The first terrorism conviction before a U.S. military court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been reversed.
In 2007, Australian David Hicks, who spent almost six years at the base's controversial prison facility, pleaded guilty and was convicted of providing “material support for terrorism."
Hicks was sentenced to seven years in prison, which was reduced to nine months because of a pretrial agreement. He accepted the terms because he was tortured and desperate to get out, according to his legal team.
Hicks served the remainder of his sentence in an Australian prison.
In 2013, Hicks appealed his conviction with the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR), citing the cases Hamdan v. United States and al-Bahul v. United States — in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit courts found that “providing material support for terrorism” was not a war crime and therefore could not be tried in a military commission.
In light of the two cases, prosecutors conceded that Hicks’ conviction should be vacated, but argued that the court could not act because Hicks had waived his right to appeal.
But CMCR on Wednesday rejected that argument, stating that “the findings of guilty are set aside and dismissed, and appellant’s sentence is vacated.”
This decision is vindication for Hicks, said his lawyer Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. It confirms that Hicks is actually innocent of any crime.
“He will no longer have this conviction hanging over his head,” said Dixon. “He will finally be free of Guantanamo and can really move on with his life.”
Eight trials have so-far been completed in the military commissions — in two cases the prisoners have not been sentenced.
“In 14 years, the military commissions have produced only one conviction that either hasn’t been vacated or isn’t currently under challenge,” Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor, wrote via email following Wednesday’s decision. “Indeed, by the time all is said and done, the only thing the commissions may actually accomplish, besides wasting an awful lot of money, is the 9/11 trial — and even that’s still years away from completion.”
Hicks, who was informed of the appeal’s success in the middle of the night, is thrilled, said Dixon.
“The ruling in Hicks demonstrates once again that we never should've jettisoned the established justice system,” Joseph Margulies, a co-counsel in the Hicks’ case, wrote via email.
“The fact is, we knew perfectly well how to try these cases and didn't need to dream up a whole new system to get the job done any more than we needed to torture people in order to conduct a successful interrogation.”