Australian detainee David Hicks today became the first person to be convicted at a U.S. war crimes trial since World War II. But in a startling development, the judge in the case reduced Hicks' sentence to nine months — not the seven years recommended by a jury. That means Hicks could be free by the end of 2007.
Hicks, who has already been held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than five years, is the first person to be convicted under the new Military Commissions Act.
In his plea deal, Hicks admitted to providing material support for terrorism. A former kangaroo skinner, he said that he had trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan. He was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001.
A sentencing jury that heard the basic elements of the case against Hicks returned the recommendation that he spend seven years in prison. His sentence is expected to be served in a Australian prison.
But in pronouncing the sentence, the judge cited further details of Hicks' plea agreement, which required a sentence of no more than nine months. Under the terms of the deal, Hicks is barred from speaking with the media for one year.
The Bush administration has been under intense pressure from the Australian government, which is holding elections this year, to resolve the case and return Hicks.