SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
David Hicks has become the first person to be convicted under the new Military Commissions Act. Mr. Hicks, who is an Australian citizen, was facing a possible life sentence for providing material support for terrorism. Instead, a plea agreement yesterday allows him to receive a nine-month prison sentence, which he can serve out in his home country of Australia.
NPR's Jackie Northam has been Guantanamo Bay all week covering the trial. Jackie, thanks for being with us.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And this was a surprise, wasn't it?
NORTHAM: It certainly was. I mean, you know, for five years we've heard David Hicks was part of this group that were considered the worst of the worst. This was supposed to be a life sentence. Earlier in the week the chief prosecutor said he'd be satisfied with 20 years. But at the end of the hearing yesterday, David Hicks got an extraordinarily light sentence of nine months in prison.
NORTHAM: Well, it actually has a lot to do with a secret plea agreement. This was hammered out before anybody appeared in court on Monday. In fact, the chief prosecutor admitted yesterday he didn't even know that this plea agreement was underway. The defense had leapfrogged over the prosecution and went right to he convening authority, which oversees this process, and worked out this agreement.
The jury certainly did not know about this. You know, 15 military officers were brought in from around the world here to Guantanamo. It's not an easy journey, it's a remote base. They sat, they listened, you know, to statements made by Hicks, the prosecution, the defense; they looked at the allegations against him.
They went in, they came back with a sentence of seven years. The judge thanked them, sent them on their way and turned around and said, you know, under the plea agreement he's serving nine months.
SIMON: And this is a secret plea agreement, so there's no statement that reviews the material or the worth of the charges or anything like that.
NORTHAM: Not really, no. There's a list of allegations, 35 allegations, which Hicks has pleaded guilty to, and it really spans the course of his time in Afghanistan, where he was supposed to have taken, you know, fought, where he says he fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida against the U.S.
But essentially he also ran away from battle as well. Some of the strongest moments of the trial came when the prosecution in the sentencing part said, look, this man sitting before you is in a very nice suit right now, but do not forget that he's had training by al-Qaida. He's a Westerner, he can blend back into society.
It was very, very powerful. The defense came back and said, look, in essence, this guy was a private first class in the trenches and really he was run amuck. He wasn't really much of, you know, more than a foot soldier anyway.
SIMON: Jackie, does this affect future tribunals?
NORTHAM: You know, the chief prosecutor was asked this and he said each tribunal is unique in its own way. But this one has been different. David Hicks is an Australian citizen; the Australian government is a very close ally of the U.S. government, putting enormous pressure on the Bush administration to get this case sorted out.
There are more than 70 people that are also supposed to go through this same trial process. It'll be interesting to see if they get the same breaks that David Hicks got.
SIMON: NPR's Jackie Northam at Guantanamo. Thank you.
NORTHAM: Thank you, Scott.