Australia Won't Fight for Detainees

Fri Mar 12, 8:30 AM ET

By JAMIE TARABAY, Associated Press Writer

SYDNEY, Australia - Two Australians are being held without charge by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay. But their government says it can't and won't bring them back for trial even though citizens of other countries have been sent home from the prison camp.

Denmark and Britain, like Australia, are partners in the U.S.-led war on terror, and have successfully applied to the United States for the return of their nationals six of some 660 detainees from 44 countries held at the base in eastern Cuba.

All five British suspects were set free after arriving this week, as was the Dane.

But Australia has resisted calls from local politicians and relatives of the two men David Hicks and Mamdoub Habib to do the same.

The government says it can't put them on trial here because current anti-terror laws were not on Australia's statute books at the time of their capture. That has enraged Hicks' family in the southern Australian city of Adelaide.

"You hear the British demanding their people back, and they're negotiating," Hicks' father Terry said recently. "So what I'd like to know is: What the hell has the Australian government been doing?"

So far, neither Hicks nor Habib has been charged. And, only Hicks has been slated to stand before an American military tribunal. He's also one of only two Guantanamo Bay inmates to have been appointed a lawyer by the Pentagon (news - web sites).

Hicks' U.S. military attorney Maj. Michael Mori, who is in Australia this week to generate support for his client, fears that process will not deliver justice.

"He's facing a process that's stacked against him," Mori told Australia's Sky News.

Like Britain, Australia is one of America's closest allies and committed troops to Iraq (news - web sites) and Afghanistan (news - web sites). Last year, President Bush (news - web sites) lauded Australia as Washington's "sheriff" in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard repeatedly has said he's happy to let the U.S. military justice system deal with Hicks and Habib, who are both suspected of having links with Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al-Qaida terror network.

Hicks, 28, a former ranchhand and convert to Islam, was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001. Habib, 47, was arrested in Pakistan three weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Both suspects' families deny they are terrorists or affiliated to terror groups.

Habib has claimed that he was only in Pakistan searching for a school for his children, who live with their mother in Sydney.

Ross Babbage, a regional security analyst at the Australian National University said he believes Australia has been told by the United States that the case against Hicks is strong, but that trying him in an Australian court could undermine it.

U.S. authorities have said they won't seek the death sentence if Hicks is convicted. Australia's parliament also passed a law that would allow Hicks and Habib to serve prison time in Australia if they are charged and convicted in the United States.

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