Campaign to free Aussie in Gitmo

Raymond Bonner reports for the New York Times Aug. 28 that a new grass-roots political movement here has gathered more than 7,000 names of supporters on its web site in a campaign to free David Hicks, an Australian citizen being held at Guantánamo Bay.

The organization, GetUp!, was founded this month by two young Australians. They collected the names for a letter to the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, demanding that he take action to have Hicks, 30, brought back to Australia to stand trial.

Hicks was taken prisoner in Afghanistan in December 2001. In June 2004, US prosecutors charged him with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy. He is to be tried in a secret military tribunal rather than in open court. Australian officials have said that Hicks has not violated any Australian laws, so bringing him back would likely be tantamount to giving him his freedom.

“We’re blown away,” Lachlan Harris of GetUp! said about the response to the campaign. “Signing a letter for someone accused of serious crimes is not something one does lightly.”

A spokesman for Downer dismissed the campaign. “It’s another group attacking the Howard government,” said the spokesman, Chris Kenny, referring to Prime Minister John Howard. “What’s new?”

The chief justice of the Supreme Court for New South Wales has weighed in on the case. “Military justice bears the same relationship to justice as military music does to music,” the justice, Jim Spigelman, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Australian Federal Police have conducted their own investigation into Hicks’s activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sending investigators there. One senior law enforcement official said the case against him was “very weak.” US and Australian officials have said there is no evidence that Hicks ever shot at any US soldier in Afghanistan.

The prevailing view among Australian officials is that Mr. Hicks is more of a lost soul than a hardened terrorist. After being expelled from school at 14, he drifted, skinning kangaroos in the outback, training horses in Japan and going to Yugoslavia to fight in the Kosovo Liberation Army. He also fought in Kashmir with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamic armed group, before going to Afghanistan. Australian intelligence claims that after being rejected for al-Qaeda training, Hicks returned to Pakistan, spent more time in a religious school, then applied again and was accepted. (Via TruthOut)

See our last post on the ongoing scandal over arbitrary detainment and torture.