x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Former Guantanamo prisoner Habib sues Australian government

Ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee says consular representatives were present when he was tortured, beaten and humiliated by interrogators.

Mamdouh Habib was released without charge in 2005. He says the Australian government is covering up crimes against him.
Mamdouh Habib was released without charge in 2005. He says the Australian government is covering up crimes against him.

SYDNEY // Brutal beatings, electric shocks and sexual humiliation will be the cornerstones of a case brought by Mamdouh Habib, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee from Australia who is suing the government in Canberra over his alleged torture in captivity. Mr Habib has insisted that Australian consular representatives were present when he was abused in detention following his arrest on suspicion of involvement in terrorism in Pakistan in 2001, before he was transferred to Egypt and Afghanistan. The former café owner was later flown to the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and held without trial for over three years. Judges in Sydney have ruled that the Egyptian-born Muslim can pursue a civil case for unspecified damages against the Australian government, which has always denied Mr Habib's allegations that its officials were complicit in his mistreatment. "Whatever [compensation] they give me is not enough. I want to see the people who harmed me in jail. I want these people to be punished," Mr Habib said after a recent court appearance in Sydney. "The Australian government is covering up corruption and the crimes against me. I want the world to know." The ex-prisoner has detailed a catalogue of alleged mistreatment at the hands of foreign interrogators and has claims to have almost daily flashbacks of the cruelty he endured. "In Pakistan, there were electric shocks with [car] batteries, beatings and some drugs that make me sick all the time. The way they stripped me was really scary. They just get the scissors and cut your clothes slowly, piece by piece," he said. "I was hoping to die. You do not feel physical pain ? but mentally you worry about what they are going to do next." Mr Habib was one of two Australian citizens held at Guantanamo Bay. The other was David Hicks, a former kangaroo skinner and convert to Islam, who was captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 and eventually repatriated after admitting to charges of providing material support to al Qa'eda. After a short spell in prison, Mr Hicks now leads a quiet life away from the media and is reportedly working in a garden centre in Sydney, while Mr Habib has chosen a different path since he was released without charge from US custody in 2005. He stood unsuccessfully in local Australian council elections, has co-authored a book and starred in a play about his experiences at Guantanamo Bay. Mr Habib's wife of 28 years, Maha, said she was optimistic that a very long fight to air the truth was approaching its final chapter. "The doors of justice are opening slowly. In my position we have trust in God and he is our lawyer because we haven't done anything wrong and God is protecting us but the government, the corrupt people, their lawyer is the devil, so who would win?" Mrs Habib said. "It is inhuman what they did to him, pure criminal. Put yourself in his position being put in a dark place, in a box that you can't stand up or lie down in." The Habibs say their campaign is not just about restitution but to add their voices to the clamour for Guantanamo to be closed and for Australia's counter-terrorism legislation brought in after the September 11 attacks to be repealed. "These anti-terror laws are ? targeting the Muslims, put them in a corner and say any Muslim is a terrorist," Mrs Habib said. The case is likely to begin early next year, despite the government's objections that an Australian court has no legal right to rule on torture allegedly carried out in other countries. "I think there is probably an element of truth in what he is saying, in particular I think he was tortured in Egypt but I think he is also prone to exaggeration," said Clive Williams, a former Australian intelligence officer and adjunct professor at Macquarie University. "The view of the security community is, I understand, that he has tended to gild the lily in order to try to gain more compensation out of the system ? I think there were concerns about him as a person of interest. The idea that he was going to resettle his family in order that they would have a more Muslim education was a bit unusual. There is a general feeling that he is not a particularly rational person." Mr Habib, however, remains defiant: "We keep fighting. The lies will come out and that is what makes me happy," he said.

pmercer@thenational.ae