[Ppnews] Australia's Role in the American Inquisition

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 6 11:17:27 EDT 2009

Australia's Role in the American Inquisition

The Torturer's Apprentice


The revelations of a once secret 2006 report by 
the International Committee of the Red Cross on 
the use of torture and "cruel, inhuman, or 
degrading punishment" on prisoners at Guantánamo 
and secret CIA jails came as a shock to many. 
This is odd, because anyone with a keyboard, 
modem and half a brain, quickly discovered that 
in the panicky aftermath of 9/11, the West had 
forged a pact with the Devil. It was not only 
Dick Cheney who felt the call of the dark side - 
it was virtually the entire governing class of 
America, Britain and Australia. Yes, even 
Australia, a former penal colony that started life as Britain’s Guantanamo.

You might think this grim past would sharpen the 
desire of our institutions to root out injustice 
and comfort the afflicted. Well, we go through 
the motions. Australia signed the Convention 
against Torture (CAT) and, unlike the US, 
ratified it. But now we have trashed it. How 
come? Let’s take a swift trip into the heart of darkness.

At 3am on October 2001, a bus bound for Karachi 
was boarded by Pakistani security heavies on the 
look-out for “suspicious foreigners”. Two young 
Germans were dragged from their seats. When 
Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib interceded on 
their behalf, he too was taken into custody. 
According to Habib, he was hooded, shackled, 
dumped in a cell and roughed up. Eventually, he 
was taken to the Australian High Commission in 
Islamabad. In his memoir, My Story, Habib insists 
that he met with a senior consular official, 
Alistair Adams. The Australian Government denies 
such a meeting took place. However, in 2007, The 
Australian newspaper tracked down Ibrahim Diab, 
one of the Germans removed from the bus. Diab 
briefly shared a cell with the Australian, and 
heard a policeman tell Habib he was being taken 
to the High Commission, and watched them depart. 
On his return, Habib showed Diab a business card provided by the consul.

Habib states he met Mr Adams several times while 
he was held in Pakistan, and that the diplomat 
was present when he was interrogated by US 
agents. Adams allegedly told him he would be sent 
to an Egyptian jail. The Government admits Habib 
was twice seen by an officer of the Australian 
Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) who 
used the name Paul Stokes and once by an 
Australian Federal Police officer, Mark Briskey.

Meanwhile, under pressure from the Americans, the 
Pakistanis were keen for Habib to confess to an 
act of terror, so he was strung on a hook and 
zapped with electricity until he bled through 
every orifice. This happened, he says, more than 
once. Next on the agenda was an act of rendition, 
which began with a bunch of Americans in 
balaclavas, wearing black T-shirts, grey pants & 
yellow boots, beating him black and blue. They 
cut off his clothes, rammed a suppository up his 
rectum and fitted him with nappy and tracksuit. 
“The Australian diplomat was there and saw 
everything that happened”, writes Habib. “He wore 
a balaclava, but I recognized his coloured shirt, 
the checked jacket, the elbow patches
” More than 
one Australian official was allegedly present.

Now here’s the rub: Under Article 3 of the UN 
Convention Against Torture (CAT), a State must 
not transport a person to another State where 
he/she risks being tortured. So when Habib was 
“wrapped up like a spring roll”, barely able to 
breathe or walk, and dragged aboard the CIA 
flight to Egypt, this provision was breached. 
Article 4 of CAT states that an act by any person 
which constitutes complicity or participation in 
torture must be treated as a criminal offence. 
Thus anyone involved in renditions is liable to prosecution.

In Egypt, where torture seems to be a 
sport, Habib was interrogated by the country’s 
Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman, who 
is is ranked second in power to President Hosni 
Mubarak. Back in 2001, Suleiman took a personal 
interest in anyone suspected of links with Al 
Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly 
before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Suleiman 
slapped Habib’s face so hard, the blindfold was 
dislodged, revealing the torturer’s identity. 
According to his memoir, Habib was repeatedly 
zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in 
water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers 
were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.

He was again interrogated by Omar Suleiman. To 
loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard 
to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan 
prisoner in front of Habib – and he did, with a 
vicious karate kick. Suleiman is expected to be the next President of Egypt.

According to My Story, ASIO agents and other 
Australian officials visited Habib in Egypt 
(“David” and “Stewart” are two of the names 
provided). ASIO had previously raided Habib’s 
Sydney home, and delivered the results to his 
Egyptian torturers: phone numbers, bank 
statements, SIM cards, a laptop, tapes of private 
conversations, his address book, etc. On the face 
of it, this is a blatant breach of article 4 of 
CAT. In Federal Court hearings, Habib’s lawyers 
stated that Australian officials were not only 
complicit in Habib's torture, but were active participants.

During his time in Government, Attorney General 
Phillip Ruddock repeatedly denied he was ever 
aware of Habib’s whereabouts, as did PM John 
Howard and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander 
Downer. These denials lack credibility. In Feb 
2005, the New York Times revealed that soon after 
the CIA kidnapped Habib, the Department of 
Foreign Affairs sent a bizarre fax to his wife: 
“We remain confident that your husband is 
detained in Egypt... the government has received 
credible advice that he is well and being treated 
well.” (Until recently, Downer continued to claim 
there was no proof torture occurred at 
Guantanamo). The ABC's Four Corners program 
disclosed a paper trail of documents that 
revealed the Government was aware, within days of 
his rendition, that Mr Habib was in Egyptian hands.

Article 2 of CAT states that no exceptional 
circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war 
or a threat or war, internal political 
instability or any other public emergency, may be 
invoked as a justification of torture. A Sydney 
Morning Herald trawl of FOI documents revealed 
that “senior Australian officials were fully 
aware that Habib was a victim of the CIA’s 
rendition program and desperately tried to cover it up.”

In April 2002, after five months of abominable 
torment, Habib was illegally rendered to Bagram 
jail in Kandahar – an infamous hellhole - and 
later to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by which time he 
was half dead. Even so, when Habib was carted off 
to meet Australian officials at Guantanamo, he 
was handcuffed and chained to the floor, 
apparently in distress. An official interview 
transcript names an ASIO agent as present, as 
well as Australian federal police officers Ramzi 
Jabbour and Steven Lancaster, plus Glenda Gauci 
from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Apart 
from the familiar litany of beatings, drugging 
and electric shocks, Guantanamo offered unique 
refinements: being urinated upon, having 
menstrual blood thrown in your face, being 
interrogated for 15 hour periods with short 
breaks. Former British detainee Tarek Degoul said 
that Habib was beaten, dragged by chains and 
photographed naked. Doctors who later examined 
Habib’s medical reports found plenty of signs of abuse.

In May 2004, Australia’s consul general in 
Washington, Derek Tucker finally arrived at 
Guantanamo with a warning for Habib: unless he 
cooperated with the Americans and admitted to 
something incriminating, he would be sent back to 
Egypt. The torture continued. US interrogators 
did everything possible “to make me crazy,” says 
Habib. He says he was sexually humiliated by a 
prostitute, told that his family were dead and 
shown images of his wife’s head superimposed on 
photographs of naked women next to Osama bin Laden.

In Parliament, John Howard swept aside 
allegations of torture and quoted the view of 
Derek Tucker, that Habib “had not been treated 
unacceptably”. Tucker visited Habib several times 
and his mantra never varied: unless Habib 
“co-operated with the Americans”, he would be 
sent back to Egypt. Only the swift intervention 
of US human rights lawyer Joe Margulies stopped 
this illegal act from occurring. After being held 
in Guantánamo Bay for almost three years, Mamdouh 
Habib was released without charge.

On his return to Australia, Habib was placed 
under surveillance and his passport confiscated. 
Article 14 of CAT commits Australia to ensure the 
victim of an act of torture obtains redress and 
has an enforceable right to fair and adequate 
compensation. This Article was flouted, 
compensation was rejected. Habib has been 
pursuing the matter since 2005, with the case 
continually obstructed by the Howard government 
and its successor, the Rudd government. A flicker 
of progress was achieved a few weeks ago, 
according to a single report in a 
blog, though I cannot find a mention elsewhere. 
The slumbering proceedings evoke the aura of a secret trial.

What is the Government hiding? The awful truth, 
perhaps. That some authorities have aided and 
abetted multiple acts of torture and kidnap of an 
Australian citizen. In January 2006, the Sydney 
Morning Herald obtained documents confirming that 
the Howard government and its intelligence 
agencies were “deeply implicated in the illegal 
rendition and imprisonment” of Habib. Following 
the recent US torture scandals, President Obama 
wants the investigation to focus on the lawyers, 
which is also a pretty good place to start in Australia.

Former Prime Minister John Howard is a lawyer, as 
is the former Attorney General Philip Ruddock. 
The former head of Foreign Affairs, Alexander 
Downer, will need to face scrutiny, as well as 
legal officers, public servants and others who 
violated local and international laws. It has 
emerged that the US Government told ASIO heads it 
planned to send Habib to Egypt for “questioning” 
several weeks before his illegal rendition. Other 
agencies are tainted. Last December, Natalie 
O'Brien of The Australian reported that the 
Defence Department holds over 85,000 pages of 
documents relating to the rendition of Habib to 
Egypt, “despite having assured federal parliament 
it had no involvement in the matter”. it is 
Australia’s rock solid obligation under Article 5 
of CAT to make torture offences “punishable by 
appropriate penalties which take into account 
their grave nature”. While the official hand of 
the Australia Government signed and ratified CAT, 
its covert hand fed human flesh to the torturers. 
Prime Minster Rudd has no other choice but to set 
up a Royal Commission with sweeping powers.

• • •

Post Script: The endemic infliction of torture 
and abuse on prisoners by coalition forces has 
long been documented by bloggers and independent 
journalists. In 2005, this account of the 
World Torture Tour was widely circulated on the 
web. It took another four years for the New York Times to wake up.

Richard Neville lives in Australia, the land that 
formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in 
London and published Oz. He can be reached 
through his websites, 
and <http://www.richardneville.com.au/>http://www.richardneville.com.au/

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