``small arms fire, explosives or other means and methods with the intent to kill diverse persons.''

But that charge was crossed out on the official charge sheet by Susan Crawford, a former chief of the military appeals-court system whom Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently put in charge of the commissions process.

The Pentagon offered no explanation about why the charge was dropped, merely releasing the original charge sheets with a bold pen stroke across the attempted murder section, accompanied by Crawford's handwritten initials and Thursday's date.

Hicks' defense attorney, Marine Maj. Dan Mori, slammed the prosecution, asserting that Hicks had been held for five years at Guantánamo on ``made-up offenses.''

''David has been charged with only one offense: material support of terrorism,'' Mori said. ``Such a charge has never existed in the laws of war.''

Other international law experts also questioned the charge.

''If he's not in a foreign army, not in a uniform, simply a guy who has shown up with an AK-47 and starts taking potshots at us, he's not a foreign combatant. He's a common criminal. You don't try him in a military commission,'' said Michael Byers, a professor of international law at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

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