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US Military Court Overturns Terror Conviction of Former Aussie GITMO Detainee David Hicks

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A US military court has overturned the terrorism conviction of an Australian man who was imprisoned and tortured for five years at Guantánamo Bay.

The US Court of Military Commissions Review threw out the conviction of David Hicks, 39, on Wednesday, on the grounds that his ‘material support for terrorism’—he admitted to training with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, where he met Osama bin Laden—was not officially a crime until 2006, and therefore he should not have been tried in a military court.

Stephen Kenny, Hicks’ lawyer, told the BBC the decision confirms his client was not doing anything illegal at the time of his capture.

“He wasn’t doing anything that was a breach of Australian, international or US law,” noted Kenny.

Hicks, who was according to US military court documents traveled to Pakistan in 1999 to join the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, with whom he allegedly took part in attacks on Indian forces, was captured by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001 and handed over to US forces after they invaded the country following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.

He was subsequently sent to the notorious US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was imprisoned for the following five years. In March 2007, he pleaded guilty to material support for terrorism, but his lawyers argued that his guilty plea was made under duress, alleging torture that included beatings, sexual assaults and sleep deprivation—all of which are illegal under US or international law.

Like many GITMO detainees, Hicks says he was tortured by his US captors. At a Sydney, Australia press conference on Wednesday, Hicks said that he “had been waiting for this decision for years.”

“It’s a relief because it’s over,” he said. “I was subjected to five-and-a-half years of physical and psychological torture that I will now live with always.”

Hicks is not seeking an official apology from the United States, but he believes he should be compensated for medical treatment to “fix myself from torture.”

“It is being kept in metal rooms in freezing conditions for years, it is not being able to move or exercise,” he told reporters. “The body deteriorates over five-and-a-half years, even without the added torture, such as stress positions, being beaten, etc.”

Torture and allegations of “rigged” military commission trials at Guantánamo led to the resignation of former GITMO lead prosecutor Col. Morris Davis. Former GITMO prosecutors Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr and Capt. Carrie Wolf also resigned or requested transfers over concerns about unlawful trials and detainee torture.

GITMO military commission prosecutor Lt. Col. Stuart Crouch also refused to proceed with a case against detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who remains in Guantánamo despite a release order issued by a federal judge nearly five years ago. Slahi is accused of aiding the 9/11 hijackers, but Crouch would not prosecute him—even though he lost a Marine buddy aboard one of the hijacked flights—because he said the detainee had been tortured.

Brandon Neely, a former Guantánamo guard at the time of Hicks’ imprisonment, said the ruling overturning his conviction was long overdue.

“David Hicks finally has his named cleared, but he will never get back the years he spent at Guantánamo or forget the torture he endured,” Neely tweeted. “The same Gov’t that told me in 2002 at Guantánamo that David Hicks was a ruthless killer admits today he is an innocent man. #CloseGTMO.”

“There’s a saying that goes: the best way out of Guantánamo is to plead guilty to something you didn’t do,” Neely told News.com.au, echoing Col. Davis’ accusation that he received an order from top Bush administration attorney Jim Haynes that any detainee acquittals were unacceptable, regardless of guilt or innocence.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has publicly acknowledged that “a few” terrorism detainees were indeed innocent; Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said he would testify under oath that Bush, Cheney and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew that the majority of GITMO detainees were innocent but imprisoned, and sometimes tortured, them anyway.

Guantánamo supporters noted that just because Hicks’ conviction was thrown out does not mean he is “innocent,” asserting that the former detainee was undeniably engaged in anti-Western jihad.

“The US verdict is about the legal process in that country,” former Australian prime minister Howard said in a statement. “Nothing alters the fact that by his own admission, Hicks trained with al-Qaeda, met Osama bin Laden on several occasions—describing him as a brother. He revelled in jihad.”

Current Australian Prime Minster Tony Abbott, who like Howard is a member of the Liberal (conservative) Party, brushed off suggestions that Australia owes Hicks an official apology.

“We did what was needed. Let’s not forget … he was up to no good on his own admission,” Abbott told reporters.

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