Australian Detainee Sentenced to Nine Months
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 30, 2007 Australian detainee David Hicks, the first person convicted under the Military Commission Act of 2006, was sentenced here today to nine months in confinement, a sentence he will serve in Australia under a diplomatic agreement.
The military commission members recommended a sentence of seven years, which was the maximum allowed by a pre-trial agreement signed March 26. However, that agreement also stipulated that the convening authority would suspend any portion of the sentence beyond nine months. In an earlier hearing today, Hicks confirmed his guilty plea to a charge of material support for terrorism, which he originally entered in an evening hearing here March 26.
In that earlier hearing, Hicks confirmed that he attended several al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 2001 and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, spent time with al Qaeda fighters at Kandahar Airport and at the front lines in Konduz before being captured while fleeing to Pakistan. He did not, however, admit to ever firing a shot or having any knowledge of the 9/11 attacks in advance.
The eight military officers who made up the commission deliberated for just under two hours tonight before delivering the sentence.
In arguing for the maximum sentence, the government’s chief prosecutor, Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, referred to Hicks by his al Qaeda pseudonym, “Muhammad Dawood,” and called him a highly trained terrorist and an invaluable asset to al Qaeda. Chenail noted that although today Hicks was wearing a suit and tie, he was at one time on the front lines in Afghanistan and is dangerous precisely because he can fit in with the Western world.
“Muhammad Dawood will always be a threat unless he changes his beliefs, his extremist ideology,” Chenail said.
The real damage Hicks can do is to influence other “confused souls” who might follow in his footsteps into a life of terror, Chenail said. Also, he said, there’s no reason to believe Hicks wouldn’t join al Qaeda again if set free.
“David Hicks walked away from Australian freedoms at 24 only to travel thousands of miles to attack American freedoms,” Chenail said.
Marine Maj. Michael Mori, Hicks’ detailed defense counsel, argued that Hicks was nothing more than a high school dropout who couldn’t qualify for the Australian army and became a lowly soldier for al Qaeda. As soon as Hicks got a real taste of combat on the front lines in Afghanistan, he panicked and ran away, Mori pointed out.
“His heart wasn’t in al Qaeda,” Mori said. “He wanted to be a soldier, and it was the one place he could do it.”
Since his capture, Hicks has cooperated with U.S. authorities and worked on completing his high school diploma, Mori said. Hicks’s guilty plea shows that he is on his way to being rehabilitated, Mori said, asking the commission to set the sentence at one year and eight months, which would make Hicks’s total confinement since his capture seven years.
“All I want you to do is give him an opportunity to try to make a new start in life,” Mori said.
In an earlier written statement Hicks submitted through Mori, he apologized to his family, the people of Australia and the United States, and thanked the servicemembers at Guantanamo for treating him professionally. “While not perfect, David feels he’s tried his best to behave at Guantanamo,” Mori read.
The pre-trial agreement states that Hicks will be transferred to Australian custody and control within 60 days of the sentencing, which means he will be back in Australia by May 29. The agreement also prohibits him from communicating to the media for one year about his experiences, capture and detention, and ever profiting from publications about his experiences.