The Pentagon filed a war crimes charge against Australian David Hicks on Thursday, making the former kangaroo skinner the first target of new military commissions designed by the White House and endorsed by Congress to try terrorism suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
The indictment charges Hicks with a single count of providing material support for terrorism, dropping an accusation of attempted murder proposed by the chief prosecutor a month ago, when the charges were drafted for consideration through a complex judicial chain of command.
The revised charge was approved by the commissions’ newly appointed convening authority, Susan J. Crawford, a 30-year Pentagon legal veteran who serves as a sort of attorney general for the commissions.
The charge against Hicks followed by five days a visit to Australia by Vice President Dick Cheney, who was urged by Prime Minister John Howard and other politicians to end Hicks’ five-year legal limbo.
Hicks, 31, has become a political liability for the Canberra government because Australians, like most allies in the war on terrorism, consider the Bush administration’s practice of jailing suspects indefinitely without charges a human rights violation.
Howard, facing an election this year, told Cheney he wanted Hicks’ case “brought on as soon as humanly possible and that there be no further delay.”
Cheney told reporters that the Australian detainee was “near the head of the queue” of detainees to get his day in court.