Hicks 'was al-Qaeda operative'

Published on January 23, 2007, Herald Sun

Category: Islamic Terror in Kosovo

US prosecutors say Australian terror suspect David Hicks was a fully-fledged member of al-Qaeda who took orders from Osama bin Laden, rather than a naive adventurer out of his depth.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of Hicks's imprisonment without charge at Guantanamo Bay Colonel Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor for the US Office of Military Commissions, rejected the portrait of Hicks as merely someone in over his head.

The 31-year-old former Adelaide man has been held at the notorious US jail in Cuba since January 2002 after being captured a month earlier in Afghanistan.

Col Davis said today the US believed it had a strong case against Hicks and he was not convinced of his innocence.

Hicks returned to Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US with the expressed purpose of fighting with al-Qaeda, he said.

"He (Hicks) had experience in Kosovo, he had experience in Kashmir, he's been to a number of combat and terrorism training courses put on by al-Qaeda and from my understanding when 9/11 happened he was out of the country.

"But once he saw the US had been attacked he made a conscious choice to try to get back to Afghanistan, report in to a senior al-Qaeda leader and, in essence, say: `I'm David Hicks and I'm reporting for duty'," Col Davis said on ABC radio.

Hicks's US-appointed defence lawyer Michael Mori has said he is unaware of any evidence to support the colonel's claims and has also scoffed at the suggestion that his client had translated training manuals for the terror group.

Col Davis said people should not believe without question much of what Maj Mori said.

"I hope the Australian people aren't so gullible as to step in everything that Maj Mori has been spreading and if they do step in it they need to wipe their feet before they go into the house, because we contend a lot of the evidence has been half truths," he said.

Hicks was arrested by Northern Alliance forces in Kandahar in December 2001, reportedly guarding a Taliban tank in the aftermath of the group's toppling by a US bombing and ground campaign.

He was taken to Guantanamo Bay on January 12, 2002, when the US set up its prison centre there for suspects captured during operations in its campaign against terrorist targets.

Many other Guantanamo inmates have since been repatriated - including fellow Australian Mamdouh Habib - but Hicks was among the first prisoners to have charges laid against them.

In August 2004 he pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, aiding the enemy and attempted murder.

The US Supreme Court later ruled that the military commissions system that would have tried the suspects was unlawful. Hicks's charges were then dropped while the US established a new commission system.

Col Davis said Hicks would be one of the first charged when the new rules were unveiled, probably next week. "I anticipate within two weeks of the rules coming out we will start charging some of the individuals and David Hicks, I believe, will be among the first that we charge," he told ABC radio.

Col Davis expected Hicks would face trial within six months.

"We expect shortly after that we'd probably have a hearing on motions and we're hopeful by (mid-year) we can actually get the jury assembled and go to a trial on the merits and let the facts speak for themselves," he said.

Col Davis said US officials were just as unhappy as Australians with the delays to the case.

"We really and truly want to get this case to trial as soon as possible.

"We're frustrated that it has taken this long and we're anxious to get into the courtroom at the earliest possible date, that the facts be accurately reported back and that the world can see we are going to provide fair trials for the folks that come before military commissions."

Labor said yesterday that the new trial system would not allow Hicks a fair trial and he had been in legal limbo long enough.

Labor's legal affairs spokesman Kelvin Thompson called for Hicks to be brought home and place under a control order.

Hicks's father Terry has said his son is "near breaking point", after refusing to speak to him in a pre-arranged telephone call late last year and he had stopped meeting Australian consular officials.

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