Australian Held at Gimo Refuses to Meet With Consular Official

The lone Australian held as a terror suspect at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, refused to meet with a consular official because he was afraid of retribution from guards, his lawyer said Wednesday.

David Hicks, 31, has been held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo since January 2002, shortly after he was detained in Afghanistan. His lawyers say he is suffering from depression and ill health because of the conditions of his incarceration.

Hicks' Australian lawyer, David McLeod, said Hicks recently refused a visit from an Australian consular official fearing that he would be punished after the meeting.

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He said the official, whom he did not identify, made the unannounced visit earlier this week as McLeod and Hicks' Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Maj. Michael Mori, were visiting Hicks.

"David had previously expressed a wish not to see the consul because on each occasion that he has seen him he has been punished by camp authorities in various ways," McLeod told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. He did not elaborate on the alleged punishment.

On his lawyers' advice, Hicks wrote a letter to the consular official asking to be left alone.

"I don't want to see you," Hicks was quoted by the ABC as writing in the letter. "I am afraid to speak to you ... In the past I have been punished for speaking to you."

Hicks reportedly wrote that he was "not well" and slammed the consular official for failing to help him.

Hicks' lawyers and relatives have expressed concern that he may have developed a mental illness during his incarceration, and have asked Australian officials to press for an independent psychiatric examination.

His lawyers claim Hicks is kept in severe conditions, shackled to the floor of his cell and under the constant watch of guards, who can see into his cell 24-hours a day.

Prime Minister John Howard said Hicks' refusal to accept a consular visit would not help his case.

"A refusal by Mr. Hicks to see the consul makes it more difficult for the consul-general to ascertain the veracity of some of the claims that are being made," Howard told reporters in Sydney.

Howard's conservative government has come under increasing pressure in Australia to push the United States to speed up Hicks' trial, or seek his immediate release.

The prime minister said he was disappointed by Hicks' extended incarceration without trial, but said Australians "need to realize the gravity of the charges brought against Mr. Hicks."

Hicks, a former kangaroo skinner from southern Australia, was captured in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance during the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

He was originally charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit war crimes and aiding the enemy, and was selected to face a U.S. military tribunal. But his case was thrown into limbo when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tribunals illegal in June.

The lead U.S. prosecutor in the revised tribunal system approved by the U.S. Congress last year, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, said he was confident that Hicks would be among a handful of prisoners charged by Friday.

Once charges are filed, preliminary hearings are required within 30 days and a jury trial must begin within 120 days.

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