- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — An Australian terror suspect pleaded guilty yesterday to a war-crime charge of providing material support to terrorism.

David Hicks was the first detainee to face prosecution under revised military tribunals set up after the Supreme Court found the Pentagon’s previous system for trying Guantanamo prisoners unconstitutional. He is accused of fighting alongside al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Hicks entered the plea before a military judge in a courtroom on this U.S. naval base. Hicks had deferred entering a plea during his arraignment earlier in the day, but the presiding officer, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, convened another session after attorneys told him that Hicks would enter a plea.

Col. Kohlmann ordered attorneys to attend another session today to sort out details of the plea. He did not discuss sentencing.

Hicks’ Pentagon-appointed attorney, Marine Corps Maj. Michael Mori, told the judge that his client would plead guilty to one of two counts of providing material support for terrorism and not guilty to the other. Hicks, standing by Maj. Mori’s side, told the judge that was his wish.

In the days leading to the hearing, defense attorneys said Hicks did not expect a fair trial at Guantanamo and was considering a plea deal to end his five-year imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay. U.S. officials have said he would be able to serve any sentence in Australia.

Terry Hicks, who had an emotional reunion with his son before the arraignment yesterday, had boarded a plane to leave Guantanamo when he was told another session would be held, U.S. military officials said, and did not appear in the courtroom for the second session.

In the first session yesterday, Hicks asked for more lawyers to help defend him, but the presiding military officer instead ordered two civilian attorneys to leave the defense table, leaving the defendant with only one attorney.

The 31-year-old, wearing a khaki prison jumpsuit, had told the court that he was satisfied with his defense team but wanted more attorneys and paralegals “to get equality with the prosecution.”

Hicks, a Muslim convert, shaved his beard before his arraignment but kept the long hair that his attorney said he uses to block the constant light in his cell at the prison on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, where the United States is holding about 385 prisoners.

Congress enacted new rules for the tribunals, and President Bush signed the measure into law in October.

Hicks is the first detainee charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Officials have said they plan to prosecute as many as 80 prisoners at Guantanamo, and some face the death penalty if convicted. The Australian faces up to life in prison.

Among those at the prison is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, an al Qaeda member who during a so-called combatant status review tribunal earlier this month confessed to planning the September 11 attacks and other terror acts.

Unlike Mohammed, Hicks is depicted by the U.S. military in its charge sheet as a minor figure.

It says Hicks, armed with grenades and an assault rifle, spent weeks trying to join the battle in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban against invading U.S. forces and their Northern Alliance allies, but the Taliban’s lines collapsed barely two hours after he reached the front.

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