‘Bring My Son Home,’ Pleads Guantanamo Bay Detainee’s Father

CANBERRA, Mar 10 (IPS) – The father of the only Australian prisoner held in the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has renewed his plea that his son be brought home to face any charges following the return by the U.S. government of three French men to Paris this week.

Attending the screening of a film, The President vs. David Hicks, at Parliament House here, Terry Hicks wants the Australian government to press the United States to allow his son to face any charges in Australia.

"He should be brought home and if he has done anything wrong, he should face the courts here," Terry Hicks told reporters on Tuesday.

The repatriation of the French men on Monday, who have been held for questioning, followed the visit to Paris last month by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. However the Australian government has refused to seek David Hicks’ repatriation to Australia claiming that his case is different because he has been charged to appear before a US military commission.

David Hicks remains in captivity after being arrested in Afghanistan by the U.S.-supported Afghan Northern Alliance in December 2001 and handed over to US forces. According to the film, the US government instituted a program in Afghanistan where it would pay a bounty to those who handed over members of the Taliban to the US military.

Australian Greens Senator, Kerry Nettle, who hosted the screening, said the release of the French "leaves David as the only Westerner who continues to be held at Guantanamo Bay. Whether they were from the United States, Britain or France, the rest have been returned to their home country."

Late last year David Hicks was charged with war crimes by US authorities and was scheduled to be the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to face a military commission. While his trial was scheduled to start in January this year, a series of legal challenges have stalled any proceedings until overarching legal issues have been resolved.

An appeal launched by one Guantanamo Bay detainee, Salim Hamdan, against the validity of the military commissions was scheduled to be heard this week but has now been delayed until early April. If the court rules the military commissions are legal David Hicks’ trial is unlikely to commence until the second half of the year.

While approximately 540 prisoners from 40 countries remain at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, the US government has repatriated over 200 to their home countries.

The film follows David Hicks’ father, Terry retracing the journey of his son through Pakistan and Afghanistan. David Hicks, who converted to Islam, went to religious schools in Pakistan before fighting with the Kosovo Liberation Army. He subsequently fought in Kashmir before returning to Pakistan once more and then in 2000 joining the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Most of the film is about the frustrations of the family in trying to get in contact with the government departments, knocking our heads against the wall, we just had nothing from the government to help us," said Terry Hicks.

Terry Hicks’ down to earth manner has won him many supporters. Introducing him ahead of the film, Senator Nettle described him as "deserving of a Father of the Year Award for the work that he has been doing" while filmmaker Curtis Levy described him as "brave."

The self-effacing Terry Hicks disagreed. "A lot of people said I was brave but I don’t think I’m brave. I think most people here that have kids would do the same thing that I did, I’m hoping that they would do the same thing that I did as I think our children are important regardless of what they are supposed to have done," he said.

Amnesty International Australia has described the US military commission process as "fundamentally flawed" and expressed its concern about David Hicks’ ongoing detention. The Law Council of Australia has also strongly criticized the Australian government’s failure to ensure that its citizens have access to basic legal rights.

In February the only other Australian held in Guantanamo Bay, Sydney man Mamdouh Habib was released without charge by the US and repatriated to Australia.

Habib was detained on a bus heading to Karachi in Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2001 and said that men with a North American accent interrogated him with an Australian official present. This happened before he was moved to Egypt where he alleges he was tortured over a six-month period.

He was moved once more to the US military base at Bagram in Afghanistan and then, on May 4, 2002 to the notorious Camp X-ray at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where it is also alleged he was mistreated, including being told that his family had been killed.

Habib’s accusations have been further bolstered by revelations at the weekend on the US edition of ’60 Minutes’ by the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, whose deputy was informed by the Central Intelligence Agency station chief that torture was being used at Guantanamo Bay.

In a paid interview with the Australian edition of the 60 Minutes program, Habid detailed accusations that he was tortured by US personnel.

Habib also said an Australian official was present. Asked if the Australian beat him, Habib said: "No, Australian … he was watching me when I was being beaten."

While the Australian government rejects the accusation it faces the prospect of a Senate committee inquiry into the allegation.