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Military Commission Proceedings to Resume for 'Australian Taliban'

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2005 – Proceedings will resume within the month at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the military commission trial of David Hicks, the so-called "Australian Taliban," Defense Department officials announced Sept. 20.

An Australian citizen, Hicks allegedly trained in Kosovo and then traveled to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban government. He was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and has been held at Guantanamo Bay since early 2002.

His was one of four war-crimes cases to begin the military commission process in August 2004. Proceedings in the four cases were halted in December, after a November ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On July 15, a federal appeals court overturned that ruling, clearing the way for commissions to resume.

John D. Altenburg Jr., appointing authority for military commissions, issued an order Sept. 20 for Hicks' trial to resume.

The order didn't include a specific date, but said the presiding officer, Army Col. Peter E. Brownback III, should begin hearing preliminary motions within 30 days. Defense officials said the hearings would begin between Oct. 3 and 20.

"Although no specific date has been set to resume this commission, the appointing authority's office is working with the prosecution and defense to ensure that both are ready to argue the case," Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a Defense Department spokesman, said today.

Recent changes to the commissions order have made the role of presiding officer in the military commissions much like that of a judge in civilian courts. Brownback will rule on questions of law and what can be admitted as evidence. A panel drawn from a pool of eight military officers will hear evidence and rule on guilt or innocence and decide sentencing, if necessary.

"We are confident that yesterday's announcement, combined with the recent changes in the military commission order, will afford Mr. Hicks a full and fair trial," Shavers said.

Hicks is charged with conspiracy to commit the offenses of attacking civilians and civilian objects, murder, destruction of property and terrorism. He faces the additional charges of attempted murder by an "unprivileged belligerent" and aiding the enemy. Hicks has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

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