Hicks v. United States


Hicks v. United States was an appeal on behalf of former Guantánamo detainee David Hicks asking the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review to overturn his conviction for “providing material support for terrorism,” a charge that was invalidated in 2012 when the D.C. Circuit ruled in Hamdan v. United States (“Hamdan II”) that “material support” was not, and had never been, a crime under the international laws of war. The D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, reached the same conclusion in 2014 in Al Bahlul v. United States (“Bahlul”). Starting with these rulings, the military commissions system set up by the Bush Administration in 2001 to confer a veneer of legitimacy to Guantánamo began to unravel. David Hicks was the first person to be charged in the initial iteration of these military tribunals. Like Guantánamo itself, this quasi-court system has been an affront to the rule of law and has enabled the U.S. government to evade accountability for torture and unlawful detentions. Hicks v. United States is part of CCR’s broader effort to challenge these abuses.

For more on the military commissions system and its undoing, see our factsheet.

David Hicks, an Australian citizen, was one of the first men brought to Guantánamo, where he was tortured and held for almost six years. In 1999, Hicks, then 23 years old, converted to Islam and left his homeland to wander the world. His travels took him to Afghanistan, where, shortly after 9/11, he was sold to the U.S. military by the Northern Alliance for a bounty and sent to Guantánamo. In 2002, with representation from the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel Joseph Margulies, he filed one of the first habeas corpus petitions challenging the government’s authority to detain individuals at Guantánamo indefinitely without due process. In 2007, under increasing pressure from the Australian government to return its citizen, the U.S. government offered Hicks a plea deal. Desperate to leave Guantánamo after more than five long years of abuse and torture, and knowing that pleading guilty to a war crime would likely be the only sure way out of prison, he accepted the offer and pled guilty to a single “material support” violation, despite having never fired a weapon, and returned to Australia. He lived under a suspended sentence of seven years’ imprisonment, and continues to suffer the burdens and disabilities of his military commission conviction. For more on his story, see our client profile.

As of this date, the only two convictions the government has obtained by trial under the military tribunals at Guantánamo have now been vacated (Hamdan) or remain unresolved following vacatur (Al Bahlul). In the wake of these decisions, we argued that Hicks’s conviction should be invalidated on two grounds: (1) as a matter of law the military commission could not convict him for material support; and (2) his guilty plea was involuntary because it was obtained under torture. On February 18, 2015, the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review struck down David Hicks’s conviction in a unanimous ruling.