Australian pleads not guilty to war crimes

Detainee is second to face U.S. trial at Guantanamo


GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - David Hicks, a 29-year-old Australian whose father describes him as an adventurer who's gotten himself in and out of jams all his life, has become the second prisoner at the U.S. prison camp here to be formally charged with war crimes.

Hicks, a Muslim convert, was accused yesterday of being an al-Qaida trainee who fought against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, where he was captured.

"Mr. David Hicks, how do you plead?" asked Col. Peter Brownback III.

"Sir, to all charges, not guilty," the 5-foot-3-inch one-time cowboy said before breathing a huge sigh and cracking his only public smile of the day.

Hicks' appearance was in sharp contrast to the appearance Tuesday of the first person to face a U.S. war crimes trial since World War II when Yemen's Salim Hamdan smiled broadly in the courtroom. Hicks sat stoically throughout the proceedings, staring straight ahead or at his hands.

At one point Hicks looked back toward his father and stepmother in the gallery. Earlier, before he entered the courtroom, the three had had an emotional 15-minute reunion, the first in five years, said Hicks' civilian attorney, Joshua Dratel.

Much of the day's proceedings were taken up with defense lawyers questioning the six Army, Air Force and Marine colonels who will determine Hicks' guilt or innocence.

Defense lawyers also have filed at least 17 motions challenging the tribunal, including whether President Bush has the authority to order the trial of an Australian and the military officers' suitability to judge him.

Also attending the proceedings were several representatives of the Australian government and a lawyer who advocates Hicks be returned to his homeland for trial. Hicks' case has become a cause celebre among many in Australia who are opposed to their government's alliance with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"He should be brought back home to face trial in Australia," said Stephen Kenney, a lawyer from Adelaide.

Hicks' father described his son as "a normal kid."

"He got into trouble and he got out of trouble, but he always got out of it," said Terry Hicks, an Adelaide retiree. "David's always been an adventurer all his life. He always wanted to see what was over the next fence. As he got older, the fence got higher."

Terry Hicks said his son ran away from home and worked as a kangaroo skinner at a meat-packing plant in the Outback. Then he went to Kosovo to fight on the side of the Muslims and converted to Islam. The last time his family heard from him, before he was captured and sent to Guantanamo in January 2002, he had gone to Pakistan on a pilgrimage.

In addition to conspiracy, he is charged with aiding the enemy and attempted murder for allegedly firing at allied troops in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Defense attorneys challenged five of the six military officers on the tribunal, saying their experience with either the war in Afghanistan or the Sept. 11 attacks made it impossible for them to judge their client fairly.

But the military prosecutor praised the six tribunal members as "the best and the brightest" in the U.S. military.

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