SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The father of an Australian terror suspect facing a U.S. military tribunal said he had little hope his son would get a fair trial because an acquittal would embarrass Washington.
Terry Hicks also accused interrogators of forcing information out of his son during his 2 1/2 years at the Navy's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
``Most of this stuff David has said has probably been said under coercion or threats, so I suppose he could say anything,'' he said.
David Hicks, a former cowboy who converted to Islam, was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in late 2001 for allegedly training and fighting alongside members of al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that it has charged him with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard welcomed the news and rejected suggestions Hicks would not get a fair trial. He said the trial could start within two months.
``The first indication we had was the military commission could be convened, and I underline, could be convened, in August,'' Howard told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
The charges were a relief to Howard, who has been under fire at home for not doing enough to press for a quick trial for Hicks. The charges came just a week after he brought up the case in talks in Washington with President Bush.
Howard is facing elections later this year and is using his close relationship with Bush as a key pillar of his campaign, arguing that close links to Washington boost Australia's security. Australia has contributed a force of about 850 soldiers to the U.S.-led coalition in and around Iraq.
Howard said Australian officials would be able to observe Hicks' trial, and that Washington had agreed Hicks could serve his sentence in Australia if he is found guilty.
In the southern city of Adelaide, Hicks' hometown, his father said his son was sure to be convicted.
``They just can't let him off after everything they have said, and this is why I say the system is unfair,'' he said.
Lawyers for Hicks and the other Australian at Guantanamo, Mamdouh Habib, have alleged that both were mistreated while in captivity.
Howard said President Bush told him that allegations the two Australians had been mistreated were false, but that U.S. officials would investigate.
While Howard's opposition welcomed the news that Hicks had been finally charged, it also criticized the delay.
``It's a disgrace that he's been held for two and half years without being charged,'' said Labor lawmaker Nicola Roxon. ``I now think the government needs to make sure that the trial process is going to be fair and that we can be confident about any outcome of the military commission.''
Hicks will not face the death penalty, according to terms the United States agreed to last year in negotiations with Australia.
Hicks is not specifically accused of hurting or killing anyone. In justifying the charge of attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent, the Pentagon alleges Hicks participated in fighting in Afghanistan as an illegal combatant.
The charge sheet says Hicks attended several al-Qaida training courses at camps in Afghanistan, left the country, and returned after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight alongside al-Qaida and the Taliban.
According to the charges, Hicks conducted surveillance against the U.S. and British embassies in Kabul and had personal contact with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida lieutenants.
His lawyers suggest the government has mischaracterized his activities.
``Those sort of allegations are really trying to stretch the truth of the matter and I think that is what we will find with a lot of these allegations,'' his Australian lawyer Stephen Kenny said.
Kenny also dismissed allegations Hicks had translated al-Qaida training manuals from Arabic into English, saying his client had only gotten schooling until he was about 13 years old.
``We need to bear in mind that David Hicks only completed year eight in high school in Australia so I would suspect it's pretty unlikely that would have been much use to anyone,'' he said.
His U.S. lawyer was more forthright.
``David Hicks has not violated any law of war and shouldn't have been charged,'' Maj. Michael Mori said. ``It's unfortunate these charges will never be tested before a fair and established justice system.''
Howard said Friday that Habib, arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 for alleged al-Qaida links, would be eligible for a military trial soon, but did not have an exact date.