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Hicks to serve nine months' jail

Long hair gone ... courtroom drawing of David Hicks (left) with his defence council in the US military courtroom in Guantanamo Bay prior to his sentencing. Photo: AFP
Mark Coultan in Guantanamo Bay | March 31, 2007

David Hicks will be out of jail on New Year's Eve after an extraordinarily lenient plea bargain agreement meant that whatever sentence he got, he would only serve nine months of it in jail.

The Military Commission panel made up of serving US officers gave him the maximum possible sentence of seven years. Even that was a reduction on the statutory maximum of life imprisonment.

But the pre-trial agreement meant that six years and three months will be suspended. This means that he will be released on the last day of the year, and as long as he doesnt violate the terms of his agreement, he will stay out of jail.

The pre-trial agreement appears to have been designed with the Australian political calendar in mind.

As well as keeping Hicks in jail until after the election, due by the end of this year, Hicks also had to agree to not talk to the media for one year.

And if he talks to the media after that date, any proceeds he might collect will be forfeited to the Australian Government.

Under the plea agreement, he will return to Australia within two months, and is expected to serve out his term in a South Australian jail.

While the agreement might be politically convenient for the Howard Government, it will create problems for the Bush Administration. It appears to be a large thank you to the Howard Government for their support on the war on terror.

The effective sentence of nine months contrasts with the statements of the chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis who said earlier this week that his benchmark for Hicks crime of material support for terrorism was 20 years.

The American Taliban John Walker Lindh, who was also captured in Afghanistan at about the same time as Hicks, agreed to a plea bargain of 20 years in jail.

The Americans insisted that the time Hicks had already spent in Guantanamo Bay not be counted in the calculations of his sentence, because the United States insists that can hold enemy combatants for as long as hostilities continue.

  • David Hicks Case Information

  • Hicks' conviction revives clash over Guantanamo
    ANALYSIS: Prosecutors defended the tribunals' merit, though the first man sentenced was no Osama bin Laden.

    By William Glaberson, New York Times March 31, 2007

    GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - As the first of the war crimes cases under a new law began at Guantanamo Bay a few days ago, a military law specialist said it was a test run "to show that this plane will fly."

    It was a bumpy ride.

    The military commissions being convened at the U.S. naval base are special war crimes tribunals to try terrorists that do not offer the legal protections of civilian courts. One justification for the looser rules is that they will deal with the worst of the worst.

    But the first man through the double doors of the heavily secured courtroom was no Osama bin Laden. He was David Hicks, a 31-year-old Australian whose lawyer described him as a ninth-grade dropout and "wannabe soldier" who ran away when the shooting started in Afghanistan.

    From the start, Guantanamo, its detainees and the legal proceedings have provided enough grist to support the competing views of the detention center: a necessary mechanism for dealing with a new kind of enemy, or the embodiment of the war on terror gone awry.

    Hicks' conviction with a guilty plea provides something for each side. He admitted training with Al-Qaida, guarding a Taliban tank and scouting a closed American Embassy building. But there is no evidence that he was considering a terrorist attack or capable of carrying one out. Yet he was held five years and four months before he got his day in court. And at the end of a very long day at the tribunal Friday, his sentence was nine months.

    To the prosecutors and the extensive public relations apparatus assembled by the military at Guantanamo, Hicks' case proved, as one spokeswoman regularly repeated, that the military commission system offers a "fair, legitimate and transparent forum."

    In the somber makeshift courtroom, the lead prosecutor of the Hicks case, Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail of the Marines, tried to portray Hicks as public enemy No. 1.

    "Today in this courtroom, we are on the front lines of the global war on terror," Chenail told a panel of military officers assembled from around the globe on Friday to hear arguments on the appropriate sentence. Hicks pleaded guilty last Monday to providing material support to Al-Qaida. "The enemy is sitting at the defense table," Chenail added, gesturing to Hicks. "We are face to face with the enemy" who was "trying to kill Americans," he said.

    But to some in the courtroom, the proceedings proved only that the system was rigged to show detainees that the only way out of Guantanamo was to give the prosecutors what they wanted. Not only did Hicks plead guilty, but he also signed a plea bargain in which he recanted his accusations about being abused in detention and promised not to speak to reporters for a year.

    His lawyer, Marine Maj. Michael Mori, said he was speaking for his client, who he said was too nervous to speak for himself. "He wants to apologize to Australia and to the United States," Mori said during the proceedings, adding that Hicks wanted to thank members of the armed services who, he said, had treated him professionally.

    Among the observers from advocacy and human rights groups here to monitor the proceedings, the plea deal Hicks reached was fresh evidence of the coercive power of this place. The plea deal included a provision that will get him into an Australian prison to serve the rest of his sentence within 60 days.

    Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is one of the regular observers in the courtroom, said the deal showed that the military commission was intended to bring cases to the conclusion the government wants. "A person here, in order to have any hope of going home," he said, "has to play by whatever rules the government sets."

    Jennifer Daskal, an observer for Human Rights Watch, said after the sentencing that the unusual rule silencing Hicks for a year showed that the government's primary goal was "the protection against the disclosure of abuse."

    Both sides agreed that the nine-month sentence was unexpectedly short. But there was no common interpretation of what that meant.

    As developments unfolded, David H.B. McLeod, an Australian lawyer working with the defense, provided insight into Hicks' thoughts.

    "He says that if he is the worst of the worst, and the person who should be put before a military commission first," McLeod said, "then the world really hasn't got much to worry about."

    Hicks will seek to live 'a normal life'
    1st April 2007

    Confessed terrorist David Hicks will return to studying and seek to live a normal existence on his return to Australia and release from jail, his lawyer Major Michael Mori says.

    Major Mori said he does not believe the 31-year-old father-of-two, who trained under al-Qaeda, poses any threat to the Australian community, or is under threat himself for agreeing to testify against other Guantanamo Bay detainees.

    "I don't think he's at any danger at all," Major Mori told the Seven Network on Sunday.

    "I'm not even sure he'll be asked to testify at any trial, that is sort of a standard paragraph that goes into any pre-trial agreement."

    Under the plea deal negotiated by Hicks' legal team, US military commission prosecutors and its convening authority, Hicks must be transferred to Australian authorities within 60 days.

    When formalities are completed, the former kangaroo skinner turned al-Qaeda foot soldier will likely be flown to Australia from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by a US military plane.

    Hicks, who spent five years in Guantanamo Bay after he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, pleaded guilty to a charge of giving material support to terrorism.

    After his release from prison in Australia Hicks is intent on attempting to live a normal life, Major Mori said.

    "I really think he's desire to finish his education has given him an immediate goal when he gets back, I think it would be great if he could go to university, if he could accomplish that," Major Mori told the Seven Network.

    "He's got a family support network that is there to support him, there's a lot of people that have supported David and I think he'll be able to make it and be a successful person.

    "Hopefully the media will give him the room and the space to do that."

    Asked when he knew Hicks was guilty, Major Mori replied: "He pleaded guilty to a charge which didn't exist until October of last year, so I couldn't have known before then".

    He said Hicks thanked the US military for its compassion, after previously claiming he was abused at Guantanamo Bay, and those who had helped him during his detainment.

    "There is no doubt some treated him above and beyond the call of duty and treated him with a lot of respect, obviously young Americans, they like Australians, and he wanted to recognise those who did treat him well," he told the Seven Network.

    Major Mori said he had no regrets about representing Hicks' case or about any impact his involvement in the case may have on his military career.

    "I still believe today that an Australian deserves the same rights and protections as an American, and I think that was an honourable thing to fight for," Major Mori said.

    "David Hicks is going home, I think that's what should have happened and when he gets off a plane in Australia, I'll feel like my job's done."

    AAP

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