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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That's where authorities announced a plea agreement with the Australian prisoner David Hicks today.

We already knew he was pleading guilty. Today we know that he agreed to a seven-year prison sentence for supporting terrorism.

Mr. Hicks is 31 years old. He's a former kangaroo skinner. And he is the first person convicted in military tribunals since the Supreme Court forced them to be changed.

NPR national security correspondent Jackie Northam is at Guantanamo covering this story. And Jackie, what did you see today?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, the first thing we saw, Steve, was a very different looking David Hicks. He came into the courtroom wearing a very smart-looking gray suit. His hair was cut and he was very deferential to the judge. He stood up when the judge walked in and he stood up when he exited the courtroom.

This is a far cry from what we saw the other day, when Mr. Hicks showed up in court with hair far down his back, and he was wearing prison garb and flip-flops. And the judge actually publicly chastised him, saying you can't come that way into court. I think a lot of this has to do with the plea bargain. And one certainly wants to impress a judge when so much is on the line.

INSKEEP: Well, now, in a normal courtroom, when you go before that judge for the plea bargain, for the end of it, you have to stand there and admit what you did. Did David Hicks have to do something like that?

NORTHAM: Yes, he certainly did. They ran through about 35 different specifications of the one charge against David Hicks. And essentially, it ran through the first time he arrived in Afghanistan and got hooked up with al-Qaida. He went to al-Qaida training camps, where he learned how to use weapons and, you know, landmines and topography. He learned a little bit about that type of thing. And how, you know, after 9/11, that he started to try to make his way through to the frontlines where he could fight alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida against the U.S. and coalition forces.

And it also detailed when things really started getting rough and it looked like the Taliban was about to collapse, how he actually tried to get out of that area and using his Australian passport to try to make his way into Pakistan. And that's when he was nabbed by the Northern Alliance.

What's interesting, Steve, is what's omitted from the original charge sheet that was originally put out by the government on David Hicks. For example the original charge sheet said that he was willing to go on a martyr mission. That was omitted from the charges, the elements read today. So too was his relationship with Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, and also John Walker Lindh.

And other thing to note - and then I'll let you ask another question - is that essentially it said that while he was in Pakistan and 9/11 happened, he was watching it on TV and that he praised that the attack - or the attacks. That was altered today and it basically said his friend said that it looked like he may have done, you know, he may have liked that. But his friend also said that Hicks had made it very clear he had no prior knowledge.

INSKEEP: So the government here, as part of this agreement, backs away in effect from some that's more dramatic charges. Now, what exactly does the plea agreement say?

NORTHAM: Well, we don't have the full specifics of the plea agreement. This is just really coming out just a few moments ago. But it does say is that all sides have agreed to a seven-year sentence for Hicks. What's unclear at this point - and this might not come out until further along in the trial - is if and how much of time already served here at Guantanamo can be applied to that sentence. And a lot of that - the jury still has to come in and listen to a lot of this stuff. They may come up with a lower sentence. And whichever one is lower, the jury's or the plea agreement, that's the one that'll apply in this case.

INSKEEP: Oh, so it's not final. Someone still can make a different decision?

NORTHAM: It certainly could. It could make a lower decision, but certainly not a higher decision. The thing that we're waiting to see is, again, how much time served already will applied to this agreement.

INSKEEP: We'll continue to listen to your reporting to learn more. Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam. She's at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Australian David Hicks has announced that he agreed to a seven-year prison sentence for supporting terrorism.

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