Lawyer seeks help for Australian Guantanamo inmate

CANBERRA (Reuters) - The lawyer for Australia’s only Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks, pleaded on Tuesday for Australian government intervention in his case and said Hicks’s five-year detention without trial was an abomination.

Protests are planned in Australia to mark Thursday’s fifth anniversary of the opening of the U.S. military prison camp in Cuba where Hicks is being held.

His lawyer, David McLeod, said legal manoeuvring in the United States by advocates for other inmates meant Hicks could be in Guantanamo for at least another two years, and the only certainty was more delay.

“Spending five years in the Western world’s harshest prison still without charge is just an abomination, and surely something that nobody should be prepared to support,” McLeod told Reuters.

Hicks, 31, was arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and accused of fighting for al Qaeda. He is among around 395 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters being held in the U.S. enclave, and is tipped to be one of the first to face trial.

Charges against Hicks of conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy were dropped when the U.S. Supreme Court last June rejected the tribunal system set up by President George W. Bush to try foreign terrorism suspects.

Hicks had previously pleaded not guilty.

But with public pressure mounting in Australia for a resolution to his case, both Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Prime Minister John Howard have admitted in recent weeks that Hicks’ case was dragging. It was rare but muted criticism of Canberra’s close ally, the United States.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said charges would be laid against Hicks soon after regulations passed by Congress took effect on January 17, clearing the way for trials to proceed.

Downer asked on Tuesday for the case to be kept in perspective, saying there were 180 Australians facing trial around the world for a variety of offences.

McLeod countered that others, unlike his client, were facing known charges. He accused the government of failing to help only because Hicks came from a poor and unconnected family.

“The true measure of a democracy is not how the government looks after the influential and the powerful, but how it looks after the least able to defend themselves,” he said.