The only Guantanamo Bay inmate convicted of terrorism offenses, Australian David Hicks, has been released from prison in Adelaide. Hicks was captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 and spent five years in Guantanamo Bay before pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism in March. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Six years after being detained in Afghanistan David Hicks is a free man.
Wearing jeans and a green shirt, the 32-year-old former Muslim convert seemed relaxed as he was released from Adelaide's maximum security Yatala prison.
A small group of supporters stood at the gate to mark the occasion.
Hicks left without a word to waiting reporters but his lawyer David McLeod read a statement on his behalf in which Hicks thanked those who had worked to secure his freedom.
"I would like to recognize the huge debt of gratitude that I owe the Australian public for getting me home," he said. "I will not forget or let you down. Next I would like to thank my family and close friends who have been so supportive of me. Words cannot adequately express the level of my feelings for them. I love them very, very much."
Hicks also asked to be left alone to make a "slow and gentle" transition to freedom.
His new life will be subject to strict conditions.
The former detainee must report to the authorities three times a week and comply with a curfew. He is also not allowed to leave the country.
Earlier this month an Australian magistrate approved a request from the police to issue a control order governing his actions, insisting that Hicks still posed a threat to society.
His family and his legal team maintain he was a misguided adventurer who never intended to harm anyone.
He was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to an Australian prison nine months ago after striking a deal with American military prosecutors.
In return for pleading guilty to providing material support for an extremist organization, Hicks was sentenced to seven years in prison, though all but nine months' prison time was suspended.
He was allowed to return home in May to serve the remainder of that sentence in his home city.
David Hicks was the first person to be convicted at a U.S. war crimes trial since the Second World War.
Australia's former conservative Prime Minister John Howard said Hicks was treated fairly by the U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Critics said Mr. Howard should have done more to stop an Australian citizen being held without trial for so many years in a foreign prison.
Australia's new Labor government said in a statement that David Hicks was entitled to start rebuilding his life, and his request for privacy should be respected.