Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Australian terror suspect `was tortured'

DETAINEE Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen, will sue his government for crimes against humanity after his arrest in Pakistan and subsequent torture in Egypt

AFP , SYDNEY

Lawyers for an Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee who claims to have been tortured in Egypt said yesterday they plan legal action against the Australian government, accusing it of crimes against humanity.

Alleged terrorist Mamdouh Habib was alleged by a senior Qatari politician to have been arrested in Pakistan, taken to Egypt where he was tortured and then to the US base in Cuba where he has been detained without charge for more than two years.

The SBS Dateline program, due to be screened here late yesterday, quotes former Qatari justice minister, Najeeb Al-Nauimi, as saying he knows Habib was tortured during six months in Egypt and almost died before his transfer to Cuba.

Egyptian-born Habib, 48, an alleged Islamic hardliner with a wife and children in Sydney, was captured in Pakistan a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

His lawyers say he was tortured with electric shocks, regular beatings and injections of drugs during six months in Egypt.

The SBS program includes an interview with former Qatari justice minister Najeeb Al-Nauimi saying Habib was tortured "in a way in which a human cannot stand up," and to the point where Habib "would admit to anything."

The Australian government has confirmed Habib was interviewed three times by intelligence agents and federal police in Pakistan, but said it had no role in his transfer to Egypt.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat told SBS Habib was picked up because he was in the restricted province of Baluchistan without a visa, and anyone without a visa was automatically arrested as a "suspect."

He said Habib was in US custody when he was taken to Egypt, but neither Pakistan, Egypt or Australia sought his move to Egypt.

"The US wanted him for their own investigations," Hayat said. "We are not concerned where they take him."

US lawyer Steve Watts, of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, said the US was routinely engaged in a policy known as "rendition," by which people are taken to countries such as Egypt where the use of torture is allegedly commonplace.

Habib was moved from Egypt to Afghanistan and then in April 2002 to Guantanamo Bay where he joined another Australian, Muslim convert David Hicks, who will be among the first to face a US military commission on terror charges.

Habib's wife, Maha, has said her husband went to Pakistan to look for a school for his children.

Lawyer Stephen Hopper said it was clear Habib was taken to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, and if Australian officials were aware of this they were complicit in crimes against humanity and if they were unaware they were negligent.

"What we understand is that Mr Habib was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and was there for about three weeks then the Pakistani government handed him over to US authorities," Hopper said.

"It's our understanding that during that three-week period, Mr Habib was seen by a number of officials and agents of the Australian government. What we believe is that those officials had knowledge of what the US was going to do with Mr Habib."

"What we want to do launch legal proceedings against the government and various officials who were involved in crimes against humanity, negligence and other related matters, Hopper said.

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