Ex-Guantanamo inmate takes Australia to the UN

DVBP948 4 WP 0704 AUS /AFP-VE18 Australia-US-attacks-Guantanamo-UN lead Ex-Guantanamo inmate takes Australia to the UN by Amy Coopes =(File Picture)= ATTENTION - ADDS political influence, govt response, background /// SYDNEY, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - An Australian who spent more than five years in Guantanamo Bay and pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism is going to the United Nations to challenge US ally Canberra's handling of his case. David Hicks, 35, was captured in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and spent five-and-a-half years in the US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay before being convicted by a Military Commission of providing material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to seven years' jail, all but nine months of which was suspended, and was transferred from Guantanamo to an Australian prison in 2007 to serve out his term, subject to a 12-month gag order. The former Outback cattleman is now appealing to the United Nations' Human Rights Committee, seeking compensation and an apology from Australia for upholding and enforcing what he claims was an unlawful charge and penalty. It is his first major challenge to his detention and conviction under the controversial Military Commission system. Under his plea deal Hicks is forbidden from "appealing or collaterally attacking" his conviction in the United States and he can be forced to serve out the rest of his sentence if he does so, limiting his legal options. He is also banned from undertaking, participating in or supporting "litigation in any forum against the United States or any of its officials... with regard to (his) capture, treatment, detention, or prosecution." Accordingly, his appeal to the UN is framed against Australia rather than against the US. Authored by humanitarian lawyer Ben Saul on Hicks' behalf, the submission calls for Australia to "request the US authorities to formally overturn Mr Hicks' conviction under US law and to nullify the plea agreement". It also asks for Canberra to "initiate and conduct an independent investigation into allegations that David Hicks was tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in US custody." A spokesman for Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland confirmed that the submission had been made and told AFP that Canberra was "preparing a comprehensive response to the communication". Canberra reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the only other Australian held in Guantanamo, Mamdouh Habib, earlier this year but did not accept any legal liability. Made public for the first time on Sunday, Saul's submission claims Australia had breached a number of its human rights obligations to Hicks through its complicity with US authorities and support for the Military Commission process. The 107-page document sent to the UN critiques the Military Commission at length, describing it as "in essence an organ of the US military" which did not meet the minimum requirements of a fair trial under human rights law. It said Hicks suffered "unlawful psychological coercion, pressure and duress", including beatings, sexual abuse and drugging, and he was convicted on a statement of facts for which he never received any evidence. Saul said Australian officials "knew or should reasonably have known" of Hicks' mistreatment while in US custody and had "encouraged and supported it" by failing to investigate his credible allegations of torture. There had been "direct political interference" in Hicks' case, he added, with the Commission's former chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis, claiming he was pressed to charge the Australian by US Department of Defense officials. "Interference in the conduct of trial and the plea negotiation occurred because of political pressure from the US President and the Australian Prime Minister to expeditiously conclude Mr Hicks' trial," wrote Saul. As well as an apology and compensation, the submission also calls on the Canberra to abandon its Australian court case against Hicks over the proceeds from his tell-all memoir "Guantanamo: My Journey", which it wants to seize as the profits of crime. ajc/slb AFP 211008 GMT AUG 11