“The Extraordinary Rendition of Mamdouh Habib”
Dateline, SBS Television. 9th March 2005
After nearly 4 years in captivity Mamdouh Habib returned home to Australia in early 2005. This award winning story is based on an extensive interview with Habib, and raises serious questions about the involvement of Australian intelligence in his transfer to Egypt and subsequent torture.
“The Extraordinary Rendition of Mamdouh Habib”
Reporter/Camera: Bronwyn Adcock
Air date: 9th March 2005
After spending the last 3.5 years locked up in four different countries, Mamdouh Habib is learning to find his way around the streets of Sydney again.
MAMDOUH HABIB: I was lost – until now lost in the streets. I didn’t know the streets.
He’s been a free man for just over a month now but says it’s only partial liberty.
MAMDOUH HABIB: Actually I not feel I’m free yet.
REPORTER: You don’t feel you’re free?
MAMDOUH HABIB: No.
REPORTER: Why not?
MAMDOUH HABIB: I feel I’ve been under the pressure from the Government yet and I feel I’ve been follow. They doesn’t want to leave me alone. So I feel free when these people leave me alone.
REPORTER: Do you think you’re being followed?
MAMDOUH HABIB: Yes. Actually, I’m not thinking – I’m sure I’ve been followed.
On a recent trip to his accountant, Mamdouh Habib says he spotted a man he knows as an ASIO agent.
MAMDOUH HABIB: And I go down the stairs for a smoke I see him, he’s next to my car. As soon as he sees me he moves and tries to go away from me. I follow him. When he sees me, I follow him and he disappear.
REPORTER: Where did you recognise him from?
MAMDOUH HABIB: Before I left I know a lot of people from ASIO used to come to my house. I used to be followed by same people before.
If this is true, Australia’s spy agency, ASIO, is fulfilling a US desire, that a close eye be kept on their former prisoner. Habib, though, sees it as unwarranted harassment.
MAMDOUH HABIB: I believe I’ve been released by United States and the United States say they dropped their case, they have nothing to do with me and I believe Australia shouldn’t harass me anymore.
REPORTER: Is he under surveillance now?
PHILIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, they’re not matters about which we comment publicly. We have a range of laws that deal with security issues and they operate in relation to all Australians. And in terms of what appropriate authorities do, it’s a matter for them and their judgments.
It’s clear that many Australians would be happy if Habib was under surveillance.
RON WILSON – CHANNEL TEN NEWS: Some very interesting first results just in for Ten’s news poll. Tonight we’re asking: Do you believe Mamdouh Habib is a threat to our security? So far a whopping 78% believe that he is.
Suspicions were fuelled when during his much anticipated first television interview with ’60 Minutes’ he refused to answer questions about what he was doing overseas before his arrest.
ALAN JONES – RADIO 2UE SYDNEY: I think any performance was worth the audience hearing because we now know how evasive this bloke is towards the answers that we seek from him.
SALLY LOANE – ABC 702 SYDNEY: The thing that I found a bit frustrating was when he wouldn’t answer the questions about why he, you know, was in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
STEPHEN HOPPER, MAMDOUH HABIB’S LAWYER: Did you have a read of it?
MAHA HABIB: The one you gave me?
STEPHEN HOPPER: Yeah. Do you want to read it?
It as Habib’s lawyer, Stephen Hopper, who brokered the lucrative deal with ’60 Minutes’ and advised Mamdouh Habib not to talk about his overseas activities. For Dateline’s interview we didn’t pay a cent, but Stephen Hopper is extending his media strategy even further. A condition of granting the interview was that we weren’t allowed to even ask Mamdouh Habib what he was doing before he was arrested. Stephen Hopper keeps his client on a tight rein.
REPORTER: How many trips had you made to Pakistan before…
STEPHEN HOPPER: No, he’s not going to answer that at this stage. We’re still reconstructing all of the evidence about those things. He’s not prepared to go into that.
REPORTER: To talk about how many trips he’d made to Pakistan?
STEPHEN HOPPER: No.
REPORTER: Mr Hopper, why won’t you let your client talk about what he was doing before he was arrested in Pakistan?
STEPHEN HOPPER: Well, it’s not a matter of me not letting him do it. He’s quite happy to talk about what happened it’s just he’s going to do it at the appropriate time – the appropriate time is in court.
REPORTER: But doesn’t common sense say if he was doing nothing wrong at all you would be talking about it – in fact you’d be shouting it from the rooftops?
STEPHEN HOPPER: Look, that’s extremely simplistic. When someone has to prove a case – whether it be a case for compensation or a case for a passport, or a case for whichever avenue we may go down – it has to be carefully constructed so the evidence is ventilated in the proper way and the trier of fact gets to see that evidence in an untainted light.
Hopper has maintained all along that he’s holding back for an unspecified court case. He’s now also claiming he’s keeping evidence that may prove Habib’s innocence out of the public domain.
STEPHEN HOPPER: We’re quite concerned that either the security agencies here could tamper with evidence or a security agency in another nation or another government could tamper with evidence. This has happened before in other cases. Indeed, it’s happened in this case.
REPORTER: What evidence has been tampered with?
STEPHEN HOPPER: We don’t want to disclose that yet, but certain steps have been taken and we’re very concerned about the way ASIO and the Government are dealing with things with this case.
Stephen Hopper will not provide any evidence for this serious accusation. However, he says twice in the last month the Habibs’ home has been broken into. While valuables were left behind an item he says could assist Habib’s case was taken. The family is also asking why none of the possessions he had on him before his arrest have been returned.
MAMDOUH HABIB: Well, people have to understand 100% I’m not hiding anything. I’m happy to tell them everything. But they have to understand too we have a court case running and they have to understand the ASIO trying to destroy every evidence I have to present in court. The time of waiting for the day of the court, the judge, to prove my innocence to them. They doesn’t want to make me prove myself as innocent. These people do dirty business and I no want to give them this chance.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, if he believes that the agency is operating incorrectly or inappropriately, there are avenues open to test those issues. There is an independent agency that scrutinises the activities of intelligence organisations. And if he believes that, rather than dealing with it through the press, he should make his particular complaints known to the relevant authority.
While there’s no doubt Habib’s refusal to tell the full story damages his credibility, he’s not the only one being evasive. A key part of the Mamdouh Habib story is how, after his arrest in Pakistan, he was transferred to Egypt and held for six months before being taken to Guantanamo Bay. It’s on the transfer to Egypt the Australian Government has been notoriously difficult to pin down.
LAURIE OAKES, SUNDAY-CHANNEL 9: Do we raise it with the US who took him there – in effect abducted him from Pakistan?
ALEXANDER DOWNER, Well, I don’t have – I don’t have all the details of that. I don’t have any evidence that the Americans took him there, to the best of my knowledge.
LAURIE OAKES: He didn’t walk.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, he went from Pakistan to Egypt. There are a lot of different ways you can get from Pakistan to Egypt. I mean I just do not have that information.
While the Australian Government claims no knowledge about Habib’s transfer to Egypt, they are absolutely certain about what he was up to before his arrest. Recently under the protection of parliamentary privilege the heads of Australia’s spy and police agencies outlined their very serious case against him.
MICK KEELTY, AUST. FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: The investigators formed a view that he went there to train with the LET and be paid for that training and that he was then offering his services to al-Qa’ida, for which he was going to be paid a sum of money.
DENNIS RICHARDSON, ASIO DIRECTOR GENERAL: He was actually with people in Afghanistan who had a history of murdering innocent civilians.
No evidence has been presented to support these allegations, nor have they been tested in a court. A different set of allegations made by the Americans have had some scrutiny.
Last year the US military was forced to outline its case against Habib to justify his ongoing detention in Guantanamo Bay. At the time they said that Habib knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, helped train some of the hijackers and even planned to hijack a plane himself. Habib’s American lawyer Joe Margulies has seen the classified file upon which these accusations were based. He’s not allowed to discuss what he read, but can reveal that part of the file was based on confessions Habib gave in Egypt. Joe Margulies says this meant the US case against Habib was seriously flawed?
JOE MARGULIES, MAMDOUH HABIB’S US LAWYER: Well, if they believed it to be true they wouldn’t have sent him home. They obviously do not believe it to be true. The reason they don’t believe it to be true is that by the time Mr Habib confessed he would have confessed to absolutely anything. If you put a piece of paper in front of him – he says as much, “Whatever they put in front of me I signed.” Some of the things he signed were blank documents they later filled in which we know from people released from Egyptian custody were standard practice of the Egyptians. He would have confessed to assassinating Abe Lincoln. There’s nothing he wouldn’t have said and there’s no truth in it. Well obviously you can’t rely as a basis for prosecution or a basis for any continued detention on evidence that is so demonstrably ill-gotten.
REPORTER: Does any of the case the Australian Government has come from information obtained in Egypt?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I’m not aware of information that was obtained by inappropriate means. Just let me make that very clear. I mean, Australia is very strongly of the view that people should not be tortured, but in relation to the material that I rely upon, it is from third parties, not from admissions by Habib himself other than information that was obtained when he was interviewed by Australian officials where there was absolutely no duress.
REPORTER: So the central accusation, Mamdouh, that you trained with terrorist groups, is that correct?
MAMDOUH HABIB: I never trained with anybody. That’s full of lie. I never trained anything, with anybody.
REPORTER: Did you spend time with any terrorist group?
MAMDOUH HABIB: I haven’t been with any terrorist group. I work with normal people. I don’t know who they are. But I been never any training terrorists, I never been training with anybody, I never know anybody as a terrorists, I never worked with terrorist anywhere.
Habib’s rejection of this allegation puts him at odds with Australia’s spy agency and not for the first time. For much of the 1990s, ASIO was watching him, an interest sparked because of his contact with Islamic extremists overseas. But in an extraordinary allegation, Habib says that the agency that was after him also wanted him to spy for them.
MAMDOUH HABIB: They asked so many times. I know so many of them, they come to me and they ask me to help him. I feel I going to be a spy for somebody and this is not my way of life and I refuse so many times.
He says the last time ASIO approached him was shortly before he went overseas in 2001.
MAMDOUH HABIB: He tell me, “You work for us.” I said, “What do you want me to do?” He say “Because we got bad people, maybe you got bad people in Australia maybe they try to do bad thing.” I say “I don’t know bad people. How I know bad people”. He say “We need somebody to tell us what people do maybe in the mosque.” I say “Listen, I not going to work for you, or nobody. That’s not my way of life. I can’t be two faces.”
REPORTER: Did they know you were going to go overseas?
MAMDOUH HABIB: No idea – I have no idea.
Mamdouh Habib arrived in Pakistan in July 2001. Both he and his lawyer refuse to say whether he crossed the border into Afghanistan. His lawyer is sticking to the story he’s maintained all along, that Habib was looking for business opportunities and schools.
REPORTER: Do you have any evidence to support that – for example, names of schools, information about businesses that he may have got some interest from?
STEPHEN HOPPER: We have information relating to Mr Habib’s activities when he was overseas and that will be disclosed at the appropriate time.
At some point, ASIO became concerned about Habib’s trip overseas. Just a week after the attacks on America, on September 11 2001, his family home in Sydney was raided. The head of ASIO recently revealed for the first time they were looking for him.
DENNIS RICHARDSON: We and others were actively looking for Mr Habib before 5 October. Because of his activity in Afghanistan and our concern about that. There was considerable interest in indeed ascertaining his whereabouts.
REPORTER: At that time, did you think that Australian authorities were looking for you or following you perhaps?
MAMDOUH HABIB: Maybe. Maybe.
REPORTER: Were you aware that you were under surveillance in Pakistan?
STEPHEN HOPPER: I’d rather him not get into that sort of stuff.
REPORTER: Why is that?
STEPHEN HOPPER: Well, we’re building a case and we don’t want that sort of information disclosed.
REPORTER: Had you seen any other Australians in Pakistan?
STEPHEN HOPPER: Again we don’t want to touch that sort of stuff.
Australian authorities may have been looking for him, but it appears his arrest was either due to Habib’s bad luck or bad judgment.
Meet Ibrahim Diab. He’s one of the German men arrested with Habib in Pakistan and is speaking publicly for the first time. Today he’s in Germany, but back in 2001, he and another German-Albanian man were in Afghanistan visiting al-Qa’ida camps. In extensive interviews with German police after his arrest, Ibrahim gave names of people he met in Afghanistan, but never implicated Habib. He said then and still maintains that he met Habib for the first time here at this bus station in Quetta, Pakistan. All three men were trying to get to the Pakistani city of Karachi to fly home and agreed to travel together. Midway through their bus journey, the bus was stopped by police.
IBRAHIM DIAB(Translation): The bus driver stopped and two men in Pakistani attire got on and asked my Albanian friend and me for our names. When we asked who they were they said “Police officers”. Mamdouh Habib was watching but he did not say a word. He remained seated, when he saw us get off the bus he could not restrain himself, so he asked where they were taking us and what they wanted from us. They answered that they had orders to arrest both of us. Then they asked him if he was our friend, or if he knew us, and he answered affirmatively. This was an error on Mamdouh’s part.
MAMDOUH HABIB: I said, “Where are you taking them? What do you want from them?’
Habib agrees he did confront the police who were arresting the Germans.
MAMDOUH HABIB: He say “ You know these guys?” I say I know them, what’s wrong? He says you too, you can come with us. I say what’s going on? He say we talk down off the bus.
REPORTER: So why did you make a fuss? Why didn’t you keep quiet?
MAMDOUH HABIB: You can’t keep quiet when you see something wrong. I can’t see any reason to take him. I don’t understand. Because the guy, firstly, doesn’t speak English and he’s very young. So I don’t know why.
REPORTER: The German guy?
MAMDOUH HABIB: Yeah. I don’t know why they try to take him. Maybe there’s some explanation I have to explain for these guys.
REPORTER: In hindsight, do you ever wish you said nothing?
MAMDOUH HABIB: No, I’m happy with what I said.
REPORTER: Didn’t that lead to you getting arrested and this whole three years’ beginning?
MAMDOUH HABIB: I never plan myself for what I did. When you do something good, you never plan yourself for it. I’m happy.
A stunning statement given where his intervention on the bus landed him. After around a month’s detention in Pakistan, Habib ended up here, in Cairo. Egypt is a country routinely condemned by the US State Department for its use of torture. For six months Habib says he was subjected to brutal torture – including regular beatings, electric shocks and the threat of being raped by dogs.
MAMDOUH HABIB: Actually I been tortured the first day. I don’t know – every question they been torturing me from the beginning to the end. I don’t know why. It’s not torturing about questions. I think they enjoy to torture – that’s it.
JOE MARGULIES: The tortures that he was subjected to in Egypt were creative and diabolical in a way that I never could have conceived. The United States Government does not maintain that those tortures were not true. In fact when he was released their position now is that there was no evidence he was tortured in US custody. They’re very careful to exclude the fact that he was tortured in Egyptian custody.
While Habib was not in American custody in Egypt, they sent him there. In an interview with Dateline last year, the Pakistani Interior Minister said that while Habib was arrested by the Pakistanis, once they’d finished with him, they handed him over to the Americans. He was in US custody when he was transferred to Egypt.
REPORTER: The United States requested that he be sent to Egypt?
PAKISTANI INTERIOR MINISTER, 2004: The US wanted him there for their own investigations. But we are not concerned where they take him. Once that was over, once we were satisfied with our own investigations, certainly we had no problem in handing him over to an ally of ours.
REPORTER: The Americans?
PAKISTANI INTERIOR MINISTER: Yes, that’s right.
Post 9/11 the United States has increasingly used the secret policy of extraordinary rendition. It involves sending terror suspects to countries like Egypt where they can be interrogated in a way that Western democracies can’t. It’s effectively the outsourcing of torture. The US gets the information they want without getting their hands dirty.
Joe Margulies says Habib’s story fits in with what’s known about the rendition process.
JOE MARGULIES: We’re not going to get the torturers from Egypt to come forward and say, “This is what we did. This is how we filled the room with water. Here’s the lever we pushed to allow the water to come into the room and fill up to his neck while he stood in a room with his hands handcuffed behind his back.” That’s not going to happen. But what we have is pieces of it that are corroborated by other people, other people to whom things like this have happened. Other people who confirm now that the United States has for some years been involved in the practice of extraordinary rendition – that’s what it’s called – and they have sent people to places like Egypt where they know they’re going to be tortured.
The main agency involved in extraordinary rendition is the CIA. John Radsan is a former CIA lawyer.
JOHN RADSAN, CIA LAWYER: He was rendered, if his allegations are true, he was rendered from our control to Egyptian control. What we don’t know is if he was mistreated or if he was mistreated whether the administration had any reason to believe that he would be mistreated in Egypt. But let’s be clear if the administration knows that a jurisdiction is going to mistreat or torture someone and they go ahead and turn this person over, this is a violation of US law.
Up until a year ago, John Radsan was legal counsel for the CIA. One of his tasks was to build a legal framework around the administration’s tough new anti-terror policy. He raises the possibility that if Habib was tortured in Egypt, then Australia may also bear responsibility for what happened.
JOHN RADSAN: If my assumptions are true – and I think they are – that Australia is a part of the convention against torture, that they have similar prohibitions against torture in Australian law, and if the Australians were involved in Mamdouh Habib’s transfer, if they had control, if they had jurisdiction over him, or if they shared jurisdiction with American authorities, then I think they’re drawn into the responsibility. The other possibility is they’ve kept a distance and they’ve been apprised that the Americans are going to transfer that person to Egypt. That may have different implications, different legal implications, but I think from an Australians perspective you would ask, “Shouldn’t my Government be doing more to protect me? I’m an Australian citizen – and not to allow me to go to a country that people have a fair reason to believe, tortures people.” But that’s a political question less a legal question.
Potential Australian complicity in the illegal rendition and torture of Mamdouh Habib is an extremely sensitive issue for the Government. It’s always sought to distance itself from Habib’s transfer to Egypt. In late 2001, Maha Habib was informed by the department of foreign affairs that it thought her husband was in Egypt.
DOCUMENT: As I advised in my fax 10 December we believe that your husband is now detained in Egypt.
But it stressed it had no idea how he got there.
DOCUMENT: If in fact your husband is in Egypt, as we believe, we are not aware of the details of his movement to Egypt from Pakistan.
Now nearly 3.5 years on, the Government says it still doesn’t know.
REPORTER: Do you agree that Habib was subject to a process called extraordinary rendition, that he was taken by the United States to Egypt for the purpose of interrogation?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I can’t comment on those matters. I have no personal knowledge and Australia has no personal knowledge – we were never advised that he was being removed. We sought – and continued to seek – access to him and sought to find out what had happened to him and where he’d gone.
REPORTER: Do you believe that Mamdouh Habib was tortured in Egypt?
PHILIP RUDDOCK:I don’t know. I hear his claims but I don’t know. All I know is that we sought confirmation as to whether he was there and that was never forthcoming but we formed the view that he was.
If Australia had any role in American plans to send Habib to Egypt, then there would have been a level of cooperation or at least contact between the two allies here in Pakistan. Habib was held here for a month before the decision was made to send him to Egypt. Under questioning in the Senate recently the head of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Keelty, revealed for the first time there was contact between the Americans and the Australians. It happened the day Habib was arrested?
MICK KEELTY: The FBI’s legal attache in Pakistan advised our AFP liaison officer in Islamabad that a person who had a similar name to Habib had been detained in Pakistan. That person was later positively identified as Mr Habib.
LYN ALLISON, VICTORIA: It was the US who informed us?
MICK KEELTY: The US legal attache in Pakistan.
The Australian Government has acknowledged that ASIO and federal police officials were on the ground here in Pakistan to see Habib. Given the years of surveillance of Habib in Sydney, it’s logical to assume these officials carried a weight of information about him. Former CIA lawyer John Radsan says it’s hard to believe that they didn’t share their information.
JOHN RADSAN: If the Australians were on the ground, then it’s a very reasonable hypothesis that there was a sharing of information for two broad reasons: One, there’s going to be the sharing of information between the intelligence services. We’re going to find out as much as we can of the host from the country where that detainee comes from, whether it’s Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks. Perhaps the Australians have information on whether they’re bad people, whether they’re terrorists. We’re going to perhaps share information that the CIA has on them to get a better sense of the person we’re dealing with. The second reason is that we have our diplomatic relations and want to make sure we don’t create a diplomatic incident between in this case the Australian and American governments. So to reinforce the liaison relationship between the intelligent services and to preserve our diplomatic relationship I think it’s a fair assumption that we kept the Australians informed.
REPORTER: Presumably when ASIO as we know turned up in Pakistan or perhaps they were already there to interview Habib, they came with a significant amount of intelligence that had been gathered on Mamdouh Habib for nearly the last decade. Was any of that information or intelligence shared with the United States on the ground or in Pakistan?
PHILIP RUDDOCK:They are not matters on which I comment. It is quite inappropriate for me to comment on what arrangements are made between intelligence operations in terms of sharing information.
Mamdouh Habib’s version of events goes way beyond the question of information sharing. He alleges on one occasion in Pakistan he was interrogated by American officials with an Australian present.
MAMDOUH HABIB: They call me again for another interview and was this guy and two women – American women – and one man over – maybe 60, maybe over – and the Australian consul and about two Pakistani people.
REPORTER: And was this an interrogation?
MAMDOUH HABIB: It was like interrogation and they ask me questions but wasn’t really as serious. And they ask me if I know anybody in Afghanistan, if I know anybody terrorists – I say why you ask me this question – have nothing to do with me. I don’t know. I haven’t been in Afghanistan. I don’t have to answer your questions. If you want to question me, take me back in Australia. I told the consul, “Why you here? What these people to do with me ?” He say, “I have nothing to do with this. I’m here just to watch.” I say, “Why you watch? Nothing to do with me.” I was very upset, I was very angry with these people.
REPORTER: Who led the interview?
MAMDOUH HABIB: The American people, the Australian consul was sit down next to me.
This account is backed up by Habib’s cell mate at the time, Ibrahim Diab. He says Habib returned to his cell one day and said he’d just been interrogated by Americans, Pakistanis and an Australian.
IBRAHIM DIAD: He told us that they asked him bad questions and they want to take him to the jail and they want to take him to America. And they say “You done this, you must say that I done this”. He say “How? I didn’t done this, how I can say it?”
Both the Australian Government and Habib agree that he was interviewed by an Australian in Pakistan. They disagree on who that person was. Habib says it was the consul. The Government says it was ASIO. We asked the Attorney-General if any Australian witnessed Habib being interrogated by Americans.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I simply make the point that in relation to the access, we obtained access to Habib with Australian officials. That’s been outlined to the Senate Estimates committee. Other parties were present, but I don’t intend to elaborate on who may or may not have been present. There was no inappropriate questioning of him in the presence of Australian officials.
REPORTER: I’m not asking about inappropriate questioning. I’m asking about an incident where Mamdouh Habib says he was interviewed, interrogated, by US authorities in Pakistan and there was an Australian official in the room watching the interview.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: That official was alleged to have been a Foreign Affairs official. It was alleged it was at an airport. No… No such event took place. I don’t intend to be interrogated as to who was where at particular times.
Around a month after his arrest, Habib was taken here – bound and gagged and put on a plane for Cairo. He says the same Australian who witnessed his interrogation by the Americans was also at the airport. The Government denies this and denies any knowledge of his impending rendition. However, former CIA lawyer John Radsan says it’s probable that Australia would have at least known what was happening.
JOHN RADSAN: I have no way of knowing that – even if I did know it from my service in the CIA I wouldn’t be at liberty to tell you – but I think it is a reasonable hypothesis that if we’re going to move an Australian from our jurisdiction somewhere else and we’d been in touch with Australian authorities, that we would keep the Australians apprised of these developments.
According to the records, the first Australian agency to find out Habib was in Egypt was ASIO. They say they learned this out a matter of weeks after he went there?
WOMAN: So your information that he was most likely in Egypt allegedly came through DFAT?
DENNIS RICHARDSON: No, it was through our own activities.
Just who told ASIO Habib was in Egypt is not something the Government will discuss.
According to Mamdouh Habib, the Australian involvement in his rendition extended to his incarceration in Egypt. He makes the serious allegation that in one particular interrogation session here, he was asked questions specifically about a SIM card from a mobile phone that could only have come from Australia.
MAMDOUH HABIB: When they interrogate me, I believe everything they get it from Australia, because they gave me phones – they gave me about 300 phone number, or maybe more – and they put me in a room and they tell me, “You have to tell us” – some of the phone they have a names – some of the phone they have a number. And they tell me, “You have to give addresses and who are these people and how you know him.” And they put me in a room with a few guard and if my hand stopped writing I get beaten.
REPORTER: So these phone numbers – where could they have come from?
MAMDOUH HABIB: I believe they been taken from Australia because I don’t have any SIM card with me when I left.
REPORTER: Did you have any SIM cards in Pakistan from Australia?
MAMDOUH HABIB: No from Australia, I have nothing from Australia. Because when you go overseas you have to buy a SIM card.
REPORTER: So what you’re saying is you believe that the telephone numbers you were questioned about in Egypt came from a SIM card in Australia.
MAMDOUH HABIB: Yes, that’s positive, yes.
In 2001, the Habib family home in Sydney was raided by ASIO. According to the record held by the family, a number of mobile phones were taken. Habib says that in this same interrogation in Egypt he was asked to give evidence against a number of Australian Muslims living in Sydney.
MAMDOUH HABIB: And they ask me, they say, “Do you want to be a witness against somebody?” And I don’t know these people, maybe I saw them in the mosque, yes, maybe I saw them in Lakemba, yes, but I don’t know what these people do. They tell me it’s the only way for me to be released – if I be a witness against these people, maybe we make you a witness and we release you.
REPORTER: Mamdouh Habib has said that on one occasion in Egypt he was interrogated with a whole set of telephone numbers that came from a SIM card that he left behind in Australia. How did the interrogators in Egypt get hold of that information?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I’ve got no idea. Nor would you expect me to have any idea. One, I don’t talk about what intelligence agencies do and confirm or deny matters of that sort. But I’m simply saying we sought from the Egyptians confirmation that he was there. That was denied. And I have no knowledge of whatever claims he may make. I’ve got no knowledge.
REPORTER: Would it concern you, though, that if information gathered in Sydney by Australian intelligence turned up in an interrogation cell in Egypt, would that be of concern?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, I don’t know. I’m simply saying there are a lot of claims Mr Habib has made at different times which I know to be untrue. You tell me he’s made a further claim. It may or may not be true. I don’t know.
REPORTER: Regardless of whether you believe it to be true or not, is that something that would be acceptable for Australian intelligence to be used in a process of ongoing interrogation and torture of an Australian citizen in another country?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Let me make this clear. I expect intelligence authorities to do everything they can to avert terrorist activity here or anywhere else and I expect them to take any lawful steps that they can to deal with those issues and if that means exchanging information for intelligence purposes, I’ve got no problem with it.
The Attorney-General’s comments raise important questions about Australia’s role in the global war on terror. If Australia is willing to share intelligence, can we ever be sure it won’t be used to torture an Australian citizen or anybody else?
REPORTER: What if it does occasion harm? What if it’s used in an interrogation where someone is being tortured?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I don’t care if it’s used in interrogation. Any information is used in interrogation or questioning. I do believe it is inappropriate to torture people. I’ve made that very clear.
Mamdouh Habib goes further with his claims of Australian involvement in Egypt. On one occasion he claims he was led into an interrogation room and saw an Australian.
MAMDOUH HABIB: They blindfold me. They tied it up like this. Before they tied it up I closed my eyes very tight and when they release it, I release my eye, I can see a gap from the bottom if I lift up my head like, I can see people. And that’s what I was do. On this day, they take me in a room and I see this Australian guy.
REPORTER: How do you know for sure he was Australian?
MAMDOUH HABIB: He was Australian the way he talk, the question he ask. And the American, he can understand from the question he ask. And the way he talk too.
Habib says he heard the American and Australian talking amongst themselves but once the interrogation began they let the Egyptian do the questioning?
MAMDOUH HABIB: They never questioned me directly. After one Egyptian guy, the interrogator, came in and he talked to me. I was sit down and they sit next to him. I can see only their lips. They have paper, they write questions, and they hand to the Egyptian guy and the Egyptian guy ask me what they ask me for.
This does fit in with what we know about extraordinary rendition, where the whole purpose is for the US to get the information while remaining at arm’s length. In this particular case, though, there is no evidence other than Habib’s testimony and he has admitted to having memory blackouts in Egypt.
REPORTER: Are you absolutely sure about that, Mamdouh. It was a very stressful time for you, you said. You were being tortured, forced to take drugs. In your own mind do you feel really confident that you did see that – see the Australian and the American there in Egypt?
MAMDOUH HABIB: I was positive about these guys. Really, like what I see you now I can see these guys. I can point my finger again and tell you these are the guys. I never lost him from my mind.
REPORTER: Did an ASIO officer or any other Australian official see Mamdouh Habib in Egypt?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I simply make the point in relation to those matters that we were seeking access to him if he was there – it was never obtained. I think that’s the end of the matter. We have no knowledge of him being there. We formed a view that he was there. And I think it’s quite clear from what I’ve said that if we formed a view that we didn’t have anybody who have seen him at any time.
According to the Government’s account, Australia’s spy agency effectively lost contact with one of their most wanted men. ASIO had been told he was arrested in Pakistan and given access to him. But then he simply disappeared – into the hands of the US, our closest ally in the war against terror and we knew nothing until he turned up in Guantanamo Bay six months later. If you believe Habib, though, ASIO didn’t lose track of him. Not only did they know about his rendition to Egypt, but were complicit in his interrogations there.
JOE MARGULIES: It just seems to unlikely that the United States would not have sought information from one of their closest allies, Australia. And if people in Australia had information about it, that they would have come and participated or at least been present. But do I know that definitively? Do I have the videotape that was taken before he was bundled on the plane? No. I think we would have got that videotape if he stayed in custody. That might be one of the reasons why they let him go.
Somewhat ironically, Habib’s release means it’s now less likely that any of the detail of his secretive rendition will ever be revealed. In the months prior to his release, Habib’s American lawyer filed an action in the US District Court. If that case had continued, Joe Margulies believes they would have uncovered crucial information through the legal process of discovery.
JOE MARGULIES: If the conduct was illegal, we’re allowed to explore the actors, the identity of the actors. I think we would have gotten the tape, I think we would have gotten the still photos. I think we would have learned their identity, who they worked for, whose authority they were acting under. It’s just the beginning of the end.
Joe Margulies believes one of the key reasons the Americans released Habib so suddenly was to stop that court process going any further.
JOE MARGULIES: Once it became apparent they were going to be called upon to justify the detention in a US courtroom, they made the decision to release him. They would rather release someone than disclose the nature of their detention practices. And that is what I mean by they will do what they can to maintain detentions beyond judicial scrutiny, even if it means releasing people. What they would have disclosed if they had come forward was they had no basis to continue to detain him, that they clearly did not believe and could not defend the allegations they were making against him. If they could defend them, he would still be there. They were indefensible.
It also seems unlikely now that any further information about Habib’s rendition will be volunteered or sought by the Australian Government.
REPORTER: Why do you think he was taken to Egypt?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I don’t know.
REPORTER: Have you asked?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: It’s not a question of have we asked. Who do you ask?
REPORTER: The United States?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, no, we ask Egypt and Egypt denied he was there.
REPORTER: Given what is known now about the practice of extraordinary rendition, do you think it is time now to ask the United States about Mamdouh Habib and if indeed that was what happened to him?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I mean, what would be the value of it? To make it public? I don’t think anyone is going to answer any questions that we might put that is going to deal with those issues in a more transparent way.
REPORTER: But you’ve said as the Attorney-General that you are opposed to the process of extraordinary rendition. Is that correct
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I’ve made it clear I don’t believe people should be tortured.
REPORTER: So why not ask the United States if this happened to an Australian citizen?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I ask questions to which I realistically expect to get an answer and I don’t think I’d get an answer.
We may never know exactly what went on between Mamdouh Habib and Australia’s intelligence community, but the man who many Australians say they feel afraid of is claiming he too is scared. He says that when he was visited by ASIO officers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, his family was threatened.
MAMDOUH HABIB: I’ve been told by ASIO “Your family is not safe”. I was told my wife will be arrested. I was told a lot of things.
REPORTER: When were you told that?
MAMDOUH HABIB: This is in Cuba. Too many times. My kids is not safe. They tell me they can make any case about my kids, put them in jail. They threaten me and my family not once but so many times. They tell me your family. They tell me they’re going to send me back to Egypt and they tell me they cancel my citizenship and they tell me your not Australian anymore.
REPORTER: So this is ASIO?
MAMDOUH HABIB: Yes, ASIO. One is (bleep). The other one’s name is (bleep). And the other one is (bleep).
REPORTER: He was in Guantanamo Bay?
MAMDOUH HABIB: Yes. I told him, he speak to me in Arabic. I told him I don’t want to speak with him. I refuse to speak with him so many times they always bring him to me. He say your wife in jail, your kids under the hand of the Government.
Mamdouh Habib says his fear of ASIO is one of the reasons he’s holding back on parts of his story. He offers to tell all, including what he was doing overseas before his arrest. If can be protected from the agency he thinks is out to get him.
MAMDOUH HABIB: You’re quite welcome to have everything you want – save me from the ASIO, I tell you what you want. Whatever question you ask. I’m not going to stay here and ask my lawyer, I’m not going to ask any lawyer – but if you promise me in paper, in writing, you save me from these people. I am here with you now. I don’t know what they do in my house. I am here with you, I don’t know what they do with my car.