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An Australian who pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism was sentenced Friday to nine months in prison in his home country after becoming the first detainee convicted by military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.
A panel of military officers recommended a sentence of seven years after deliberating for two hours, but a section of the plea agreement that had been kept secret from the panel capped Hicks' sentence at nine months.
Hicks, a 31-year-old kangaroo skinner who aided al-Qaida during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, appeared relieved as the judge, Marine Corps Col. Ralph Kohlmann, disclosed the agreement after panel members left the courtroom.
After more than five years on the US naval base in southeast Cuba, Hicks will leave Guantanamo within 60 days under terms of the plea agreement. The United States had previously agreed to let Hicks serve his sentence in Australia.
Hicks told Kohlmann earlier Friday 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.
"He apologizes to his family, he apologizes to Australia and he apologizes to the United States," said Mori, who called for a sentence of 20 months.
The lead prosecutor, Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, said Hicks deserves the maximum punishment for betraying the freedoms he was raised with in Australia. He argued al-Qaida 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 US government," Kohlmann said. In the statement read by Mori, Hicks thanked US service members for their professionalism during his imprisonment.
Furthermore, the judge said, the agreement bars Hicks from suing the US 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 during his more than five years at the prison erected for terrorism suspects held at this US Navy base.
US officials have been accused by human rights groups of permitting torture of detainees in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.
Hicks, who was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. He entered a guilty plea Monday night, but he was not formally convicted until Kohlmann accepted his plea at Friday's session.
Under the deal, he will also be required to cooperate with US and Australian authorities to share his knowledge of al-Qaida and a militant Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which helped him travel to Afghanistan to attend terrorist training camps.
His father, Terry Hicks, suggested he pleaded guilty only to escape the isolated prison.
Hicks is the only detainee who has been formally charged under a new military tribunal system. Prosecutors say they plan to charge as many as 80 of the 385 men now held at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.