Habib was all wrong.
Wrong person. Wrong place. Wrong time.
A Muslim on ASIO’s watch list. InPakistan. Immediately after 11 September 2001.
Born inEgypt, Mamdouh Habib lived in Europe briefly before migrating toAustraliaaged 28, where he met his wife Maha.
According to Habib (an Egyptian-born Australian), Australian security services first started paying him attention in the early 1990s, after he began actively supporting El Sayyid Nosair (accused of murdering a Zionist Rabbi at the New York Marriott), following a visit to New York.
Back in Australia, Habib rallied on Nosair’s behalf, and soon ASIO came calling. He was asked to spy on men he’d met at Nosair’s trial, including a childhood friend from Egypt. When this friend and others Habib knew fromNew Yorkwere arrested in relation to 1993’s World Trade Centre bombing, Habib was not convinced of their guilt. Habib again tried to rally support for the accused, and again faced the attentions ofAustralia’s security bureau, who frequently visited Habib and Maha’s coffee shop.
In the mid-1990s, Habib’s other business, cleaning government buildings, folded. He also wasn’t winning any local popularity contests. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t an ASIO or CIA spy, enough agents had dropped by the coffee shop over the years to make some interested locals consider him a delator. Life became nasty; Habib and Maha decided to emigrate.
A business prospect led him to Pakistan via Dubai, where he was to meet a Saudi businessman. ASIO met Habib thrice, in Dubai and twice in Lahore, where, Habib says, they again pressed him to spy.
He travelled with the Saudi businessman fromIslamabadtoLahore. NearLahore, they were taken by soldiers at a roadblock to a cell, where Habib’s associate was shot and killed. Later, the soldiers dumped Habib and another detainee on theLahoreroad, where, petrified, they decided to travel to Afghanistan. Habib writes that they had wanted to talk to Al Jazeera about what had happened to them.
It was the end of August 2001. InAfghanistan, Habib stayed in Taliban-associated guesthouses and met terror suspects including David Hicks. After September 11, Habib (like many foreigners there) realised he had to leaveAfghanistan.
Kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency inPakistanon his return, Habib was imprisoned, beaten, and eventually “rendered” toEgypt.
The rest, as they say, is (disputed) history.
Tortured and drugged inEgypt, Habib eventually “agreed to sign anything” after he was told that his family had been murdered. (His tormentors had the video to prove it.) Branded a terrorist, he was sent to Camp Delta military prison, Guantánamo Bay, where he says he was heavily drugged (often repeatedly injected in the same infected sites), beaten, deprived of sleep for weeks, given electric shocks, threatened with rape, and left naked in freezing conditions.
He was released without charge four years later.
Although the Howard government never acknowledged that Habib had been “extraordinarily rendered” toEgypt, it was forced to insist on Habib’s release from Guantánamo Bay when Habib’s claims of torture inEgyptwere revealed during a US court case in 2004. Habib’s case was one of a growing number tracking the practice of extraordinary rendition.
My Story, written with Julia Collingwood, tells Habib’s story complete and intact. Habib’s detractors – and he has many – have noted inconsistencies in his telling of aspects of his ordeal over the years since his release. Habib thinks he may have received unwise legal advice early on – to maintain silence at times when he needed to speak up – which portrayed him as shifty at best. Some critics pounced on vague differences. Habib is presently accusing the Australian Government of collusion in attacks on his credibility.
After years of torture and humiliation, Habib was released without charge. After this ordeal, it seems that Australia is still intent on treating Habib poorly.
And whether the Australian government was complicit in Habib’s rendition may never be known.