‘Australian Taliban’ Contests Guantanamo Guilty Plea

MIAMI (The Miami Herald/MCT) -

Former “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, the first man to be convicted of war crimes at Guantanamo, asked the military commissions appeals court to overturn his conviction on Tuesday, arguing he pleaded guilty to a terror charge as the desperate act of a tortured, suicidal captive at the prison camps in Cuba.

Hicks, now 38, got out of Guantanamo in 2007 after pleading guilty to “providing material support for terrorism,” a charge a U.S. federal appeals courts has disqualified as a legitimate war crime for Guantanamo captives.

The high-profile March 2007 plea deal, at a time when most military defense attorneys were challenging the war court framework, lent the Guantanamo trials an air of legitimacy in some legal circles. It also got Hicks out of Guantanamo and home to his native Australia.

The 12-page appeal, filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, argued that Hicks’ guilty plea was unknowing, unintelligent and involuntary” and part of “a desperate attempt to secure his release from Guantanamo Bay after more than five years of detention.”

His lawyers also invoked the October 2012 U.S. Court of Appeals decision that threw out the conviction of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan of Yemen. Hamdan, like Hicks, was convicted of providing material support to terror, but the court ruled that specific crime could not be prosecuted at the Guantanamo war court retroactively to the court’s invention, in 2006.

U.S.-allied Northern Alliance troops captured Hicks in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and turned him over to U.S. forces. He was held aboard a warship off the coast as a valued intelligence asset — because he spoke English.

He was brought to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba on the day Camp X-Ray opened, Jan. 11, 2002, and he was among the first 20 men photographed kneeling in shackles. Under the 2007 plea agreement, Hicks served a nine-month sentence, most of it in Australia.

After his release from the U.S. base in Cuba, he spent nine months in an Australian prison and was released in December 2007. Now 38, he is married and works in the plant nursery business in Sydney.

Stephen Kenny, an Australian lawyer for Hicks says the conviction is a stigma that Hicks hopes to overcome with the appeal.

“He’s referred to as a convicted terrorism supporter. In fact, he wasn’t a terrorism supporter, he didn’t support terrorism and he didn’t commit any offense,” Kenny said. “So all of these things cause him a great deal of concern.”