By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
March 31, 2007 – The military commissions case of Australian detainee David Hicks, which concluded last night with a sentence of nine months imprisonment, was a fair proceeding that established a good basis for future commissions cases, the chief prosecutor for the Defense Department said here yesterday. Hicks, 31, was sentenced according to a plea agreement after pleading guilty to one charge of providing material support for terrorism. The commission recommended a seven-year sentence, which was the maximum allowed under the agreement, but another part of the agreement guaranteed a suspension for any portion of the sentence beyond nine months.
"What I hope is going to be reported is that we gave an al Qaeda terrorist a full and fair trial," Air Force Col. Morris Davis, chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions, said at a news conference after the sentencing.
Davis conceded that because of the plea agreement, not all parts of the commission process were tested. However, the portions that did happen were fair and orderly, and everyone involved learned from them, he said.
Hicks, the first detainee charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, entered a guilty plea March 26 in an unexpected evening hearing here. After two days of negotiations between the defense and prosecution, Hicks appeared before the military judge to confirm that he attended several al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 2001 and that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he spent time with al Qaeda fighters at Kandahar Airport and at the front lines in Konduz before being captured while fleeing to Pakistan. He did not, however, admit to ever firing a shot or having any knowledge of the 9/11 attacks in advance.
Marine Maj. Michael Mori, Hicks's detailed defense counsel, said at the news conference that the plea agreement was Hicks's choice, and that Hicks is looking forward to returning to Australia soon. The agreement states that Hicks must be transferred to Australian custody within 60 days of the sentence being passed.
"I think David right now is looking forward to getting back to Australia," Mori said. "He has some certainty finally in his life, and he'll be able to focus on getting on with his life, getting back with his family, finishing his education, and putting this part of his life behind him."
Mori said he has filed all the necessary paperwork for Hicks's transfer and hopes it will happen before the May 29 deadline.
Davis said about 74 more cases are waiting to be tried in military commissions here, and that the processes will be the same as were used in Hicks's case. Each case is unique and may or may not involve a plea deal, but what is important are the procedures and rules, he said.
"I'm not as concerned with the outcome of a particular case as I am in that the trial is fair and the proceeding is fair," Davis said.
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