Australian David Hicks has welcomed the decision of an American military court to set aside his terrorism conviction, but says he will not be seeking an official apology.
Mr Hicks, a former prisoner at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, has won a legal challenge to his terrorism conviction before a military court in Cuba.
At a press conference in Sydney on Thursday he thanked the Australian public for its support and said he was “looking forward to getting on with my life now that my name has been cleared”.
“I am sure no-one is surprised by today’s long-awaited acknowledgement by the government of the US of my innocence,” Mr Hicks said.
While he said he was not going to seek an official apology or compensation, he said “someone” should be responsible for his medical expenses, including dental work and back, knee and elbow operations.
“It is becoming an expensive exercise to fix myself from torture,” Mr Hicks said.
“Being kept in freezing conditions, small rooms for years, not being able to move or exercise.
“The body deteriorates over five-and-a-half years even without the added torture, such as stress positions, being beaten, etc.”
Worry about current, not past threats: Abbott
When Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked ahead of the press conference if Mr Hicks’s conviction should be overturned, he advised Australians not to “fret” about an old terrorist threat.
“This is a matter for the lawyers. I will leave it for the lawyers,” Mr Abbott said.
“If I may say so, the important thing is not to fret about an old terrorist threat, it’s to focus on the current terrorist threat which is real, which is serious.”
Mr Hicks was held at Guantanamo Bay from January 2002 until May 2007, when he pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism in a plea bargain that suspended all but nine months of his sentence and allowed him to return to Australia.
The then-Howard government was criticised for not doing enough to represent an Australian citizen being held in a foreign prison.
Mr Abbott said Australia “did what was needed” to help Mr Hicks.
Overnight, the US Court of Military Commission Review set aside Mr Hicks’s guilty plea and sentence.
Hicks revelled in jihad: Howard
Former prime minister John Howard says the government should not apologise to David Hicks after he was cleared of terrorism charges by a US court.
Mr Howard, who was prime minister when Mr Hicks was transferred to an Australian prison as part of a plea bargain, said Mr Hicks “revelled in jihad”.
“Nothing alters the fact that by his own admission, Hicks trained with Al-Qaeda, met Osama bin Laden on several occasions – describing him as a brother,” Mr Howard said in a statement.
“He is not owed an apology by any Australian Government.”
Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Hicks’ father Terry said an apology from the government was needed.
“When you’ve got a government saying David Hicks is a terrorist, guilty of this and guilty of that, and then he’s found not guilty, it leaves a few red faces,” he said.
“So I think they’re going to find it hard to apologise.”