First Guantánamo Bay prisoner sentenced

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A David Hicks supporter
Photo by Karen Eliot

Australia Guantánamo Bay prisoner David Hicks was sentenced Friday by a special military court after pleading guilty to providing material support to the Taliban. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but will only need to complete nine months of his penalty, most of it back in Australia, under the terms of his plea agreement.

Hicks, who has been detained for more than 5 years, is to be transferred to Australia within 60 days. The plea bargain also forbids Hicks from speaking to the media for one year after his sentence, suing the U.S. government for alleged abuse during his imprisonment, or appealing his sentence. The deal also mentions that he should not profit from selling his story. These terms were criticised by Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, as a "modern cutting out of his tongue", with prosecutors using the leverage of a plea deal to stifle information and public debate about the controversial detention process.

David's father, Terry Hicks, responded that he was glad that his son was returning home, but also told Australian Broadcasting Corp.:

The bottom line of all this is that at least he's back home. He's out of that hell hole... I believe one of provisos was that he had to sign a form to say he wasn't badly treated. We know for a fact that he was, and I'm going to push that issue.

Prosecutor Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail asked for the maximum sentence, referring to Hicks by his pseudonym 'Muhammad Dawood'. He told the panel of military officers that, "Today in this courtroom, we are on the front lines of the global war on terror... The enemy is sitting at the defense table. We are face to face with the enemy... [who was] trying to kill Americans."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters in Sydney that:

He's not a hero in my eyes and he ought not to be a hero in the eyes of any people in the Australian community. The bottom line will always be that he pleaded guilty to knowingly assisting a terrorist organisation.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown suggested yesterday that the speech restrictions in the plea deal were put in place as a deliberate attempt to meddle in upcoming elections. "Of course it's a fix," said Brown. "The message has gone very clearly from Canberra to Washington to Guantanamo Bay: don't allow Hicks to be released until after the elections and certainly don't allow him to speak."

Howard disputed that interpretation of events. "We didn't impose the sentence, the sentence was imposed by the military commission and the plea bargain was worked out between the military prosecution and Mr Hicks's lawyers, and the suggestion...that it's got something to do with the Australian election is absurd."