The Pentagon announced that a detainee at Guantanamo, Australian David Hicks, would get a military attorney.

  

In Sydney on Thursday, the civilian lawyer for Hicks said he hoped to begin negotiating a plea bargain to get his client out of Guantanamo as early as next week.

 

The lawyer, Stephen Kenny, said he would leave for the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba next week.

  

Trial imminent

 

Hicks, who was captured fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001, has not yet been charged with any crime but the appointment of a military lawyer to represent him indicated a move to put him on trial could be imminent.

  

The Pentagon also authorised a US citizen of Saudi descent Yaser Esam Hamdi who was held in Guantanamo and then transferred to a military prison in the US, to have legal representation.

  

But the measure concerning Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, should not be considered precedent-setting, the Defence Department said, noting it was a discretionary move.

  

Michael Ratner, an attorney hired by relatives of several Guantanamo detainees and president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said the government's shift on the Hamdi case comes amidst Washington’s concerns that the Supreme Court may rule against its policy.

  

More than 660 people from about 40 countries are being held at Guantanamo. The US does not consider them prisoners of war and has held them indefinitely without setting trial dates.