DETAINEES Australian to face military hearing
In another hearing, Osama bin Laden's chauffeur declined to enter a plea.
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) -- The father of an Australian cowboy accused of fighting with Afghanistan's ousted Taliban questioned the fairness of a U.S. military commission panel on the eve of his son's hearing, while an earlier hearing ended with another challenge to its impartiality.
David Hicks, 29, faced charges today of conspiracy to commit war crimes, as well as aiding the enemy and attempted murder for reportedly firing at U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Hicks' family, which has not seen him in five years, arrived Tuesday at Guantanamo Bay.
"My expectation was that we would have David back to Australia after the first three months," said father Terry Hicks, 58, after arriving from Adelaide with his wife, Beverly, Hicks' stepmother. "I don't think it is a fair and honest system."
Hicks, who arrived at the prison camp in Guantanamo in January 2002, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. He is expected to plead innocent at today's hearing.
Bin Laden's chauffeur
Osama bin Laden's chauffeur, 34-year-old Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, declined to enter a plea Tuesday at the first U.S. military commission hearings to convene since World War II.
Hamdan withheld his plea until motions filed by his military-appointed lawyer are decided. A ruling is not likely until November.
His defense is challenging whether the hearing should proceed without a ruling on his "enemy combatant" status, which allows fewer legal protections than prisoners of war. That classification was used to justify trying Hamdan and others before military commissions, which will allow secret evidence and no federal appeals, rather than courts-martial or U.S. civilian courts.
Hamdan's defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. civilian courts that is to be heard in Washington alleging the illegality of commissions.
Swift also challenged the capacity and impartiality of four panel members -- including the presiding officer -- and one alternate.
"It is important that these proceedings not only be fair, but appear fair to the world," Swift said in the hearing that lasted more than eight hours.
Hamdan, who was not shackled and wore a flowing white robe, listened intently to an Arabic interpreter through headphones. He smiled and chuckled at several points in the hearing, but appeared more serious toward the end.
He is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, including attacking civilians, murder and terrorism. He isn't charged with any specific violent act.
Hamdan, also known as Saqr al Jaddaw, has said he earned a pittance for his family as bin Laden's driver before the Sept. 11 attacks, but he has denied involvement in terrorism. U.S. officials allege that he served as the Al-Qaida leader's bodyguard and driver between February 1996 and Nov. 24, 2001, and that he delivered weapons to Al-Qaida operatives.