ADELAIDE, Australia Convicted terror supporter David Hicks will walk free Saturday after being held captive in Guantanamo Bay and Australia for nearly seven years, though the Australian government has imposed strict controls on his movements.
Hicks became the first person convicted at a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II when he pleaded guilty in March to providing material support to al-Qaida.
The former Outback cowboy was captured in December 2001 by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, where he had been fighting with the Taliban. A month later, he was sent to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he spent more than five years without trial.
A U.S. military tribunal sentenced Hicks a Muslim convert who has since renounced the faith to seven years in prison, with all but nine months being suspended, after he confessed to aiding al-Qaida during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan following Sept. 11, 2001.
Under a plea bargain, Hicks was allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence at Yatala prison in his hometown of Adelaide in South Australia state but was ordered to remain silent about any alleged abuse he suffered while in custody.
Hicks' sentence ends Saturday, when he will be allowed to walk out of Yatala, where a throng of media were already gathered early today to catch a glimpse of the confessed Taliban-allied gunman.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Hicks has agreed to a gag order. However, legal rights groups have questioned whether the gag order can be enforced in Australia, where Hicks has not been convicted of any crime.
Hicks, who has been described as depressed and anxious by family members, was not expected to speak to the media upon his release. But his father, Terry, said Hicks would issue a brief statement through his lawyer, David McLeod, apologizing for any inconvenience.
"It is important to him that he gets this message across and thanks everybody who has been supportive of him," Terry Hicks told Sky News television.
Throughout his ordeal, Hicks' lawyers repeatedly described their client as an immature adventurer who traveled to Afghanistan only after his application to enlist in the Australian army was rejected because of his lack of education.
In the months leading up to his plea deal, his lawyers and family said Hicks was severely depressed at Guantanamo, where he was isolated in small, solid-walled cell.
Terry Hicks said his son was eager to resume a normal life in Australia, and hoped to find a job and attend university.
But Hicks' life outside of prison will be far from normal.
A federal court ruled last week that Hicks was still a risk to national security and agreed to impose a control order on him under Australia's strict anti-terror laws.
The order, requested by federal police, requires Hicks to report to police three times a week and obey a curfew by staying indoors at premises to be agreed on by police. Other restrictions include that he not leave Australia or contact a list of terror suspects.
The restrictions will last for one year. Hicks will have an opportunity to challenge the orders at a hearing set for Feb. 18, though his lawyers say they doubt he will do so.