Washington (AFP) - A US military appeals court struck down Wednesday the conviction of an Australian man who was held in Guantanamo Bay and found guilty years ago of material support for a terrorist organization.
The guilty plea of David Hicks came in March 2007. He was arrested in 2001 in Afghanistan and was accused of fighting alongside the Taliban against US-led forces which had invaded the country following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.
He was one of the first detainees of almost 800 to be held in the prison.
Hicks had pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al-Qaeda from December 2000 to December 2001, according to military tribunal documents.
Unanimously, three appeals court judges overturned Hicks' seven-year sentence, of which nine months were served after an agreement with prosecutors.
According to the 10-page judgment, the military judges relied on a recent decision by a civilian court to reverse the conviction of another Guantanamo prisoner that said material support for terrorism was not a war crime and could not be tried by a military court.
The government will not appeal the court ruling, military courts spokesman Myles Caggins told AFP.
Hicks was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001, after training in an Al-Qaeda camp and having met Osama bin Laden.
Hicks was transferred to Australia in 2007 where he served out the remainder of his sentence and was released in December of the same year.
After hearing the decision in Australia, Hicks was "very happy," said lawyer Wells Dixon who argued the appeal to the military court.
"He no longer has the conviction hanging over his head."
Dixon said the decision demonstrated the failure of the military commissions, used at Guantanamo to try terror suspects outside the normal US court system.
"This decision is an illustration of what happens when you make up a secondary system of justice," said Dixon who works at the Center for Constitutional Rights which defends Guantanamo detainees.
Since their creation in 2006, six people have pleaded guilty and been sentenced by Guantanamo courts. The sentencing of three of them was reversed while three more are on appeal.
"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.
Human rights organizations point to the US federal court system as a much more effective body for trying terrorism suspects.