The hearings would be the initial legal step in the first US military tribunal - formally called a military commission - since World War Two and would set the parameters for trial

before a panel of five officers.

 

"We  are making plans for the first preliminary hearings as

early as late next month," said a senior defense official said on Thursday. 

 

The Australian government said it expects US military court proceedings against Australian Guantanamo inmate David Hicks to start the week of August 23, according to Australian news reports.

 

Hicks, 28, was charged in June with three counts: conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

 

Three others prisoners also are facing criminal charges

brought by the United States.

 

Charges faced   

 

Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder, attacks on civilians and terrorism.

 

The Pentagon said Hamdan provided security for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other top members of the network that carried out the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United

States.

 

Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul of Yemen and Ibrahim

Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan were charged in February with a single count each of conspiracy to commit war crimes.

   

The United States holds at Guantanamo 594 foreign nationals

detained in what US President George W. Bush calls the global

war on terrorism.

 

Most were captured in the US-led war in Afghanistan. Their imprisonment at the base began in January 2002.

 

Nearly all have been held without charges or access to lawyers. Human rights groups have charged that the rules for the tribunals are rigged to hamstring defense lawyers and produce convictions.

 

The Pentagon has pledged "full and fair" trials. 

 

Separate military panels were expected to begin as early as Friday reviewing, on an annual basis, whether or not to release each of the Guantanamo prisoners or continue holding them.