|Australians saw Habib tortured, says officer
Sydney Morning Herald | February 13, 2011
DAMNING evidence from an Egyptian intelligence officer that names an Australian official who witnessed the torture of Sydney man Mamdouh Habib in Guantanamo Bay has been revealed as the trigger for a hushed-up government payout to Mr Habib and a high-level investigation.
The explosive 840-word statement, released exclusively to The Sun-Herald, was shown to government solicitors three days before they suddenly paid Mr Habib an undisclosed amount to drop his lawsuit claiming Australia was complicit in his CIA-engineered kidnap in 2001, transfer to Egypt and subsequent torture.
In his statement, which is yet to be tested in court, the intelligence officer says Egyptian guards routinely filmed terrorism suspects in their jails. He says there is footage and photographs of Mr Habib and an Arabic-speaking Australian called George who witnessed his degradation.
Advertisement: Story continues below ''He has rounded face aged 35-40 and bald (no hair) his height is about 170 fat without moustache with beard, hazel eyes big nose, fat neck. George was present during the medical check on Habib who was handcuffed and tied feet. His eyes were closed and he was unable to see.
''He [Habib] was naked of any cloths [sic] even his underwear. He was hysterical, almost crazy, drugged. The hand down of him and his belongings and the medical check was before the Australian official [George]. Habib constantly was fighting with the guards and wanted to escape outside.
''During Habib's presence some of the Australian officials attended many times and some of them were women. The same official who attended the first time, George, used to come with them and Habib was tortured a lot and all the time as the foreign intelligence wanted quick and fast information.''
The statement from the intelligence officer was taken by Mr Habib's Egyptian lawyer, Hisham Mahmoud Ramadan, who told Mr Habib yesterday that the overthrow of the Mubarak regime would make it easier to get more information about his torture.
Mr Habib was arrested in Pakistan in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He was secretly taken to Egypt where he was tortured for seven months before he was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held until January 2005. He was released without charge. He immediately began legal action against the Australian government, claiming it was complicit in his transfer and torture.
Then foreign minister Alexander Downer attorney-general Philip Ruddock repeatedly denied knowledge of the transfer. So did then ASIO boss Dennis Richardson and federal police chief Mick Keelty.
Mr Habib sued and after a six-year battle, the Gillard government suddenly agreed to pay him an undisclosed sum on December 17 in exchange for him dropping his case. The amount is subject to a strict confidentiality agreement. In a similar case, Canadian-Syrian engineer Maher Arar received $10 million from the Canadian government.
Sydney lawyer Ecevit Demir, who attended the meeting at which the Habib compensation was agreed, confirmed the Egyptian intelligence officer's statement was discussed. Mr Habib said he brought the statement to Julia Gillard's attention at the end of October. Soon after, she ordered an inquiry. He has decided to reveal the details of the statement because, despite the payout, the government is still refusing to give back his passport.
The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, did not comment when The Sun-Herald asked if his department or ASIO would co-operate with the inquiry or whether ''anyone now wanted to change their stories''.
Mr Habib detailed interrogations by a man he identified only as George in his 2008 book, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn't. He said George, who he had thought was Egyptian because he spoke Arabic with an Egyptian dialect, questioned him in Egypt and later in Afghanistan on his way to Guantanamo Bay.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed in writing to Mr Habib that there was an official named George working at the Australian embassy in Cairo. However, it maintained that while George did make inquiries about Mr Habib, George never had it ''confirmed'' that Mr Habib was in Egypt.
When The Sun-Herald showed Mr Habib a photograph of George, he recognised him and said he had seen him several times in the Egyptian jail.
Mr Habib told The Sun-Herald he would take the Egyptian agent's statement to the Inspector-General of Intelligence Services, Vivienne Thom, who is heading the inquiry ordered by Ms Gillard.