“The Trials of Mamdouh Habib”
Dateline, SBS Television. July 7th 2004
Broadcast in 2004, this story was one of the first comprehensive investigations into the arrest and detention of Australian man Mamdouh Habib. It was also one of the first journalistic exposes of “extraordinary rendition”, the Bush Administration policy of “outsourcing torture” which later became an international scandal. This story contains on the ground reporting and investigation from Australia, England, the United States, Pakistan, Qatar and Egypt.
The Trials of Mamdouh Habib
July 7, 2004
Of the two Australians held in Guantanamo Bay by the Americans, the case of Mamdouh Habib has been the least publicised but possibly the more disturbing. Habib was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001. Soon after he was handed over to American custody and then taken, for reasons unknown, to Egypt. For six months he was left at the hands of his Egyptian interrogators. According to him and other witnesses in tonight’s report, Mamdouh Habib was severely tortured there before being delivered to Guantanamo Bay where he remains to this day without charge. His case raises a series of questions for the Australian Government. Who sent him to Egypt and why? Did the Australian Government know and what steps were taken to ensure that his most basic rights were protected? Later, Mark Davis will be putting these questions and others to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock but first Bronwyn Adcock reports on how one Australian has fared under American justice.
REPORTER: Bronwyn Adcock
This suburban bowling club in western Sydney might seem like an unlikely venue for a discussion of international war and politics. But for Maha Habib, the US Government’s declared war on terror is very close to home. Her husband, Mamdouh, was arrested in the early days of the war. He’s been detained by America in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for over two years. Extraordinary world events have thrust her into a very public spotlight.
MAHA HABIB: Thank you very much everybody for being here. To be honest, I came to a stage where I thought I was fighting alone the campaign, but it looks like, having everybody here, I’m not by myself. I really thank you all for being here.
Maha and Mamdouh Habib’s lawyer is Stephen Hopper. In another sign of the unusual nature of this war, he’s never been allowed to meet or speak with his detained client. The information blackout means that mystery surrounds many aspects of Mamdouh Habib’s detention, but new information is emerging.
STEPHEN HOPPER, MAMDOUH HABIB’S LAWYER: A week or so ago Maha and I travelled to London and then to Manchester to speak to two people who’ve actually been in Guantanamo Bay and were released.
The two men had seen Mamdouh Habib in Guantanamo Bay and provided the first eyewitness account of his physical and mental state.
STEPHEN HOPPER: Mamdouh couldn’t walk properly and he couldn’t walk with his eyes open. When we came back, Tarek asked him about that, and he said, “Why can’t you open your eyes? What’s wrong? Why are you so unsteady?” He said, “Well, when I was in Egypt I was blindfolded for the entire time. I was electrocuted by them, I was beaten regularly and tortured.”
The two British men were released from Guantanamo Bay without any charge. They’re not facing any charges at home either. Despite this, Tarek Dherghoul wanted his identity disguised for this interview, because he’s scared of being vilified in the street.
TAREK DHERGHOUL: To me he was a nice guy. He spoke good words. And I could relate to him. He spoke about his family constantly.
Tarek claims that in Guantanamo Bay he saw Mamdouh Habib being dragged around in chains and bashed. He also says American interrogators told Mamdouh his family is dead and that Mamdouh firmly believes this.
MAHA: “Darling, take care of yourself and children. Say hello to everybody.”
For Maha, this explains why Mamdouh has not written to her since March last year.
MAHA: I said “It’s just not him, you know, there must be something wrong.” I mentioned that and I said that so many times. But when we went to London after speaking to Tarek and Jamal, it made sense to me as to why he hasn’t been writing, because they said he believes that his family’s been blown up and they don’t exist.
Perhaps the most disturbing allegation, though, concerns what happened to Mamdouh in Egypt, where he was detained for around six months before Guantanamo Bay. Tarek met Mamdouh in the hospital shortly after he’d come from Egypt.
TAREK DHERGHOUL: Very confused, dizzy. Dazed. Weak. Slow – he spoke very slow – he spoke in riddles. I couldn’t really make out, I mean, like he was telling me stuff about Egypt, he’d been taken to Egypt.
Mamdouh explained he’d been brutally tortured.
TAREK DHERGHOUL: He told me he’d been electrocuted, put in water, electrocuted, he’d been stripped, been punched, kicked and punched, used as a punching bag. He said something about a dog being put on him as he was naked. Cigars put out on his body. Blindfolded.
MAHA: “Allah is with you.” God is with you, that means.
Some hint of what he’d experienced had already been received in his letters home.
MAMDOUH: “I’ve been blindfolded for eight months. I never see the sun, but I see you and the kids every minute. I never forget you or forget my children. They took me to Egypt and they say they want to bring you in Egypt and the kids and I was suffering to not let these people bring you in Egypt and I hope you are still in Australia.”
It was only after the British men’s allegations were made public that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs revealed Mamdouh had, in fact, made similar allegations to them two years ago.
IAN KEMISH, DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE: To give you a complete picture, I think it’s important to say that on the first Australian visit to Mr Habib in Guantanamo Bay, which was only 10 days after his transfer there from Egypt, Mr Habib made some serious complaints about maltreatment during his time in Egypt.
To find further evidence about the authenticity of these claims, Dateline travelled to the Gulf state of Qatar. I’m here to see a man who says he has inside knowledge of Mamdouh Habib’s time in Egypt. Dr Najeeb al-Naumi is a lawyer and the former minister for justice in the government of Qatar. He has impeccable contacts in the Arab world. Dr Najeeb says that towards the end of Mamdouh Habib’s time in Egypt, he received information about the Australian.
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI, FORMER MINISTER OF JUSTICE, QATAR: They said he will die.
REPORTER: Tell me more specifically what you were told from your sources about what happened to Mamdouh Habib in Egypt.
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: Well, he was in fact tortured. He was interrogated in a way which a human cannot stand up.
REPORTER: And you know this absolutely?
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: Yes. We were told that he – they rang the bell that he will die and somebody had to help him.
REPORTER: And again, did your sources tell you what kinds of things he was saying in Egypt to his torturers, to his interrogators?
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: My sources did not say exactly what dialogue but they say that he accepted to sign anything.
REPORTER: So he was talking lots?
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: Yes – “Whatever you want, I will sign. I’m not involved. I’m not Egyptian. I’m Egyptian by background but I’m Australian.” But he was really beaten, he was really tortured.
REPORTER: Do you think…
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: They tried to use different ways of treating him in the beginning but in the end of that they thought he was lying and that’s why they were very tough.
There seems little doubt now that Mamdouh Habib was tortured in Egypt, but why was he ever sent there? He was arrested in Pakistan and despite being born in Egypt Mamdouh Habib has been an Australian citizen for two decades. He travelled on an Australian passport, even getting tourist visas when he went to visit his parents in Egypt in the past.
STEPHEN HOPPER: What we believe happened is that he was handed over to the US authorities by the Pakistan Government at the request of the US authorities and the US authorities took him to Egypt and they took him to Egypt because, firstly, it was convenient, because they could have a cover story, because he was born in Egypt, so they could just try and smooth over why he was there.
The second reason why they took him to Egypt is because they knew he’d be tortured there and they wanted to get whatever information Mamdouh might know that would be useful to them out of him. I want to know under whose authority he was transferred to Egypt.
To answer this, we need to go to Pakistan, to the beginning of Mamdouh Habib’s journey. According to his wife, Mamdouh Habib came to Pakistan in July 2001 looking for a sea change for the entire family. The Habibs’ life in Sydney had turned sour. They’d been traumatised by the murder of one of their son’s young friends, a business deal had gone wrong and Mamdouh was facing animosity from some members of the Muslim community in Sydney, who accused him of being a CIA spy.
REPORTER: So was he feeling a bit disenchanted with life in Australia?
MAHA: Yes. What really also encouraged us – you know, we sat down and we talked and we thought if we go out of Australia, maybe a couple of years or something, away from all the headache that we had, maybe – we applied for different countries to go. We haven’t heard anything from anybody, but one of those countries was Pakistan. And we got the visa. But we thought it would be more wiser if he goes himself and check, because it was going to cost us a lot of money.
According to Maha, he was here on a 3-month visa, checking out potential business opportunities and looking for a school where his children could get an Islamic education. Mamdouh was also suffering from depression.
MAHA: He was on medication. He was seeing, you know – treated for that. And when he left he was still on medication.
REPORTER: When he left for Pakistan?
REPORTER: Were you worried about him?
MAHA: Of course I was worried about him, yes. He’s my life. Him and my kids, they’re my life, you know.
Halfway through his journey, the attacks of September 11 occurred in America. Almost overnight, the situation on the ground in Pakistan profoundly changed. The Pakistani President, General Musharraf, threw his support behind America and a period of unprecedented American and Pakistani cooperation began. Dr Najeeb al-Naumi was one of the first lawyers to represent people arrested in what he says were joint Pakistani and FBI operations.
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: They would start arresting people where they are known as students coming to Pakistan or religious schools where they are teaching learning as well or charity workers. These groups start picking up on these people.
REPORTER: So how big was the FBI involvement in this?
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: They were totally involved in all the arrests. All the arrests, they were aware of it. They were making databases. They were collecting all information.
Much of this activity centred on the province of Baluchistan closest to Afghanistan. In early October, Mamdouh Habib was in the capital, Quetta. It was from here he called his wife.
MAHA: Then he made another phone call saying that he’s on his way back home. He left it on the answering machine. And I never heard from him since.
On October 4, 2001, Mamdouh Habib came here to Quetta bus station. He was on his way home. It was here he met two German nationals – Ibrahim Diab and Bekim Ademi. Dateline has seen copies of the interviews these two men gave German police when they returned home. They said they met Mamdouh here and upon discovering they were all trying to get to the city of Karachi to fly out, agreed to travel together.
BEKIM ADEMI: He talked to us because we were Europeans. We found out we had the same way as far as Dubai. We bought a ticket to Karachi. The Australian lent us the money.
The two German men were fleeing from Afghanistan. While in their police interviews they both gave frank admissions about their time spent in al-Qa’ida training camps, neither of them said they saw Mamdouh Habib in Afghanistan. Under intensive questioning, they did not incriminate him in any terrorist-related activity.
GERMAN POLICE INTERROGATOR: What could you tell us about the Australian?
BEKIM ADEMI: First I know he’s called Habib. Later I know Mamdouh. He comes from Sydney and has four kids. He said he had great problems in Australia and he wanted to immigrate to Pakistan. The trip was about seeing whether it was suitable for the family to come. He said he liked Pakistan.
600km into the journey, the bus was stopped at the town of Khuzdar. Pakistani police arrested all three men. Dateline asked the Pakistani Interior Minister why Mamdouh Habib was arrested.
REPORTER: Was he arrested because he was under surveillance, or was he merely caught by chance?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT, PAKISTANI INTERIOR MINISTER: We’ve gone through a long process of investigation as far as this was concerned. And without any doubt, let me confess and share with you that there is certainly a very strong linkage of this gentleman and, as I already mentioned to you, some other people also who were actively involved with this gentleman, in assisting the extremist element, the terrorist element, at that point in time.
But despite the assertion of terrorist links, later in the interview the Minister suggests that Habib was arrested merely for being in the restricted province of Baluchistan without the correct visa documents.
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: If you are not allowed to go to Baluchistan, if you haven’t got visa to visit Baluchistan, obviously you become a suspect. That is a non-denying fact.
REPORTER: So foreigners in Baluchistan in 2001 were automatically considered suspects?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: Yes, certainly, yes.
REPORTER: Could it be possible that someone was there who wasn’t involved in al-Qa’ida or terrorism?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: If a person is not involved in any of these activities, why should he or she be in such a sensitive area, in such a sensitive place? There has to be strong suspicion regarding anyone’s involvement in that respective region.
REPORTER: Suspicion, but not necessarily evidence?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: It always starts with suspicion. Suspicion eventually leads you to a certain amount of evidence and we have evidence to that effect.
However, there are some who cast doubt on the veracity of Pakistani intelligence.
YASSER AL-SIRRI, (Translation): I think Pakistani authorities sell illusions to the Americans.
Yasser al-Sirri is an Egyptian Islamist wanted by the Egyptian Government. He’s exiled in London where he heads the Islamic Observation Centre. He says that Pakistan often exaggerates the importance of people they arrest in order to win favour with America. He’s investigated the case of Mamdouh Habib and believes this is what’s happened to him.
YASSER AL-SIRRI, (Translation): In fact, all I know about him is that he used to be a businessman or used to be involved in trade. His name was definitely not known as a member or a leader in al-Qa’ida. This is an exaggeration of his case and he could be just an ordinary Muslim whose bad luck put him in the way of the Pakistanis.
In Qatar, Dr Najeeb al-Naumi argues that the sweep that picked up Mamdouh Habib was not based on good intelligence.
REPORTER: But how could an intelligence service like the Pakistanis and the FBI make such big mistakes?
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: No, they know what their idea is. Their idea is, “Let us pick them all up and find out which one is belong to al-Qa’ida and which one is actually a supporter or a member or associate.” But in the end, all of them are actually in Guantanamo.
After his arrest, Mamdouh Habib was taken briefly to a prison in Quetta. Then he was moved here to Islamabad. Pakistani authorities did not tell the Australian High Commission that they’d detained an Australian citizen. But someone did tell the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ASIO, because they turned up in Islamabad and visited Mamdouh Habib in prison three times. Mamdouh Habib’s lawyer wants to know how Australian intelligence got involved and what they knew about Habib’s detention in Islamabad.
STEPHEN HOPPER: Now they’ve seen him in a prison in Pakistan, what are they up to? They would have heard Mamdouh’s story and they would have been in contact with other intelligence agencies on the ground there, such as the CIA. And then they would have reported back to their political masters in Canberra. So there seems to be a chain that leads all the way back to Canberra. We’d like to know what the Prime Minister knew, what the Attorney-General knew and what the Foreign Minister knew about this.
The Australian Government has told Dateline that their officials found no evidence that Habib had been mistreated. The two German men arrested with Mamdouh Habib were released into German custody after several weeks and flown home. Dateline understands they were interrogated by the FBI before they left. Mamdouh Habib, however, remained.
STEPHEN HOPPER: What the German Government did was quite simple. They just put a bit of pressure on the Pakistanis and said, “We’re not going to tolerate you holding our citizens and we’re not going to let the US interfere with our citizens. We want them back”. It’s as simple as that. Now the Australian Government just didn’t try hard enough.
REPORTER: Did the Australian Government ask to have Mamdouh Habib deported to Australia?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: No, they did not.
The High Commissioner in Islamabad, Howard Brown, told Dateline that he vigorously attempted to get consular access to Mamdouh Habib but was denied. He said he wasn’t told Habib was being sent to Egypt and only found out after he’d gone. The High Commissioner was told by Australian law enforcement authorities.
So who organised and authorised the removal of Mamdouh Habib to Egypt? A source who’s spoken to Pakistani intelligence told Dateline that after Pakistan finished interrogating Mamdouh Habib he was handed over to the FBI. They interrogated him here at Chakalala airport in Islamabad. Then, the source says, the US sent him to Egypt.
We pursued this allegation with the Pakistani Interior Minister.
REPORTER: And who sent Mamdouh Habib to Egypt?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: You see, now you are transgressing into some very sensitive areas, you know. This is an area, unfortunately, we cannot simply share the outcome of the investigations with anyone.
REPORTER: Was it a Pakistani decision?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: Obviously it’s a Pakistani decision initially, because if anyone is caught on Pakistan soil, it’s Pakistan’s decision, it’s Pakistan’s prerogative, certainly.
REPORTER: So, just to clarify, it was a Pakistani decision to send him to Egypt?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: It’s not exactly a Pakistani decision. You know, a person who is caught in Pakistan – let me also clarify this. If he or she is of Pakistan origin, certainly they do not go out of Pakistan. If that person is of foreign origin, then if he or she is wanted by a foreign government – any government – they put in a request to Pakistan and the arrangements which we have on a reciprocal basis, on a bilateral basis, even with some countries on a multilateral basis, if we feel that their request is valid and genuine, then we do accede to that request.
REPORTER: Which country are you talking about?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: I’m talking about all the countries. The US, the European Union, Egypt, you know, all these countries.
REPORTER: So are you implying that Egypt request…
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: No, Egypt did not request us.
REPORTER: Egypt definitely did not request Mamdouh Habib?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: No.
REPORTER: So did the United States request him?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: Yes, they did request it, yes.
REPORTER: The United States requested that he be sent to Egypt?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: The US wanted him for their own investigations. We are not concerned where they take him.
REPORTER: You don’t see it as Pakistan’s issue?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: No. As far as we are concerned, we were satisfied with our own investigations at that point in time. Once that was over, once we were satisfied with our own investigations, certainly we had no problem handing him over to another ally of ours.
REPORTER: The Americans?
MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: Yes, that’s right.
It’s clear, therefore, that at the time Mamdouh Habib was sent to Egypt, he was in American custody. It’s also clear that Egypt did not request his extradition. So why did the Americans send him?
STEVE WATT, CENTRE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS IN NEW YORK: Egypt has a long history of use of torture on persons in detention and we believe that Mamdouh was sent there for the express purpose of interrogating him under torture.
Steve Watt is with the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York. He represents many Guantanamo Bay inmates in America, including Mamdouh Habib.
STEVE WATT: What this is, is state-sponsored abduction and that’s a violation of international law.
This is a serious allegation, but not an isolated one. Although there’s been little discussion in the West, the Arab world is on fire with talk of an American policy called rendition, essentially farming out detention and interrogation. There are dozens of documented examples of this happening, not just in Egypt.
STEVE WATT: We represent Maher Arar, a Canadian of Syrian descent, who was rendered by US authorities to Syria, a country with which he had had no connection for 17 years. He’s a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen, but had left there when he was very young with the rest of his family. He was sent back to Syria and he was interrogated under torture and the ambassador to Washington, the Syrian ambassador to Washington in an interview said they took Maher as a favour to the United States Government and that they shared all the information they gleaned from Maher, including information under torture, with the United States, and that they were communicating with the United States throughout his detention, a detention which lasted one year.
Montaser al-Zayat is a leading Islamist lawyer here in Egypt, where the practice of rendition was pioneered. While he says he knows of one case in the last few years where Americans were actually present during the interrogation, the normal practice is for the locals to do the job for them.
MONTASER AL-ZAYAT, ISLAMIST LAWYER: (Translation): The United States or its security organisations would prepare memos for the Egyptian authorities that include the names of the persons and the type of information required about such persons. The Egyptian authorities would then interrogate these people and supply the Americans with information about them.
It’s alleged there are also thousands of cases where suspects are picked up and interrogated purely to provide intelligence for the Americans.
DR HAJEEB AL-NAUMI: Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Qatar, Philippines, Thailand – they’re detained because they were requested by the Americans. They were interrogated on behalf of the Americans, with some people sitting on the back side and getting the information, the questionnaires, because they can have a database from Guantanamo.
The policy of rendition started well before September 11, but since then it’s become much more widespread as America’s need for intelligence has increased.
YASSER AL-SIRRI, (Translation): After the events of September 11, these regimes were forced to cooperate fully. Not some cooperation, but full cooperation. Whether they liked it or not, they had to cooperate. As I said, there’s Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, Jordan cooperates strongly and there’s repression in its jails on behalf of the Americans. In Morocco about 23 persons were handed over but they were placed in a secret prison in Morocco and nobody knows anything about them. This information was leaked by former detainees in that prison.
Here in Egypt, torture in prisons is endemic, as seen in these pictures painted by torture victims themselves. It’s no accident that the countries used for rendition by the US have such a reputation. According to Tarek Dherghoul, a former inmate of Guantanamo Bay, US interrogators use rendition as a direct threat – “Talk to us or be tortured overseas”.
TAREK DHERGHOUL: I was first of all in Bagram. I was beat up by an interrogator and told that they would kill me and told that I would be sent to Morocco or Egypt. That was my first – first time I had been threatened with being sent to Morocco or Egypt. The next time was in Cuba and then again by an interrogator – threatened to be sent to Morocco or Egypt.
Dateline approached the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Council, Centcom, the State Department and the Department of Defence to talk about rendition and Mamdouh Habib. They all refused to comment. However, in the hearings of the 9/11 commission a few months ago, a former State Department intelligence official said renditions were a key counter-terrorism strategy.
CHRIS KOJM, US STATE DEPARTMENT 1998-2003: We will first discuss the CIA’s support with renditions. In other words, if a terror suspect is outside of the United States, the CIA helps to catch and send him to the United States or a third country.
Ex-CIA director George Tenet was even happy to acknowledge that 70 people were rendered prior to September 11.
GEORGE TENET: There were – you know, I’ve testified there were over 70 renditions.
STEVE WATT: It’s a policy – I mean, former director of the CIA again, George Tenet, testified to that fact. He said it’s a policy of the United States. They use it and they’ve used it effectively and they’re proud of what it achieves.
Proud of the intelligence, but not necessarily the methods used to extract it. The official position of the United States is that it does not condone or use torture.
GEORGE BUSH, US PRESIDENT: We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.
But in the Arab world and among lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay inmates, this is not accepted. In fact, they regard rendition as the deliberate outsourcing of torture to give the US some deniability.
STEVE WATT: Particularly so when the United States has signed up to the Convention against Torture and said that it would never do this kind of action. Also in light of the fact that there is an act of Congress which makes it United States policy that it will not send persons to countries where there’s substantial likelihood they’ll be subject to torture. So that makes it all the worse that they are actually doing this entirely outside the law and in flagrant violation of their international and domestic obligations.
After around six months in Egypt, Mamdouh Habib turned up here at Bagram, the US base in Afghanistan. This was the first time that the United States publicly admitted he was in their custody.
STEVE WATT: Bagram Air Force base is under the complete jurisdiction and control of the United States military, so it’s them that would have had to authorise the plane that touched down. And from the information that we have, Mamdouh was taken to Egypt by the Americans and he was flown out of there by the Americans.
By May 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and it seems a safe assumption that any intelligence gathered from his interrogation in Egypt would have come with him. Stephen Hopper says this kind of evidence is massively flawed.
STEPHEN HOPPER: It’s been proven over hundreds and hundreds of years of the development of the common law and our legal systems it just cannot be relied on. People will say anything to stop pain or psychological torture. Just because they say it doesn’t mean it’s true in those circumstances.
Three years after he was arrested, Mamdouh Habib has still not been charged with anything, though the American administration has indicated recently he’s likely to be listed for a military tribunal soon. The Australian Government is convinced that Mamdouh Habib, like the other Australian detained at Guantanamo Bay, David Hicks, does have a case to answer.
PHILLIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And, in fact, we know, because we’ve received advice on these matters from the United States, that the charges that will ultimately be brought evolve around their training with al-Qa’ida and Lashkar-e-Taiba and their involvement with those organisations has been of a very significant order.
STEPHEN HOPPER: I would say that’s bullshit. Mamdouh Habib wasn’t training with Lashkar-e-Taiba. It’s very funny that this allegation wasn’t raised until Lashkar-e-Taiba was proscribed in November last year. Now come on. The Australian Government has to put up or they’ve got to shut up. What is the evidence? What is the evidence that a 47-year-old overweight man trained? I don’t believe there is any evidence. I believe that Mr Habib was picked up in a general sweep in Pakistan in the lead-up to the war in Afghanistan. I believe that perhaps his documents weren’t in proper order and he was taken in for further questioning. At this stage either Australian intelligence officials or the CIA got involved and life went downhill dramatically for Mr Habib at that stage.
Just how far downhill is probably best judged by his deteriorating mental health. Psychiatrists who deal with torture victims say treatment is essential. According to recent reports to the Australian Parliament, Mamdouh Habib is still spending periods in solitary confinement. He’s also at times refusing to take his medication for depression.
IAN KEMISH: Mr Habib has not been communicative. And he only provides feedback on his welfare in response to direct questions. He does not always answer them. He can be belligerent in discussion with our Consul General, but for the most part is simply reluctant to communicate.
In May this year, US authorities conducted an evaluation of his physical and mental condition and said follow-up care was not needed. However, based on conversations with other recently released inmates, his American lawyer is concerned.
STEVE WATT: Extremely concerned. They were actually housed in cages beside Mamdouh Habib for a number of months and just two weeks prior to their departure from Guantanamo in March, they said that Mamdouh couldn’t even recognise them. They also said that he looked physically unwell. They said he’d fallen down in his cage at one point. He’d been mistreated by the guards. And he told a whole litany of horrors that he had been subjected to during interrogation. So he’s in a very bad way physically and mentally.
MAHA: Will he listen to a 3.5-year-old?
Maha Habib is continuing her own campaign to have her husband released. Today she’s waiting outside a TV station in Sydney. The Prime Minister is inside and she wants to hand him a letter on the way out.
MAN: He won’t be stopping the car. The car will just be going past, OK? You can understand he’s the PM of Australia. He’ll travel out of the studio and keep going, OK? I’ll definitely hand him the letter…
MAHA: What’s so special about Prime Minister? I’m here for my husband’s right, for my family.
MAN: OK, I can appreciate that.
This day, Maha Habib is unsuccessful. However, she’s vowed to keep trying to bring her husband home.
MAHA: My husband never committed no crime – the crime has been committed against him and against us, OK? If he has committed any crime, alright, bring him here, let him see justice. But if he hasn’t done, just let him go home, let him see his family – almost three years. 29 July, he will be away from us for three years now.