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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Terror suspect pleads not guilty
David Hicks (file photo)
David Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in 2001
Australian terror suspect David Hicks has pleaded innocent to charges brought against him by a US military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The charges include conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and helping the enemy during the 2001 US-led war in Afghanistan.

"Sir, to all charges, not guilty," Mr Hicks told the commission, which set his trial date for 10 January.

Mr Hick's father, whom he last saw five years ago, was present at the hearing.

David Hicks, a 29-year-old Muslim convert, is the first Westerner to face the tribunal.

The charges against him carry a maximum of life imprisonment.

Mr Hicks was allowed a brief private meeting with his father and stepmother before and after the hearing. They had travelled from their home city of Adelaide to attend the hearing.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Hick's father Terry said the treatment of his son had not been "very pleasant in the early stages".

David Hick's father Terry
Terry Hick says his son has been abused
He said his son was finding it hard to cope with his detention, although he had "gained a bit of weight".

"The first meeting was pretty emotional," Terry Hicks told reporters. "It's been hard on him."

He said the "love bits" in his family's letters to his son had been censored out and that his son had "never mentioned Islam".

"It could have happened to anyone... At that time a lot of people were picked up [in Afghanistan] because they were Westerners, so it is unfortunate that David was where he was."

'Unfair system'

Such military trials have not been used for more than 50 years, and human rights groups have said they are illegal.

"He is facing an unfair justice system which is not tolerated anywhere else in the world," a member of the Mr Hick's defence team said.

David Hicks (centre) is portrayed in a courtroom illustration, 25 August 2004
Military trials have not been used for 50 years
But a spokesman for the prosecution has insisted that the trials meet international standards.

David Hicks has been held by the US since December 2001, when he was captured in Afghanistan while allegedly fighting for the Taleban.

Mr Hicks, who has often been dubbed the Australian Taleban, is one of two Australian citizens held at Guantanamo Bay.

Egyptian-born Mamdouh Habib was arrested in 2001 in Pakistan. His family denies he has any links with al-Qaeda, saying he was captured while looking for a school for his children.

Mr Habib is expected to be among the second group of prisoners sent for trial.

On Tuesday, Osama Bin Laden's former driver, 34-year-old Salim Ahmed Hamdan, became the first Guantanamo detainee to appear before the military tribunal.

He postponed entering a plea to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

Two more men will appear at the tribunal later this week - Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, 33, from Yemen, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, born in 1960, of Sudan.

The BBC's Phil Mercer
"The prisoner's family has painted a picture of a... peace-loving young man"

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