Judge Accepts Australian Detainee’s Guilty Plea
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 30, 2007 The military commission judge today accepted the guilty plea of Australian detainee David Hicks to one charge of material support for terrorism, moving Hicks toward a possible jail sentence of up to seven years.
Hicks, 31, entered a guilty plea March 26 in an evening court session here. After days of negotiations between prosecution and defense counsel, today’s hearing established the exact elements of the charge to which Hicks is pleading guilty.
Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, the military judge, also revealed that a pre-trial agreement limiting Hicks’s sentence to seven years was signed March 26.
The plea agreement specifically states that Hicks’s five years at Guantanamo will not count toward his ultimate sentence. However, it does include a provision that the convening authority will suspend any portion of the sentence above a certain time limit, which Kohlmann declined to reveal.
Under the agreement, Hicks will be transferred to the control of the Australian government within 60 days from the time of sentencing. He also is barred from communicating with the media about his experiences, detention and capture for one year after sentencing and cannot receive profits from any publications detailing his experiences.
In the agreement, Hicks affirmed that he has never been illegally treated by anyone while in U.S. custody, from the time of his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001 through his time at Guantanamo.
Hicks originally pleaded guilty to the first specification of the charge, which is providing support to a terrorist organization, but not guilty to the second specification, which is providing support to a terrorist act, and guilty to the overall charge of providing material support to terrorism. That plea remained the same today, but some elements of the first specification were modified or removed.
The modified charge, which Hicks agreed to in the hearing today, does not include any association with Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” or John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban soldier, which were in the original charge.
The modified charge also changed some language in the original charge. A portion of the charge that originally read that Hicks “expressed concern” to Osama bin Laden about a lack of English training materials for al Qaeda was changed to read that he “asked” about the lack of English materials.
Also, a portion that stated he watched the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with a friend in Pakistan and “expressed his approval of the attacks,” was changed to read that his friend “interpreted his gestures” to be approving of the attacks. It also states that Hicks had no personal knowledge of the attacks in advance.
Hicks did affirm that he attended several al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 2001 and after the Sept. 11 attacks, traveled to Kandahar airport, where he was issued an AK-47 assault rifle and armed himself with ammunition to fight Northern Alliance and U.S. forces.
After staying at the airport for two weeks, Hicks was assigned to guard a tank outside the airport. After a week guarding the tank, Hicks decided to travel to Konduz, Afghanistan, to fight on the front lines, but spent only two hours there before the line collapsed and he fled from Northern Alliance forces for two to three days.
After making it back to Konduz, Hicks confirmed he decided to flee to Pakistan using his Australian passport. He stayed with a shopkeeper he knew for a short time, and the shopkeeper helped him sell his AK-47 to pay for a taxi to Pakistan. He was captured without any weapons in Baghlan, Afghanistan, in December 2001.
As Kohlmann went through each element of the charge with Hicks, he asked him, “Based on your personal knowledge and having reviewed the evidence the government intends to introduce against you, are you personally convinced that the government could prove this fact by competent evidence?” To each element, Hicks calmly answered, “Yes, sir.”
Hicks appeared composed throughout the hearing, this time sporting a short haircut and a business suit. In his March 26 appearance, he wore his tan detainee uniform and had long, unkempt hair.
Under the pre-trial agreement, Hicks is required to testify in any future U.S. or Australian court proceedings or military commissions, and disclose all his knowledge about al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. He was advised that for the rest of his life, if he commits an offense that could be charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he is subject to capture if outside Australia.
Hicks’ case will now move toward sentencing. The military commission members, who are active-duty military officers, must determine the sentence. A minimum of five must be present, and officials from the Office of Military Commissions have confirmed they are on their way here. The sentence is expected to be passed by the end of this week, officials said.