By Marie-Morgane Le Moël Le Monde 7/27/07

The Australian government is far from having heard the last of the two Australian former Guantanamo prisoners. After obtaining the return of David Hicks, who had been detained for five years in Camp Delta, in May, now Canberra must make its case before the Australian courts. Mamdouh Habib, the second Australian held at Guantanamo, from 2002 to 2005, is, in fact, demanding reparations from the federal government.

In October 2001, this Australian of Egyptian origin was arrested in Pakistan. Transferred to Egypt, then to Guantanamo, he stayed there three years for his assumed links with al-Qaeda. At the beginning of 2005, he was freed without any charges or sentence being pronounced. Back in Sydney, where his family lives, this 51-year-old unemployed man is trying to obtain damages for his years of detention and the torture he says he underwent. At the heart of his case: his certainty that he was kidnapped with the agreement of Australia which he accuses of complicity in his arbitrary arrest and torture.

Mamdouh Habib asserts longstanding dealings with the Australian secret services. In the beginning of the 1990s, this father of four visited family members in the United States. He was seen in the company of Islamist extremists who would later be charged with the (1993) attack against the World Trade Center. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) began to take an interest in him at that time. “Agents asked me to supply information about my community. I refused,” relates Mamdouh Habib.

In July 2001, depressed and pushed, he says, by the ASIO’s “harassment,” he left for Pakistan. “Only to study the possibilities for moving there,” he asserts. That’s when he was arrested, on board a bus heading for Karachi.

Mr. Habib says he was held at first in the Australian embassy in Islamabad, where he met Australian diplomat Alistair Adams. That assertion is critical to the rest of his case.

Transfer to Egypt

“Up until now, the government has declared that Mr. Habib was held by the Pakistanis and the Americans and that it didn’t have anything to do with that. But when someone is in the Australian embassy, they’re on Australian territory,” his lawyer, Peter Erman, comments. He adds: “They could quite simply have decided to send him back to Australia.” An accusation rejected
by the government. “The Commonwealth denies that Mr. Habib was held or questioned in the Islamabad embassy. It deems it inappropriate to comment further on the question while it is being examined in Federal Court,” a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry answers laconically.

Mamdouh Habib was then transferred to Egypt, his country of origin, where he says he was tortured. Now, Canberra maintains that it did not know where its citizen was during Mr. Habib’s six months of detention in Egypt.

Yet, the former prisoner relates that he had been interrogated about his contacts in Australia and was presented with objects that had been taken from his home in Sydney. “How could the Egyptians have had access to those things if the Australians had not cooperated?’ he asks. His wife, Maha, received a letter from the Foreign Affairs Ministry at the beginning of 2002 informing her that her husband was well. “Could the government have known how he was doing without knowing where he was?” she responds. Supporting Mr. Habib’s testimony, in June, the Australia Broadcasting Corporation television network produced documents that incriminate the government.

Thus, a cable from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, dated November 19, 2001, several weeks after Mr. Habib’s arrest, specifies that he had been transferred to his country of origin. Other documents mention the presence of ASIO agents in Egypt. “The ASIO knows that Egypt practices torture, it is not possible it did not know that Mr. Habib would be tortured,” Peter Erman accuses. Traumatized, since his return, Mamdouh Habib has been seeing a psychologist. Free to offer his candidacy in the local elections, as he did without success in the suburb of Auburn in March, he may no longer leave the country, as his passport has been canceled. The government has repeated since the beginning of July that he still represents “a security risk” for the country.

After a year and a half of proceedings, the preliminary hearings at the Federal Court have begun, but the date for the trial constantly continues to be postponed. “It’s unacceptable. The government keeps pushing back due dates. We still do not have access to a single document,” deplores Peter Erman. At this rate, the hearing might not be held before two years from now. Mamdouh Habib and his lawyer demand “2 million Australian dollars (close to 1.25 million Euros) for each year of imprisonment.” Mr. Erman comments, “Given what Mr. Habib has suffered, that would not be too much.”

Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.