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Wednesday September 21, 2005

Canberra welcomes move to resume US trial of Aussie terror suspect

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - The Australian government welcomed Wednesday moves in Washington to resume the trial of a former kangaroo skinner charged with terror offenses. 

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio, "I think it's appropriate that the matter should be seen to be moving forward.'' 

David Hicks, 30, who is accused of fighting on behalf of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime against U.S. forces, has pleaded innocent. 

He is being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with other terror suspects and is to be tried in front of a court called a military commission. 

John Altenburg Jr., the appointing authority for military commissions, directed in an order published Tuesday that the first session of a resumed Hicks trial be held by Oct. 20, but not earlier than Oct. 3. 

Court proceedings against Hicks and three other Guantanamo Bay detainees were begun in August 2004, but were suspended last November after a court ruled that Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni, could not be tried by a military commission unless a "competent tribunal'' determined first that he was not a prisoner of war. 

In July, a three-judge federal panel ruled that the commission itself was a competent tribunal and that Hamdan could assert his claim to prisoner of war status at the time of his trial before a military commission. 

Hamdan's lawyers appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to hear the case. 

The Law Council of Australia said Wednesday that if the military commission goes ahead, Hicks would face a travesty of justice. 

"Mr. Hicks could be months away from being placed at the mercy of a system that has been described by many as unfair, rigged and flawed,'' said president-elect of the Law Council Tim Bugg. 

"The constantly changing military commission process has been heavily criticized by legal experts from both Australia and abroad,'' Bugg added. 

Hicks' U.S. military lawyer Maj. Michael Mori also criticized the commission process. 

"The military commission system will not provide a full and fair trial, whether it starts today, in a month or in three months,'' he said. - AP 

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