Hicks will serve sentence at home, Australian FM says

CANBERRA, Australia, AP

Australia’s foreign minister said Tuesday he expects an Australian terrorist suspect will return home soon to serve a prison sentence after he pleaded guilty at a U.S. military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

David Hicks, 31, pleaded guilty to a war-crime charge of providing material support to terrorism, becoming the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to plead guilty at the U.S. Navy base to terrorism-related charges.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he expects Hicks will return to Australia soon under an agreement with Washington that the only Australian held at Guantanamo Bay would be allowed to serve any sentence in an Australian prison if convicted.

“My guess is he will be able to come back (to Australia) fairly soon,” Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Hicks’ father, Terry Hicks, told the ABC he believed his son had pleaded guilty as part of a bargain with prosecutors that would get him out of the Guantanamo prison.

“He wants out,” Hicks said in the United States where he was stopping off on the way home after attending the Guantanamo hearing.

“And possibly it’s the only way he’s going to get out. It’s a way to get home, and he’s told us he just wants to get home.”

“He has been through five years of absolute hell,” Hicks said of his son. “I think anyone in that position, if they were offered anything, I think they’d take it.”

The government has been under mounting pressure to repatriate Hicks, who has been held at Guantanamo for more than five years. Hicks was captured by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in December 2001 for allegedly fighting with the Taliban against U.S.-led forces.

“I am pleased for everybody’s sake that this saga … has come to a conclusion,” Downer said.

Prime Minister John Howard said it was unclear when Hicks could return to Australia, but welcomed the guilty plea.

“It has always been our view that Hicks should face justice but we have been very concerned about the time that it has taken,” Howard told Parliament.

But Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the minor opposition Greens party, said Hicks’ guilt remains in doubt.