WASHINGTON – An Australian prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (search), has become the first foreign terrorist suspect to be given a U.S. military lawyer, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
Marine Corps Maj. Michael Mori will represent David Hicks, the Defense Department said in a brief statement. Hicks also will be given access to an Australian lawyer to act as a legal adviser, said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Michael Shavers.
Hicks is one of six prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba whom President Bush named as possible candidates for trial by a special military tribunal (search) for terrorism suspects. One other Australian citizen is among the more than 660 men and boys being held there.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) will make the final decision on which Guantanamo prisoners, if any, will face trial. Wolfowitz has not decided on Hicks' case, the Pentagon statement said.
The announcement came a day after the Pentagon announced an about-face in the case of a Louisiana-born terrorism suspect being held in the United States as an "enemy combatant." The Defense Department agreed to let Yaser Esam Hamdi (search) meet with a lawyer, a reversal from its previous refusal to do so.
The United States and Australia announced last week they had reached an agreement on how Hicks would be tried before a U.S. military tribunal. Australian officials said they were satisfied Hicks would get a fair trial.
U.S. officials assured Australia that Hicks would not face the death penalty and would not have his conversations with his lawyer monitored by American troops. The Bush administration also has agreed to allow terrorism suspects like Hicks to have lawyers from their home countries act as advisers during any trial, a measure not allowed in the original rules for the tribunals.
Mori will contact Hicks' Australian lawyer to arrange contacts between them and the prisoner, Shavers said. Hicks' family has hired lawyer Stephen Kenny to represent him.
Kenny said in Australia Thursday that charges could soon be filed against Hicks and that he wanted permission to visit Guantanamo Bay and speak to Mori before Christmas.
"I think that's the very least they can do," he said, adding he had already had some discussion with U.S. authorities about traveling there, although no commitments have been made.
Steve Ingram, a spokesman for Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock, said his government was holding talks with the U.S. military about allowing an Australian attorney into Cuba to act as a consultant with the U.S. lawyer on Hicks' case. Ingram would not comment on who that might be.
Ruddock has said the two Australian men being held at Guantanamo have no automatic right of return to Australia, but officials have been negotiating with the United States to have their cases finalized quickly.
"The minister recently made it clear that matters were progressing and this is an indication of that," Ingram said.
Richard Bourke, another Australian lawyer working on Hicks' case in the United States, said Wednesday he hoped Hicks' defense would be given enough time to prepare for a tribunal.
"In my view, lawyers involved in tribunal hearings are little better than window dressing for what are show trials," Bourke said.
Mori will travel to Guantanamo within the next few days to meet with Hicks and inform him of the tribunal rules, Shavers said. The visit will be the first of any defense lawyer to the high-security prison camp.
Hicks, a former cowboy who converted to Islam, was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and later brought to the Guantanamo prison. Australian officials have said Hicks is accused of training with Al Qaeda for several months in Afghanistan.