Guantanamo Hearing Tests New Rules

David Hicks, an Australian citizen, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on one count of providing material support for terrorism.

Hicks has been held at Guantanamo for more than five years. He's one of only 10 prisoners there who has been charged.

Dozens of attorneys, human rights workers, journalists, legal professors and his father and step-sister have traveled to Cuba for what is expected to be the briefest of hearings.

Two-and-a-half years ago, David Hicks first walked into the small courtroom that sits on a hilltop at Guantanamo, overlooking the military camp. And for nearly two and half years he's been waiting for his trial to resume.

Hicks' trial, and those of nine other Guantanamo detainees, has been on hold while U.S. courts debated whether the military tribunals were legal.

The 31-year-old Hicks will become the first al-Qaida suspect to have a hearing since the Bush administration rewrote the rules for these tribunals. The administration was ordered to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had found the original set-up unconstitutional.

Air Force Col. Moe Davis, the chief prosecutor, explained the government's case against Hicks:

"He went to al-Qaida training camp to learn how to perfect his skills. After 9/11 he traveled back to Afghanistan and reported to a senior al-Qaida commander and, in essence, said, 'David Hicks reporting for duty.' He was issued a weapons, he was issued hand grenades. He was sent ... to the front lines. All those acts together — his support for the al-Qaida organization is what we intend to prove."

If convicted, Hicks could face life in prison. However, Davis says he would be satisfied if the defendant received a 20-year sentence. There has been talk about a possible plea bargain. David McLeod, one of Hicks' civilian defense lawyers, says his client is weighing his options.

"He's been in the Western world's most notorious prison for five years, the last year or so in pretty much isolation," McLeod said. "It's been a pretty rough trot over the past five years. And if it was yourself, you would be thinking, I suspect, about how to get out of this place."

McLeod says, on the other hand, Hicks has always maintained a desire to stay and defend himself against the allegations.

Beyond those negotiations, there is increasing public acrimony between defense and prosecution. And, most recently, the defense team has asked that Davis be taken off the case. Hicks' lawyers have mobilized public outrage over Hicks incarceration back in Australia.

Davis acknowledged that prosecution has a huge image hurdle to overcome.

"I'm aware of the reputation around the world, that these stories that have been told, and these horror tales about Guantanamo," he said. "I hope the way we conduct these (trials) can help change those perceptions."

McLeod says there are still too many loopholes in the system. Among them, he notes, are the possibility of admitting "evidence obtained by hearsay" and "evidence obtained by coercion — which is the new word for torture."

David Hicks' father Terry arrived from Adelaide, Australia. He last saw his son nearly three years ago. In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said he's concerned about his son's mental and physical health.

"It is a huge concern, we've had feedback from the lawyers over the last few years of how he's been going," Terry Hicks said. "And he's deteriorated. And this is one of the things we've got to brace ourselves for I suppose."

Hicks will get to spend about an hour with his family before he enters the courtroom Monday — and then briefly afterwards, before they leave the southeast corner of Cuba and head back to Australia.

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