Australian Police to End Restrictions on Ex-Gitmo Detainee
CANBERRA, Australia – Australian police said Thursday they will stop restricting the movements and communications of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee after he broke his long media silence to ask them to let him "get on with" his life.
If the restrictions are lifted, David Hicks will be a completely free man for the first time since he was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in late 2001 and handed to U.S. troops invading to unseat the Taliban regime.
Hicks, a 33-year-old former Outback cowboy and kangaroo skinner turned Taliban foot soldier, has been subject to a control order since his release from prison in his home state of South Australia last December.
Under the order, Hicks must report to police three days a week, observe a curfew and is banned from using any telephone or Internet account not approved by police. It is due to expire next month.
Hicks released a 54-second video message to the public Thursday through a political lobby group opposed to Australia's toughened anti-terrorism laws, saying he feared police will ask for the control order to be extended for another year.
"I don't know what the future holds for me," Hicks says in the video, posted on the GetUp! group's Web site. "The only thing I do know is that until the control order is lifted, I will not be able to get on with my life."
Australian Federal Police initially said it would be inappropriate to comment on whether they were seeking an extension of the control order.
Hours later, it released a second statement. "Following extensive consultation with a number of agencies, the AFP has decided it will not be seeking a further control order in respect of Mr. Hicks." it said.
It was unclear if the government would allow Hicks to apply for a new passport or travel overseas.
Attorney General Robert McClelland was not immediately available for comment.
The Muslim convert spent 5 1/2 years in captivity without trial at the U.S. military prison in Cuba before pleading guilty to supporting terrorism at a U.S. military tribunal in exchange for serving a nine-month sentence in Australia.
Under the plea bargain, Hicks admitted providing material support to Al Qaeda. The deal prevented him from speaking to the media until March 2008.
But even after that date he has refused all media offers to tell his story. He said Thursday he must first recover from his years in captivity.
"Because I'm still recovering from that ordeal, I'm not yet ready to fully explain what happened or why," he says. "One day, I will tell Australia that story, but I am not at that point yet."
Terry Hicks said his son was happy he "forced the situation" with his public appeal.
David Hicks was continuing psychiatric treatment for a post-traumatic stress disorder and had a part-time job in "environmental-type work," his father said.
Terry Hicks said his son had no plans to renew his passport.
Since Hicks' guilty plea, only two Guantanamo Bay detainees have been convicted on terrorism charges.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's media specialist Ali Hamza al-Bahlulto was sentenced this month to life in prison. Bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan was convicted in August and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison.