January 23, 2015 / 1:02 AM / 3 years ago

Lawyer for former Australian Guantanamo detainee says U.S. agrees he is innocent

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The United States has agreed that Australian David Hicks, jailed on terrorism charges for five years at Guantanamo, is innocent, his lawyer said on Friday.

Australian David Hicks, known as the "Aussie Taliban", poses for a photograph in Sydney November 6, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

Hicks pleaded guilty in 2007 to providing “material support for terrorism” but his legal team claimed that he did so under duress and filed an appeal in late 2013.

Lawyer Stephen Kenny said the legal team arguing the appeal has been told the U.S. government did not dispute Hicks’ innocence and also admitted that his conviction was not correct.

Kenny said he expected to hear within a month whether the Court of Military Commission Review in Washington would quash his conviction.

“We have no doubts that the Military Commission ... will make a ruling now that David Hicks’ conviction should be set aside,” Kenny said on Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

The Pentagon declined to comment directly on Kenny’s claims, saying any developments in the case are a matter for the military court.

“The government will make additional responses through court filings,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesman.

Hicks signed a plea bargain in 2007 in which he agreed he would never appeal his conviction. The deal made Hicks the first person convicted in a U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War Two and allowed him to return to Australia to finish his nine-month sentence.

Kenny said the former kangaroo skinner was despondent and suicidal at the time and signed the plea deal in a desperate bid to get out of Guantanamo.

Civilian courts have since ruled that providing material support for terror was not a legitimate war crime for actions that occurred before the adoption of new laws in 2006 by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to try to prosecute accused war criminals of al Qaeda captured after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The Military Commission earlier this month overturned the terrorism conviction through plea bargain of a Sudanese man, Noor Mohammed, who was also at Guantanamo, citing those rulings.

Hicks, now 38 and free in Australia, was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 and was among the first group of prisoners sent to Guantanamo when the detention camp opened on Jan. 11, 2002.Hicks has admitted he trained at paramilitary camps in Afghanistan, but said he saw no evidence of terrorism activity. The U.S. government has said they were al Qaeda camps.

During his five years at Guantanamo, Hicks was beaten, threatened with deadly violence, sexually assaulted, deprived of sleep for long periods and told that he would never again set foot in his home country, his lawyers said.

If he loses in the military appeals court, Hicks could appeal to a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additional reporting by David Alexander in WASHINGTON; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Jeremy Laurence

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