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Australian at Guantanamo seeks to be British

In a step he hopes will win his freedom, an Australian being held at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday won a court battle to be registered as a British citizen.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Australian being held at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay won a court battle Tuesday to be registered as a British citizen — a step he hopes will secure his release.

David Hicks, a former kangaroo skinner and Muslim convert from the southern city of Adelaide, was caught in Afghanistan in December 2001, allegedly fighting with the ousted Taliban regime.

His mother was born in Britain and he sought British citizenship in the hopes that Britain would take up his case with Washington as it did for nine other Britons who were released from the camp on the eastern tip of Cuba.

Hicks, who has pleaded innocent to charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy to attack civilians, commit terrorism and destroy property, is one of nine prisoners selected for military trials. Some 500 men are being held at the prison camp, some of whom have been held for nearly four years without charge.

Appeal possible
Last month, the British Home Office rejected Hicks’ application for British citizenship on character grounds, but his lawyers appealed the decision.

On Tuesday, Justice Andrew Collins ruled that Home Secretary Charles Clarke had no power to reject Hicks’ citizenship application. The government can appeal the decision.

Hicks’ mother was born in the United Kingdom before emigrating with her father to Australia as a child.

Under British law, the children of British parents get citizenship automatically if they apply for it, but the Home Office argued that registration could be refused, or citizenship withdrawn, on grounds of public policy because of Hicks’ alleged involvement with the al-Qaida terror network and terrorist activities against the United Kingdom.

From Pakistan to Afghanistan
Hicks, 30, traveled to Albania in 1999 where he joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, a paramilitary organization of ethnic Albanian Muslims fighting against Serbian forces, but he returned to Australia shortly afterward.

He converted to Islam, began studying Arabic, then traveled to Pakistan where he took up religious studies. He later traveled to Afghanistan where he allegedly fought with the Taliban.

His military trial was to begin last month but was postponed pending a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering a case challenging the constitutionality of the commissions.

All of the some 500 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are accused of links to either the Taliban or the al-Qaida terror network.