Cardinal Pell calls for fair trial for David Hicks

Making his first public comments on the accused Australian terrorist David Hicks, who is now awaiting trial at US base Guantanamo Bay, Sydney Cardinal George Pell says that he has "long been disturbed" by the case.

The Cardinal told The Age today that Mr Hicks should be brought to trial as soon as possible.

"From all accounts we owe him no special favours at all, but he has a right to be brought to trial more quickly than has happened and now as quickly as possible," he said.

He made his comments as Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen also demanded an immediate trial for Mr Hicks.

Saying that Mr Hicks' detention at Guantanamo Bay for four and a half years without trial was an abuse of human rights, Archbishop Jensen also told The Age that "for someone to be held for this number of years without trial is unconscionable."

"It is both unjust and undemocratic and also an abuse of human rights. It goes against the freedoms and rights for a fair trial that have been developed in jurisprudence over centuries. David Hicks has the rights to a fair trial and it should be immediate," the Anglican Archishop said.

Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, also said he had increasing concerns about the physical and mental health of Mr Hicks.

"If he has a case to answer he should be tried without further delay by a competent and independent tribunal with all the protection of the rule of law that Australian citizens would expect, compliant with the Geneva conventions," he said.

Mr Hicks is currently being held without charge after the US Supreme Court ruled the Bush Administration's planned military commissions illegal in June. Mr Hicks was charged with conspiracy to murder and other terror offences. New legislation has been passed in the US to establish fresh military commissions to try Mr Hicks and other detainees.

Despite urging the US to quickly charge and try Hicks, the Government has admitted it has not set a deadline to see fresh charges brought against him.

In August, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock suggested Australia would seek Mr Hicks' return if the US failed to quickly lay substantive new charges and establish a new military commission.

But a spokesman for Mr Ruddock said last week the Government had not given the US a specific deadline.

The Age also says it has obtained documents which show that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has repeatedly asked senior US officials, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney-General Gonzales, to resolve Mr Hicks' case as quickly as possible, at meetings dating from May 2005.

Plea from churches for Hicks (The Age 9/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Sydney - Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop Peter Jensen - Diocese of Sydney (sydneyanglicans.net)
Catholic Diocese of Broome - Bishop Christopher Saunders
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Time for Hicks to go home, says Bishop (CathNews 23/8/06)
Bishop says Govt must ensure justice for Hicks (CathNews 22/9/05)
Hicks and Habib focus of bishop's Human Rights Day message (CathNews 10/12/04)
Council urges Govt to insist on human rights at Guantanamo Bay (CathNews 10/12/03)
Bishop says Govt can do more for Hicks and Habib (CathNews 13/11/03)
Press Council backs church official on unfair "traitor" headline (CathNews 14/11/03)

10 Oct 2006