Australian Gitmo Detainee Gets 9 Months
Saturday, March 31, 2007; 5:06 AM
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- An Australian who complained of his treatment at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo was convicted of supporting terrorism, but will spend less than a year in jail at home in a deal that requires his silence about alleged abuse.
David Hicks, 31, who has spent more than five years at Guantanamo, was the first of hundreds of foreign terror suspects held at the isolated prison in southeast Cuba to be convicted, a case that also marked the first U.S. war crimes conviction since World War II.
He was tried by a military tribunal under a system created by President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks that has been widely criticized as a violation of the prisoners' right to challenge their confinement in U.S. courts.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the verdict vindicated what his government had said _ that Hicks was a dangerous terrorist. But his father, Terry Hicks, called the light sentence "amazing" given that "the Americans have been touting David as the worst of the worst."
"Something's not right. It shows how weak the evidence is in this charade," he said.
Hicks had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. He entered a guilty plea Monday night, but he was not formally convicted until the judge accepted his plea at Friday's session.
A panel of officers flown to Guantanamo for the sentencing Hicks deliberated for two hours before approving a sentence of seven years, the maximum allowed under the plea deal. After they left the courtroom, the judge, Marine Corps Col. Ralph Kohlmann, revealed all but nine months would be suspended.
Asked if the outcome was what he was told to expect, Hicks said, "Yes, it was."
The plea deal will send Hicks to a prison in Australia within 60 days. His sentence begins immediately, but Guantanamo commanders said there would be no change in his detention conditions before his departure.
The former outback cowboy showed little emotion as he confirmed to the judge that he conducted surveillance on the former U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Hicks said he agreed to plead guilty because prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. Speaking in a deep voice, he said he faced damning evidence taken from "notes by interrogators" that he had been shown.
Hicks wore a suit and tie and his hair had been shorn, a big change from previous sessions, when he appeared in a prison uniform and his hair hung below his shoulders. His lawyers said he had kept his hair long to help block out the round-the-clock lighting in his cell.