Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, traveled to Pakistan in 2001, seeking work and religious schooling for his children. On October 5, 2001, he was arrested by Pakistani police while traveling by bus to Karachi. After several months of interrogation, he was sent to Egypt for five months, where he says he was subjected to intense torture including being shocked with high-voltage wires, hung from metal hooks on walls, and beaten. From Egypt he was transported to Guantánamo where he became prisoner No. 661. He was accused by U.S. authorities of having been in Afghanistan and having had advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks. American authorities subsequently conceded, however, that they had no evidence to support these accusations. The Australian government agreed to Habib’s return, and on January 28, 2005, he was returned and became a free man.
Now Australian authorities announce that they believe that Habib’s claims of torture at the hands of Egyptian police are credible and that Habib was transferred to Egypt from Pakistan through a CIA renditions process. They also state that Australian intelligence figures might have been complicit in the rendition to torture and may have been present or close by as he was tortured.
[Prime Minister] Julia Gillard requested the new probe [by the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence] amid dramatic claims of Australian government complicity in his 2001 CIA rendition to Egypt, where he was detained and tortured. The investigation follows a secret compensation payout made by the federal government to Mr Habib in December, apparently triggered by untested witness statements implicating Australian officials in his detention and brutal maltreatment in a Cairo military prison.
The new evidence, not previously made public, includes a statement from a former Egyptian military intelligence officer that he was present when Mr Habib was transferred to Cairo in November 2001. In the statement, tendered as part of Mr Habib’s civil case against the commonwealth, the officer says Australian officials were present when Mr Habib arrived in Egypt, handcuffed, with his feet bound, naked and apparently drugged.
Although Australian intelligence officials have consistently maintained that they knew nothing about Habib’s mistreatment in Egypt, their accounts have now been directly contradicted by eyewitness testimony. The evidence was so strong that the Australian Attorney General accepted mediation and agreed to a substantial government settlement on civil claims arising from his torture in Egypt.
The inspector general’s probe is designed to explore more fully the role that Australian intelligence officers played in the rendition and torture and to decide whether a formal criminal probe and prosecutions are appropriate.
With Gillard’s announcement, Australia now joins Britain, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy among the nations now conducting formal investigations into CIA renditions operations on their soil or involving their government personnel. Torture allegations figure prominently in each case.