US court overturns conviction of Australian once held at Guantanamo

A U.S. military appeals court on Wednesday threw out the conviction of Australian David Hicks on a terrorism-related charge, saying the activity for which he was convicted did not become a crime until years after he was captured in Afghanistan.

Reuters| Last Updated: Feb 19, 2015, 05:29 AM IST

Washington: A U.S. military appeals court on Wednesday threw out the conviction of Australian David Hicks on a terrorism-related charge, saying the activity for which he was convicted did not become a crime until years after he was captured in Afghanistan.

Hicks, 39, pleaded guilty in 2007 to providing material support to terrorism after acknowledging he had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and met al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but confinement in excess of nine months was suspended. Hicks was repatriated to Australia in 2007 shortly after pleading guilty.

Army Lieutenant Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesman for military commissions, said Hicks successfully appealed before the U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review on the grounds that a superior court had previously ruled the charge of providing material support to terrorism could not be used against people whose actions took place before 2006.

Providing material support to terrorism was not designated a crime under law until that time, he said.

Hicks traveled to Pakistan and in 2000 joined Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a group later designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the three-judge panel said in its ruling.

In Australia, Terry Hicks, the father of David Hicks, told ABC radio: "It`s now there in black and white. David will be pretty excited about it as it has been a long road, so it’s finally come to an end."

Terry Hicks said he expected an apology from the Australian government after senior MPs called his son a “terrorist” in parliament during debates over his imprisonment and conviction.

Hicks received weapons training with LET and in 2001 traveled to Afghanistan. Hicks was in Pakistan visiting a friend at the time of the hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

He later returned to Afghanistan to join the fight against the U.S.-led coalition that ousted the country`s Taliban rulers. Hicks was captured by members of the Northern Alliance and handed over to U.S. troops, the court said.

He was among the first group of prisoners sent to Guantanamo when the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba opened on Jan. 11, 2002.

Hicks` lawyers have said that during five years at Guantanamo, he was beaten, threatened with deadly violence, sexually assaulted, deprived of sleep for long periods and told he would never set foot in his native land.

They said he pleaded guilty under duress and was innocent.