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Australia Upset Over US Delay in Charging Guantanamo Bay Detainee

The Australian government is complaining it has taken the United States five years to bring formal terrorism charges against one of its nationals. The protest centers on David Hicks - who was charged Thursday and will now face trial in July. The Muslim convert is the only Australian held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

David Hicks - the former Australian kangaroo hunter who has been in U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay since January 2002 - was formally charged on Thursday with "providing material support for terrorism."

He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 - where he traveled after converting to Islam and allegedly helped the Taleban fight U.S.-led forces. Prosecutors say Hicks received weapons and guerrilla warfare training at several al-Qaida terrorist camps there.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard - under growing domestic pressure over Hicks' detention - has pressed the United States for a quick resolution and says justice is long overdue.

"The Americans have certainly speeded up the process. Whether that is the result of representations I've made to both President Bush and Vice President Cheney, I don't know but we have made those representations," he said. "We remain very unhappy that it's taken so long."

Hicks' defense team insists the American military commission is fabricating charges. His U.S. military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, welcomed a decision to drop earlier charges of attempted murder.

"Oh, I think they realized they everybody else in the world realized it was made up and a B.S. [groundless] charge. It was ridiculous," said Mori. "No one thought you could charge someone with attempted murder when the prosecution admitted that they never shot anybody. But yet they let that go on for two-and-a-half years. It's embarrassing that this has gone on this long."

Hicks says he has been mentally and physically abused while in U.S. custody. His lawyers this week began legal action in Australia to have him repatriated to his home country, saying the Howard government has failed to assure he will get a fair trial.

The 31-year-old Australian is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing within a month and a full military trial by July. If convicted, Hicks faces a lifetime in jail.