David Hicks has been sentenced to seven years prison in addition to the five years he has already spent at Guantanamo Bay, but six years and three months have been suspended by the US military tribunal.
Hicks must be returned to Australia by May 29. He will likely serve out his sentence at Yatala Prison in Adelaide. He is gagged from speaking to the media for twelve months and from selling his story to the media. As part of the plea bargain, Hicks withdrew allegations of abuse by US military forces.
The sentence handed down today was reportedly agreed upon earlier this week. It follows a plea of guilty by Hicks to charges of supporting terrorism. Other charges were withdrawn. Hicks is the first person to be convicted by the Guantanamo military tribunals.
Politically, the decision represents a victory for the Prime Minister, John Howard. As concern about the delay in bringing Hicks to trial grew last year, Howard made representations to President George W Bush and expressed his “anger”. Backbench disquiet about the issue will now be allayed. Hicks’s return to Australia will similarly mute the criticisms of other groups. His 9-month incarceration will allow for his release in the new year and remove him from the election campaign prior to Christmas. The guilty plea, whilst seen by some as induced by captivity at Guantanamo Bay, has effectively killed off David Hicks as an election issue.
The Hicks deal has been attacked by the Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown:
“The 12 month gag on David Hicks when he returns to Australia is to save the Howard government from embarrassing truths in the run to this year’s election. Most people will be relieved he is coming home and that the ordeal for his family is nearing its end. The day David Hicks walks out of jail approaches and his father, mother and other family members now have a date to look forward to. But the shame of Prime Minister Howard’s failure to uphold Australian standards will go down in history.”
Senator Brown said he did not believe Hicks’ statement, including his reversal claim that he was not abused in Guantanamo Bay. “This is a plea bargain under coercion. If Hicks claimed abuse or refused the press gag he was staying in Gitmo. So he has agreed to this fabricated statement,” Senator Brown said. “This military commission farce shames Australia. The Howard government has been contemptuous of international and domestic law. But the truth will out,” Senator Brown said.