Hicks home 'in months'
> Geoff Elliott in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - March 27, 2007

Hicks would be sentenced by the end of the week, under a deal in which Hicks can serve out any more time to be served in an Australian jail, Colonel Davis said.

"My best guess is that in the next few days we will wrap this up," he told reporters.

"Somebody asked a long time ago if it was possible that he would be home by the end of the year - if I was a betting man I would say the odds are pretty good.''

A panel of ten military commissioned officers with five alternates had previously been selected by the Military convening authority and a minimum of five will be travelling to Guantanamo Bay over the next few days in order to sit in court and decide a sentence for Hicks.

Adelaide-born Hicks entered a guilty plea today before a US military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hicks has been held more than five years at the US-run prison.

Hicks's military attorney entered the plea on behalf of his client, who stood alongside with a sombre expression.

Earlier he had reserved his rights to enter a plea, raising speculation that perhaps a plea deal was afoot.

Protective orders from the judge prevented lawyers from both sides from commenting specifically about what led to today's dramatic about face from Hicks to enter a guilty plea.

Colonel Davis said it was incorrect to describe the guilty plea as part of a plea agreement but he acknowledged that both the prosecution and defence had previously discussed a deal at which the kind of sentence Hicks could expect was discussed.

Colonel Davis said a guilty plea was a mitigating factor, indicating that it would warrant a lesser sentence but there is speculation about how long that might be.

Hicks faced life imprisonment but Colonel Davis had argued that his case was more in line with that of fellow Taliban traveller John Walker Lindh, a US citizen who was sentenced to 20 years in jail. A much lesser sentence than that can now be expected.

Tomorrow Hicks, with his defence counsel, will meet again with the judge and the prosecution in a closed conference at which Hicks will outline specifically to the judge what he is pleading guilty to under the first count.

There was no indication of what deal has been reached, Judge Colonel Ralph Kohlmann reconvening the court at 830pm local time to say he had been approached by counsel after court had recessed earlier advising that Hicks "desired to enter a plea''.

Hicks’s US military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, entered the plea to the charge of material support for terrorism which was broken into two counts or specifications.

Major Mori rose and said Hicks pled guilty on specification one, and not guilty on specification two.

Specification one of the charge detailed at length Hicks's links to terrorist organisations and his activities in Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden and completed al-Qa'ida training courses.

Specification two simply alleged that Hicks entered Afghanistan from about December 2000 to December 2001 to provide support for terrorism and that he did so in “in the context of and was associated with an armed conflict namely al-Qa'ida or its associated forces against the United States or its coalition partners”.

  • David Hicks Case Information

  • How life in a box changed Hicks

    A long-haired David Hicks, sketched during the hearing at Guantanamo Bay. Photo: AP
    March 27, 2007

    David Hicks didn't look like a man who was about to admit he was a terrorist.

    The sun was setting on the Guantanamo Bay military base after a long, dramatic first day of his military commission proceedings when Hicks' lawyers and prosecutors informed the presiding officer that Hicks had changed his mind.

    Earlier in the day, the Australian had declined to enter a plea for providing material support for terrorism.

    But his life was about to change, perhaps providing some finality to his incarceration, and he seemed pleased.

    Overweight, clean-shaven, smiling and with a straggly mop of dark brown hair dangling down to his chest, Hicks at times resembled more an overfed member of a heavy metal band than a suspected terrorist.

    Hicks's lawyers had described him as having dark, sunken eyes, but he did not appear like that today.

    Rather than being pale from long stints locked inside the maximum security prison, Hicks's skin looked as tanned as that of his American military lawyer Major Michael Mori, sitting beside him in court.

    Hicks's long beard had been shaved off for the proceedings - his first court appearance in more than two years.

    The first sight of Hicks today was of a man in a khaki prison jumpsuit, who was free of handcuffs or shackles as he was led into court by two military guards, each holding one arm.

    On his feet were Aussie-type thongs - the type you'd buy for a few dollars.

    Hicks's choice of clothes drew a reprimand from the commission's presiding officer, Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, who suggested he not appear again in prison clothes.

    "He's definitely changed in the three years since I last saw him," said his father, Terry Hicks, after an emotional reunion.

    Prison food had added about 10kg to Hicks's small, 167cm-tall frame.

    His father described Hicks as looking "puffy".

    He certainly looks nothing like the man in the old family photos that have appeared regularly in the Australian media since his arrest in late 2001 in Afghanistan.

    For much of the first hearing today, Hicks squinted and concentrated hard during legal argument.

    There were flashes of humour from Hicks.

    Hicks addressed the judge as "sir" and joked that he spoke English, but still might need a translator.

    "It's my Australian English, sir. It's different," Hicks told the judge.

    But his spirits seemed to sink after two members of his defence team were ejected, leaving only Mori beside him.

    Hicks plea lucky for Government

    MARK KENNY ANALYSIS: DAVID Hicks's surprise plea of guilty to charges of aiding terrorism is the first bit of luck for the Government weighed down by this long-running saga.

    After five years of imprisonment in harsh conditions which included often being shackled and held in solitary confinement, and various other measures not allowable in Australia, the plea means the end is clearly in sight.

    Prime Minister John Howard broke the news to his Coalition joint partyroom. A spokesman said there was great interest but no "discernible reaction."

    A relieved Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, however, welcomed the development.

    "I'm glad that it's reached a conculsion," he told ABC Radio.

    There's no doubt the Government is more than just glad.

    And newly appointed Justice Minister, David Johnston revealed just how frustrated the Government had become with the political damage it had suffered as the case dragged on.

    "I think (the guilty plea) brings into sharp focus all of the discussion, debate and media hype that's gone on with repsect to Hicks," he said.

    "I'm just saying there's a stark contrast between him being a theological tourist and pleading guilty to aiding terrorists," he said.

    The outcome came after an at times heated three and a half hour arraignment hearing during which two of Mr Hicks's civilian lawyers were evicted from the court leading to the defendant complaining about his level of representation.

    The Hicks case had gradually moved from an obscure case invoking little public interest in Australia to one where MPs on both sides reported growing public disquiet.

    That transformation eventually caused a change in the attitude of the Government which in recent months has expressed growing impatience with the U.S. process.

    Recent opinion polling showed Australian voters regarded the Australian Government's representations to the Americans on the matter as insufficiently robust.

    But after years of reminding people that Hicks was not just some average bloke caught up in a misunderstanding but was in fact, a person who had actively sought to join in with the harshest and most brutal fanatics on Earth for the purposes of waging holy war, backing down was not an option for the Government.

    The best the Australian Government could hope for was a swift process with a defensible level of judicial fairness leading to a guilty verdict.

    This result, in political terms at least, is even better.

    By admitting guilt, David Hicks effectively ends the debate over his character.

    And by doing it at the beginning of the trial process, a lot of time and effort has been saved.

    It remains to be seen exactly how this will play out in terms of his sentence, but from the Australian government's point of view, this is a startlingly good result.

    Timeline of David Hicks in custody
    March 27, 2007

    CHRONOLOGY of events involving David Hicks, who today pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism:

    Becember 9, 2001: Hicks captured among Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

    January 11, 2002: Hicks transferred to US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    January 14, 2002: Australia's then attorney-general Daryl Williams says Hicks is a terrorist and one of the world's most dangerous people.

    July 4, 2003: Hicks designated as one of six Guantanamo Bay detainees to be tried by US military commission.

    December 4, 2003: US Marine Corps lawyer Major Michael Mori assigned to represent Hicks.

    June 11, 2004: Hicks charged by the US with conspiracy, attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent and aiding the enemy.

    August 5, 2004: Hicks signs an affidavit saying he has been “beaten before, after, and during interrogations”. He says he has been deprived of sleep as a matter of policy, forcibly injected with unknown sedatives and beaten while under their influence.

    August 25, 2004: Hicks pleads not guilty to all charges before a US military commission.

    June 29, 2006: US Supreme Court rules US military commissions are unlawful and breach Geneva Conventions, meaning charges against Hicks are struck out.

    October 11, 2006: Major Mori says a US inquiry which found Hicks hadn't been abused while detained is “biggest cover up of all time”.

    October 17, 2006: US President George W Bush signs legislation revamping the miliary commissions.

    October 18, 2006: David Hicks' lawyers say they'll appeal the revamped US military commissions.

    December 9, 2006: Thousands of people rally across Australia calling for Hicks to be brought home.

    December 19, 2006: US military authorities block a request by Hicks to undergo an independent mental health assessment.

    December 20, 2006: Hicks refuses a telephone call from his family, prompting his father Terry Hicks to express fears his son is at breaking point.

    February 3, 2007: US swears charges against Hicks of providing material support for terrorism and attempted murder in violation of the law of war.

    March 1, 2007: Retired US military judge Susan Crawford drops the attempted murder charge on review of the charges.

    March 27, 2007: Hicks pleads guilty to the charge at a US military commission hearing at Guantanamo Bay.

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