By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
March 26, 2007 – David Hicks, the Australian terror suspect captured in Afghanistan in 2001, has pleaded guilty to a charge of supporting terrorism at his military commission hearing here tonight. Hicks, 31, was charged with one count of providing material support to terrorism, with two specifications. He pleaded guilty to the first specification, which states that in and around Afghanistan from December 2000 to December 2001, he intentionally provided material support to al Qaeda and was associated with an armed conflict. He pleaded not guilty to the second specification, which states that during the same period, he provided material support or resources for an act of terrorism.
Hicks's plea came in an unexpected evening session of the hearing, which the military judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, called after recessing an earlier hearing. In the earlier hearing, Hicks reserved his right to enter a plea, and two of his civilian attorneys were removed from the proceedings because Kohlmann determined they were not authorized to represent him.
After Hicks entered his plea, Kohlmann questioned him to ensure the removal of his attorneys did not influence his decision. Hicks said the removal did not influence his guilty plea, and he waived his right to civilian counsel.
Under the rules for military commissions, after the guilty plea is entered, the commission must be reconvened so the military judge can go over the charge with the detainee and ensure the validity of the plea, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions, said in a news conference. Kohlmann set a deadline for the prosecution and defense teams to present a detailed description of the offense to him by 4 p.m. tomorrow. After receiving this description, he will reconvene the commission at his discretion.
After the charge is accepted by the judge, the commission members must be assembled to decide the sentence, Davis said. Army Maj. Beth Kubala from the Office of Military Commissions confirmed that the commission members for this case have been identified, and will probably travel here this week. The commission consists of 10 members, but only five must be present for proceedings to be held, she said. Davis and the defense attorneys said the case will be resolved by the end of the week.
"I don't look at it as a victory; I look at it as a first step," Davis said of the plea. "At the end of the day, we're satisfied with where we stand at this moment. To me, what's important is that this be a fair process, and that Mr. Hicks get a fair trial."
Kohlmann issued a protective order in the case, so the prosecution and defense attorneys were barred from discussing the details of the plea. Any pre-trial agreements will be discussed in the proceedings and will limit Hicks's ultimate sentence, Kubala said.
Hicks is the first detainee to be charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. According to documents released by the Defense Department, Hicks, who was born in Adelaide, Australia, was a member of two terrorist organizations in Albania and Pakistan in 1999. In 2001, Hicks traveled to Afghanistan and attended al Qaeda training camps. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hicks is alleged to have joined al Qaeda forces at Kandahar Airport. After a few weeks at the airport, Hicks traveled to the front lines in Konduz, Afghanistan, to fight coalition forces. He was captured by Northern Alliance forces in December 2001 while attempting to flee to Pakistan.
The maximum penalty Hicks faces is life in prison, but Davis has said repeatedly that the prosecution will not seek a life sentence. "It will certainly be something much less than that," Davis said today.
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