Hicks’s Military Commission Terrorism Conviction Overturned on Appeal

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First said that today’s ruling striking down the conviction of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks demonstrates that military commissions are an inappropriate and unreliable venue for terrorism trials. The ruling, handed down by the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, vacates Hicks’s conviction for providing material support for terrorism, obtained via a 2007 plea agreement.

“Today’s unanimous ruling is just one more piece of evidence showing that the inefficient, unnecessary military commission system at Guantanamo Bay is ill-equipped to handle terrorism cases,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. “There is no doubt that Hicks could have been tried in federal court on terrorism-related charges.”

In 2007, Hicks pled guilty to providing material support for terrorism, allowing him to return home to his native Australia. Today’s ruling follows a decision last year in the D.C. Circuit Court that found material support for terrorism is not an internationally recognized war crime and therefore cannot be charged in Guantanamo military commissions. Conversely, material support for terrorism is available in U.S. federal court.

Human Rights First notes that federal courts have completed nearly 500 cases related to international terrorism since 9/11.  Of those, at least 67 cases have involved individuals captured overseas, according to Department of Justice data obtained by Human Rights First in a Freedom of Information Act request. Late last year, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was convicted of material support for terrorism in U.S. federal court and sentenced to life in prison.

Meanwhile, military commissions have convicted only eight individuals since 9/11 and, as of today, half of those convictions have been overturned on appeal.

“Civilian federal courts are one of our strongest tools in the fight against terrorism,” noted Eviatar. “Today’s ruling reaffirms that fact.”

For more information about prosecuting terrorism cases, please see Human Rights First’s fact sheets Federal Courts Continue to Take Lead in Counterterrorism Prosecutions and Myth v. Fact: Trying Terrorism Suspects in Federal Court, and blueprint, How to Close Guantanamo


Published on February 18, 2015


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