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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 06:44 GMT
Hicks charge 'took too much time'
David Hicks (file photo)
David Hicks has often complained about his treatment
Australian PM John Howard has welcomed a US move to file charges against an Australian man held at Guantanamo Bay for five years without trial.

But he said he was "very unhappy" that the process to charge 31-year-old David Hicks had taken so long.

A US military judge finally charged Mr Hicks on Thursday with "providing material support for terrorism".

There has been growing domestic unease over Mr Hicks' treatment, and Mr Howard had been under pressure to intervene.

Mr Hicks was detained in Afghanistan, where he allegedly fought alongside the ruling Taleban against US-led forces.

He has been at Guantanamo since January 2002, a month after his capture.

Details emerged on Friday of claims that Mr Hicks has been abused during his time in the detention camp.

In documents due to be presented in May to a British court, as part of his application for UK citizenship, Mr Hicks said he had been shown a photo of a battered fellow inmate, and was told he would be subject to similar treatment if he did not co-operate.

In the documents, obtained by Australian media, Mr Hicks said the anxiety caused by months of abuse had forced him to "say anything" to military interrogators.

'Enemy combatant'

Mr Hicks is set to be the first suspect tried under a new US law authorising special military trials of "enemy combatants", passed by Congress last year.

The US military claims Mr Hicks supported terrorism by attending al-Qaeda training courses, and conducted surveillance on the US embassy in Kabul.

His American lawyer, Maj Michael Mori, said the charge of material support for terrorism brought against his client was fabricated. He wants the Australian government to mount a formal challenge against the charge, claiming it has no legal foundation.

With the trial due to start before July, Terry Hicks - David Hicks' father - said the timetable was being dictated by politics - a deal between the Bush administration and the Howard government to get his son back to Australia before federal elections due later this year.

Both Mr Hicks' lawyers and family have been pushing for a resolution to the situation for a long time, saying they feared for his mental health after such a long period in detention without trial.

The Australian public, too, has been increasingly angry about the length of time he has been in detention.

Mr Howard made a direct demand for a quick resolution of the case to US Vice President Dick Cheney, when he visited Sydney last weekend.

"The Americans have certainly speeded up the process, whether that is the result of representations I've made to both President Bush and Vice President Cheney I don't know," Mr Howard told Australian media on Friday.

"We remain unhappy that it has taken so long," he said. "I can't defend the length of time it's taken."

Mr Howard is also under pressure for not doing enough to try to have Mr Hicks repatriated to face trail in Australa, as fellow US ally Britain has done.

But the Australian leader told reporters on Friday: "I thought, on balance, justice was better served by an improved military commission in the United States.".

Mr Mori said Mr Hicks had "no hope of facing a fair trial, which would have been provided to an American a long time ago."

A preliminary hearing for Mr Hicks is expected to be held within 30 days, and a jury trial will start within 120 days, in accordance with the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The Bush administration has said that Mr Hicks can serve his sentence in Australia if convicted.


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John Howard's comments



SEE ALSO
US vice-president pledge on Hicks
24 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Hicks to return home 'this year'
18 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
US releases details against Hicks
16 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
US has 'strong case' against Hicks
11 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific

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