Australian Detainee Pleads Not Guilty, Meets With Family
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Aug. 26, 2004 Australian detainee David Hicks, accused of fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, pleaded not guilty here Aug. 25 to war-crimes charges and met with his family for the first time in five years.
"Sir, to all charges, not guilty," Hicks said when asked to enter a plea at the end of a full day of preliminary hearings.
Hicks is charged with conspiracy to commit the offenses of attacking civilians and civilian objects, murder, destruction of property and terrorism. Yemeni detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, whose case officially began a day earlier, faces the same charges. Hicks also faces the additional charges of attempted murder by an "unprivileged belligerent" and aiding the enemy.
The commission's presiding officer, Army Col. Peter Brownback, set a trial date for Jan. 10. The parties will meet before the five-man panel again on Nov. 2 for a hearing on several motions Hicks' defense attorneys have filed. The next hearing in Hamden's case is scheduled for the first week of November. If convicted, both Hicks and Hamden face life in prison.
Earlier in the day, before the hearings convened, Hicks met with his father, Terry, and stepmother, Bev, at the building here being used for a courthouse. Terry Hicks later said the meeting included a "lot of hugging and kissing."
He also said his son had been abused before being brought to Guantanamo Bay. A Defense Department spokesman said an investigation into the allegations is being conducted, but that officials would wait for the results of the investigation before commenting.
In a short news conference the previous evening, shortly after the family arrived here from Australia, Terry Hicks had described his son as an adventurer. "He always wanted to see over the next fence," he said of David. "And as he got older, the fence got higher."
Hicks entered the courtroom in a dark gray suit, clean-shaven and with a military-style haircut. He was escorted to his seat between two defense attorneys by military police officers, who sat behind him throughout the proceedings.
Hicks's defense attorneys followed the earlier lead of Hamdan's military- appointed attorney and challenged the suitability of four members of the five- man panel and an alternate officer. The attorneys allege unique experiences in the officers' military careers might prevent them from being impartial, or at least create the appearance that they can't be impartial.
In each case, the panel officers said they would put their previous experiences aside and judge each case on the merits of the evidence. Brownback is sending the challenges to Washington to be decided by Appointing Authority John D. Altenburg Jr.
Hicks sat quietly with his hands in his lap most of the day. When asked questions by presiding officer, Hicks consistently answered with a quiet, "Yes, Sir," or "No, Sir."
The only time he was seen to smile was after he made his not guilty plea and Brownback closed the hearing.