SYDNEY (AFP) – Detained Australian terrorism suspect David Hicks would not be prevented from returning home if he was granted British citizenship and released from Guantanamo Bay, a minister said.
A British appeals court on Wednesday rejected a bid to deny citizenship to Hicks, 30, who has applied on the basis of his British-born mother in an effort to boost his chances of being freed from the US prison camp.
Britain obtained the release of nine of its citizens held at Guantanamo but Australia, another staunch ally of Washington in the “war on terror,” has refused to try to do the same, saying Hicks will have to face US justice.
Hicks was captured by US troops while fighting alongside the hardline Islamist Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and faces trial by US military tribunal, a form of justice rejected as unacceptable by Britain.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Thursday that if Hicks — a convert to Islam widely referred to as the “Australian Taliban” — was released as a British citizen, there was no legal basis to prevent him from returning to Australia.
“If he is no longer held by the United States he has an entitlement to return to Australia,” Ruddock told Australian radio.
“That’s a matter of international law. We can’t deny our own citizens access to Australia.”
The British government has indicated it would take the appeal against citizenship for Hicks before the House of Lords, a process that could last until the end of the year.
But Hicks’ US military lawyer accused the British government of fighting a lost cause.
“We won at the lower court. The appeals court was unanimous in favour of David Hicks. If they want to waste their time going to the House of Lords that’s their choice,” US Army Major Michael Mori told Australian television.
“The court basically said David is entitled to his citizenship. Get on with giving it to him. There’s no legitimate basis to take it away from him,” Mori said.
Meanwhile the Australian opposition has called on the government to intervene in the case.
“It is a major embarrassment for Australia that this Australian citizen has had to turn to another country in the hope of having his basic rights protected,” the Labor party said in a statement.