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Lawyers for an Australian who was the first terror suspect to plead guilty before military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay met in private with prosecutors Tuesday to formalize details of a confession expected to speed his return home.
David Hicks, who was accused of supporting al-Qaida and the Taliban during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, entered the plea Monday in a surprise development seen as a bid to end his five-year imprisonment at the U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba.
The United States has agreed to allow Hicks to serve any sentence in Australia, and the U.S. military said a conviction on his charge of providing material support for terrorism could allow him to return home by the end of the year.
Hicks' father, Terry Hicks, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Tuesday that he believed his son pleaded guilty as part of a bargain with prosecutors that would get him out of Guantanamo: "It's a way to get home, and he's told us he just wants to get home."
The guilty plea came at the opening session of a new military tribunal signed into law in October by President Bush after the Supreme Court struck down the previous system.
Critics of the
commissions said the
plea reflected Hicks'
despair over his
prospects for justice
"He and his attorneys knew he could not receive a fair trial, so Hicks pleaded guilty," said Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the lawyer for Omar Khadr, a Canadian detainee who is expected to face charges before the commission.
Hicks, a 31-year-old Muslim convert, pleaded guilty to one charge of providing support to a terror organization involved in hostilities against the United States. But he denied a second allegation of supporting terrorism.
He allegedly attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and reported to an al-Qaida commander after the Sept. 11 attacks, but he was not accused of firing a shot against U.S. or coalition forces. He was captured in December 2001 and was one of the first men taken to Guantanamo a month later.
Hicks, who lives at a maximum-security facility at Guantanamo, has been transferred to a complex with special meeting rooms to make it easier to consult with his lawyers.
At a private conference Tuesday, the defense and prosecution were expected to discuss details of the guilty plea before presenting it to the military judge, Marine Corps Col. Ralph Kohlmann, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. Kohlmann was expected to make the determination this week.
"Under commission rules the military judge must be satisfied that Hicks' guilty plea is voluntary and otherwise lawful," Whitman said.
Members of a military tribunal convened for Hicks' case are expected to travel to Guantanamo this week to approve any sentence. Defense attorneys said a gag order by the military judge prevented them from discussing details of the plea until a sentence is announced.
Hicks is the only detainee charged so far by the reconstituted tribunal system. The military says as many as 80 of the 385 men held at Guantanamo will likely face prosecution.
A challenge of the new system is pending before the Supreme Court. Lawyers for detainees have asked the high court to step in again and guarantee that the prisoners can challenge their confinement in U.S. courts.