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U.S. raises hope of Hicks' return

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ADELAIDE, Australia -- Supporters of al Qaeda suspect David Hicks are hopeful he may be returned to Australia for trial following comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the weekend.

Hicks was captured by Northern Alliance forces in December last year and was handed over to the U.S. military before being one of the first detainees transferred to a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

He has now been held for three months without charge or legal representation, a situation which is disturbing human rights and legal activists.

Rumsfeld told media the U.S. could release some British prisoners as long as they faced prosecution in that country.

Nationals from 11 different countries are being held in the Spartan Camp X-Ray prison and Rumsfeld said it was the U.S.'s goal to repatriate as many as possible.

While no mention was made of Hicks, the news has encouraged a lobby group and lawyers acting on Hick's behalf.

Up to 100 people from Hicks's home town of Adelaide in the state of South Australia have set up a group, called "Fair Go For David," to demand he receive unbiased treatment, Reuters reports.

Deaf ears

Spokeswoman Trudy Dunn said previous appeals for Canberra to intervene with U.S. authorities had fallen on deaf ears.

"Everyone, regardless of what they've done, deserves a fair trial and most people agree although we've been abused by some people," Dunn told Reuters.

However, Australia's Attorney General's department repeated its position Monday that it had no plans at this stage to try to repatriate Hicks as it remained unclear which, if any, Australian laws he had broken.

"We're still investigating if he can be charged under Australian law," a spokeswoman said.

Australian and U.S. security officers have already interrogated Hicks, who is believed to have been a relatively senior member of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.


But a lawyer acting on behalf of Hicks, Stephen Kenny, accuses the government of dragging its feet over the issue.

"As far as the Australian Government is concerned, they now have had almost three months to make up their mind in relation to that," Kenny told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I would have thought that was plenty of time to make up their mind. I'm sure crown law advice is not that slow," he said.

Lawyers for Hicks have also filed a lawsuit in Washington last week saying his indefinite detention without trial or charge violates the U.S. Constitution.

Hicks, 26, is a self-styled "soldier of fortune" who converted to Islam while fighting for the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The Australian government said Hicks then moved to Pakistan in November 1999 and trained with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of dozens of Islamic groups fighting to wrest control of Kashmir from India.

He then moved to Afghanistan last year and trained with bin Laden's network, the Australian government says.

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