Gitmo Australian Gets 9 Months

David Hicks, one of two Australians being held without charge at Guantanamo Bay is seen in Adelaide in this undated photo provided by his family. The Pentagon said Thursday, June 10, 2004 that Hicks will be tried for alleged al-Qaida activities in Afghanistan including conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy
AP/Family Photo
A U.S. military judge accepted an Australian's guilty plea to supporting terrorism in a deal that will send the Guantanamo detainee to jail at home for less than a year, but requires silence about any alleged abuse while in custody.

David Hicks, whose charge carried a maximum penalty of life in prison, had his sentence capped at nine months on Friday by part of the plea agreement that was kept secret from a panel of military officers who returned a longer sentence.

In the first conviction at a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II, the 31-year-old kangaroo skinner and confessed Taliban-allied gunman told Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann that he agreed to plead guilty because prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.

Speaking in a deep voice, Hicks said he faced damning evidence taken from "notes by interrogators" that he had been shown.

The former outback cowboy, who acknowledged aiding al Qaeda during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, showed little emotion as he confirmed to the judge that he conducted surveillance on the former U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The panel of officers flown to Guantanamo for sentencing Hicks deliberated for two hours before approving a sentence of seven years — what they had been told was the maximum allowed under the plea deal. After they left the courtroom, Kohlmann revealed all but nine months would be suspended.

Asked if the outcome was what he was told to expect, Hicks said, "Yes, it was."

"The thing to remember here is that no one accused David Hicks of committing a violent act — against U.S. forces or anyone else, and I think when you combine that with the fact that Australia, his native country, placed enormous political pressure on the United States, this sort of sentence makes sense," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen.

The plea deal will send Hicks to a prison in Australia within 60 days. His sentence begins immediately, but commanders of the U.S. military prison where he has been held for five years say there will be no change in his detention conditions before his departure.

"I don't think David's going to be able to show any real emotion until he gets off the plane in Australia," said his lawyer, Marine Corps Maj. Michael Mori. "I don't think until he leaves here will it be a reality, and that's why I hope it's as soon as possible."

Hicks expressed regret for his actions in a statement read by Mori, who described his client as an immature adventurer who had tried to enlist in the Australian army but was rejected for lack of education.

"He apologizes to his family, he apologizes to Australia and he apologizes to the United States," Mori said.

The lead prosecutor, Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, said Hicks deserved the maximum punishment for betraying the freedoms he was raised with in Australia. He argued al Qaeda gave him advanced training because his Western features made him a valuable operative.

"Today in this courtroom we are on the front line of the war on terrorism, face to face with the enemy," said Chenail, who referred to Hicks by his alias "Muhammad Dawood."

"Muhammad Dawood will always be a threat unless he changes his beliefs and his ideology," he said.

Under his plea deal, Hicks stipulated that he has "never been illegally treated by a person or persons while in the custody of the U.S. government," Kohlmann said. In the statement read by Mori, Hicks thanked U.S. service members for their professionalism during his imprisonment.

Furthermore, the judge said, the agreement bars Hicks from suing the U.S. government for alleged abuse, forfeits any right to appeal his conviction and imposes a gag order that prevents him speaking with news media for a year from his sentencing date.

Hicks previously reported being beaten and deprived of sleep at the prison erected for terrorism suspects held at this U.S. Navy base.

Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union suggest the government aimed to prevent the release of damaging allegations.