Australian Gitmo Detainee Gets 9 Months
Saturday, March 31, 2007; 12:01 AM
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- An American military tribunal sentenced an Australian to nine months in prison Friday after he pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism _ in the first conviction at a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II.
A panel of military officers had recommended a term of seven years, but a section of a plea agreement that had been kept secret from the panel capped the sentence at nine months for David Hicks, who has been held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years.
Under the agreement, the confessed Taliban-allied gunman will be allowed to serve his sentence in an Australian prison, but must remain silent about any alleged abuse while in custody.
Hicks, the first detainee convicted at Guantanamo Bay, appeared relieved as the judge, Marine Corps Col. Ralph Kohlmann disclosed the agreement.
Asked if the outcome was what he was told to expect, Hicks said, "Yes, it was."
Hicks told Kohlmann earlier Friday that he agreed to plead guilty because prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. Speaking in a deep voice, Hicks said he faced damning evidence taken from "notes by interrogators" that he had been shown.
The plea deal will send Hicks to a prison in Australia within 60 days. His sentence begins immediately, but commanders of the U.S. military prison where he has been held for five years say there will be no change in his detention conditions before his departure.
Hicks, a former outback cowboy who acknowledged aiding al-Qaida during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, showed little emotion at both hearings Friday as details emerged of a plea deal struck Monday that also requires silence about any alleged abuse while in custody.
"I don't think David's going to be able to show any real emotion until he gets off the plane in Australia," said his lawyer, Marine Corps Maj. Michael Mori. "I don't think until he leaves here will it be a reality, and that's why I hope it's as soon as possible."
Hicks expressed regret for his actions in a statement read by Mori, who described his client as an immature adventurer who had tried to enlist in the Australian army but was rejected for lack of education.
"He apologizes to his family, he apologizes to Australia and he apologizes to the United States," said Mori, who called for a sentence of 20 months.
The lead prosecutor, Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, said Hicks deserves the maximum punishment for betraying the freedoms he was raised with in Australia. He argued al-Qaida gave him advanced training because his Western features made him a valuable operative.