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3/1: US military charges Australian Guantanamo detainee
Released 06 March 2007  By Kristin Roberts - Reuters

US military charges Australian Guantanamo detainee

March 1, 2007
By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Thursday it charged Australia's only Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks, with providing material support for terrorism and that proceedings would begin in about a month.

The charges were the first brought against a suspected al Qaeda or Taliban member under the military commissions law passed by the U.S. Congress last year, the Pentagon said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, facing a tough election in 2007, had demanded Hicks be charged by the end of February and pressed Washington for a speedy trial. Hicks has been in U.S. custody at the Guantanamo military prison for five years.

Hicks, 31, will be notified of the charges this week, a Pentagon spokesman said. Once notified, Hicks will be arraigned within 30 days and then a military judge will have 120 days to form the military commission.

In the charging documents, the U.S. military accused Hicks of supporting terrorism by attending al Qaeda training courses, conducting surveillance on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, guarding a tank outside Kandahar airport and fighting U.S. and coalition forces for about two hours.

A second charge of "attempted murder" was not advanced.

A lawyer for Hicks could not be immediately reached.

The United States has been criticized worldwide for the continued detention at Guantanamo Bay of people the Pentagon says are al Qaeda and Taliban members. Many have been held for more than four years without charges.

The Pentagon on Thursday said it transferred five detainees to Afghanistan and Tajikistan, bringing the number of remaining detainees to 385.

"This is an important milestone for the military commissions since David Hicks is the first detainee to be officially charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Gordon.

In detailed charging documents, the military said Hicks participated in operations against coalition forces during the initial stages of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in October 2001. He guarded a tank outside of the Kandahar airport for a week and while there trained others, according to the charges.

Hicks then moved to Kabul and Konduz, looking for combat opportunities, the U.S. military said. In Konduz, he joined for two hours a group of al Qaeda and Taliban members fighting U.S. and coalition forces, according to the documents.

The next day, Konduz fell to U.S. forces and Hicks fled, the military said. Hicks was captured in Afghanistan by Northern Alliance forces while trying to reach Pakistan, the documents stated.

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