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Australian in Guantanamo to serve 9 months
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Australian al Qaeda foot soldier David Hicks was sentenced to seven years in prison on Friday but will only serve nine months, a U.S. military tribunal said.
Hicks, who became the first war crimes convict among the hundreds of foreign captives held for years at the Guantanamo prison camp, had pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism in an agreement with U.S. military prosecutors.
The deal allowed all but nine months of the sentence to be suspended, meaning he could be free by New Year's. Hicks will serve his sentence in Australia. The United States will send him home by May 29 after holding him for more than five years at the Guantanamo base in Cuba.
Hicks last night acknowledged that he trained with al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan and fought with its forces against US allies in late 2001.
Hicks, dressed in a tight-fitting charcoal grey suit and sporting a new foppish haircut, (and he needn’t think that Hugh Grant will be playing him in any film version of his life) parted on the right, was led into the tribunal at about 10.10pm (AEST). He had appeared in court on Monday in thongs, prison garb and with his hair well below his shoulders. It drew a rebuke from the judge.
Hicks, 31, pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge of lending "material support to terrorism" in the first case to be heard by the special military tribunals set up to try "war on terror" detainees.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Hicks is gagged from speaking to the media for one year after sentencing is announced. And he will be required to, if necessary, participate in further military commission hearings against other accused terrorists.
For the "term of his natural life", Hicks can also be recaptured by US forces outside of Australia if he breaches a series of conditions.
Before the hearing, the chief US military prosecutor hit back at claims from Hicks's father Terry that Hicks pleaded guilty in order to get home, warning if that was the case, he could be committing perjury. Colonel Morris Davis said Hicks's explanation of his guilty plea was what mattered.
Asked where he believed Hicks ranked in the hierarchy of terrorists, Colonel Davis conceded he was not the worst of the worst, but said terrorists like the Australian needed to be punished. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you David Hicks is on par with Osama bin Laden," he said. "That would be ridiculous. It's not the grand strategic thinkers that caused the deaths of thousands of people around the world, including Americans and Australians _ it is the folks who are willing to strap on bombs and the folks who are willing to take up arms on the frontline in support of that ideology that are equally accountable. . . Major (Michael) Mori is very zealous in his representation of Mr Hicks, but I am absolutely certain he is not conspiring with Mr Hicks to commit perjury ... when he testifies under oath about his plea of guilty. I would say the facts presented under oath in the courtroom ... carry more weight than speculation from those who are removed from the process."
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