Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The first independent defense attorney allowed to see a Guantanamo Bay detainee says his client -- an Australian Muslim convert captured in Afghanistan -- has not been ill-treated during his two years in U.S. military custody.
But Australian lawyer Stephen Kenny was nonetheless highly critical of the legal "black hole" he said David Hicks has been in over that period, during which he had not been charged, and had been denied access to family and lawyers.
After meeting with Hicks over a period of five days, Kenny gave a press conference in the U.S., but said he was restricted by American authorities as to how much he could say.
It looked likely Hicks would face "some form of conspiracy charge" when he stands trial before a military commission, he said.
Considering the conditions and his circumstances, Hicks appeared to be in reasonable spirits.
Kenny said the detainee gave "credit to those individuals who guard him and have treated him in a decent and human way within the limits set for them."
"He has not been ill-treated since his arrival in Guantanamo Bay, if you ignore the isolation, his lack of access to the outside world and his denial of his basic human rights," Kenny said.
Hicks is one of more than 600 detainees being held at the U.S. military base in Cuba, captured in and around Afghanistan during the U.S.-led campaign to topple the Taliban regime and its al-Qaeda allies following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The Australian, who was caught by the U.S-backed Northern Alliance in December 2001, is one of six men whom President Bush announced last July had been shortlisted for trial by U.S. military tribunal.
The six included Hicks, two Britons, and three others who have yet to be identified by name or nationality.
The Pentagon said at the time there was evidence that the six "may have attended terrorist training camps and may have been involved in such activities as financing al Qaeda, providing protection for Osama bin Laden, and recruiting future terrorists."
As close military allies of the U.S., both the Australian and British governments came under criticism at home for not doing more to ensure that Australian and British nationals among the detainees received a speedy trial.
After lengthy negotiations with Australian officials last month, U.S. officials announced several concessions for Hicks, including an undertaking that he would not face the death penalty if convicted, and would serve whatever sentence was handed down in an Australian prison.
U.S. authorities subsequently allowed Hicks to be the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to have defense representation, prompting expectations that he would be the first of the six to stand trial.
The military has also appointed a military lawyer - a U.S. Marine major - as defense attorney for the Australian detainee.
In recent days, Hicks has been allowed to speak to his father by phone, and Kenny has been allowed to take him letters, photographs and snacks.
U.S. newspapers recently reported that American officials were negotiating a plea bargain deal with Hicks, but Kenny told reporters he could not speak about that.
Exactly what the 28-year-old former rodeo rider is accused of doing remains unclear.
Kenny said he was not allowed to talk about the specifics of Hicks' case, although he did say his client was not "a killer" and had never harmed an American.
According to the Australian government Hicks fought with the Kosovo Liberation Army in the Balkans - where he converted to Islam -- and later with a Pakistan-based terrorist group fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir. Then he went to Afghanistan.
Last July, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for the first time confirmed that U.S. officials had told Australia Hicks had trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The training, which included surveillance and weapons training, had taken place "over a number of months" during 2000 and 2001, Downer said.
Legal and human rights groups have strongly criticized the military tribunal proposals, saying suspects would be denied some of the protections standard in most civil courts.
In Australia, a support group for Hicks has been urging the government to demand that he be returned to face trial in Australia
"The Australian government has not done the right thing and at the end of the day, the Australian people will judge them on that and I hope they judge them harshly," Kenny was quoted as saying at the press conference.
Last month, 16 Guantanamo Bay detainees, including Hicks, won the right to a U.S. Supreme Court hearing.
The Supreme Court overruled lower court rulings that the men cannot invoke U.S. court jurisdiction on the grounds they are being held outside sovereign American territory.
The cases brought on behalf of two Australians, two Britons and 12 Kuwaitis will be heard next year.
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