Australia finalises deal for Guantanamo exchange
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia will have no power to shorten any prison sentence for Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks under a new prisoner-exchange deal with the United States, the country's top lawmaker said on Thursday.
The Australian government on Thursday formally endorsed the new prisoner exchange deal, which covers people jailed by U.S. military tribunals, clearing the way for Hicks to serve out his prison sentence at home.
After five years in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Hicks, 31, could be sentenced by the end of the week after he pleaded guilty to a charge of helping al Qaeda fight American troops and their allies in 2001 during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
"The arrangement with the United States is such that only the United States can pardon a prisoner," Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told parliament, adding the government would not be able to alter or shorten any prison sentence.
He said local authorities had agreed Hicks could serve any jail sentence in his home state of South Australia, where the maximum security Yatala prison is only a few kilometres from the Adelaide suburb where Hicks grew up.
Hicks's father Terry Hicks, who has spearheaded a campaign to have his son returned home, arrived back in Adelaide earlier on Thursday after seeing his son in Guantanamo Bay.
He said he was surprised his son had pleaded guilty, but said the plea was one way of getting out of U.S. custody.
"After the conversations we had with David you could see all he wants to do is get home," Terry Hicks told reporters in Adelaide. "If any of you put yourself in David's situation ... most of you would be pleading guilty to something just to get out of the place."
Hicks was the first of up to 80 Guantanamo Bay prisoners to face a newly-constituted Military Commission trial, which the U.S. Congress endorsed after the Supreme Court struck down an earlier version of the military tribunals.
Australia, a close ally of the United States with forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, had refused to ask for Hicks to be returned to face a local court as he could not have been charged with any offence under Australian laws at the time.
Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who faces a tough election later this year and who is under pressure from growing public support for Hicks to return home, complained to the U.S. about the long delay in bringing Hicks to trial.
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