The Guardian May 26, 2004


Dissident Australians tortured by US military

Peter Mac

Hard on the heels of revelations that Australian prisoner of war 
David Hicks was beaten by the US military comes the story of the 
torture of the other Australian detainee, Mamdouh Habib.

Both men are still being held by the US at the infamous (and 
illegally occupied) military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 
after allegedly having been involved in the military resistance 
to the US invasion of Afghanistan by Taliban forces in 2001.

Habib was captured in Pakistan and handed to the US military. 
With the complicity of Australian officials they subsequently 
flew him to Egypt, where for five months he was tortured by the 
use of electric shocks and beatings, in between being 
interrogated at gunpoint.

He was later taken to Guantanamo Bay, where he was subjected to 
beatings and pepper spray, and was dragged around the prison by 
chains attached to his feet. He was detained for long periods in 
solitary confinement, was subjected to the sort of sadistic 
humiliation for which the US military has now become notorious, 
and became mentally unbalanced after being told that his wife and 
children had died.

Hicks was captured in Afghanistan by soldiers loyal to the 
Northern Alliance warlord group, which was then an ally of the 
US. While in captivity there, and later on a US naval vessel, he 
was repeatedly bound hand and foot and beaten by US personnel, 
was subjected to sleep deprivation and was kept shackled during 
interrogation sessions.

A fellow prisoner, Pakistan-born Shah Mohammed, said that because 
of his ethnic background Hicks was given especially vicious 
treatment by US military personnel, who called him "the white 
boy". At Guantanamo Bay he was kept in solitary confinement for 
nine months.

The Howard Government has rejected claims of mistreatment against 
the two Australian prisoners. However, their stories have now 
been confirmed by fellow prisoners who have since been released. 
One prisoner recalled seeing Hicks undergoing beatings and 
interrogation, while another stated he witnessed Habib screaming 
in agony as he was dragged about the Guantanamo Bay prison by his 
shackled feet.

True to form, the government has dismissed these allegations. The 
Prime Minister John Howard retorted that the witness to Habib's 
mistreatment had been a Taliban supporter, and, by implication, 
was therefore incapable of telling the truth.

In point of fact, the witness, a Pakistani baker, was simply 
employed by the Taliban to bake them bread, and was rounded up 
with all the others when the Taliban compound was overrun. He was 
later released after being officially classified as posing "no 
threat to the United States military and its interests in 
Afghanistan and Pakistan".

In reply to Howard's statement, Hick's lawyer, Stephen Kenny, 
pointed out that the government had accepted the Bush 
administration's assurances that the Australians were being well 
looked after in Guantanamo Bay, but that the same administration 
had assured the government there were weapons of mass destruction 
in Iraq prior to the US invasion. "I wish the government had 
treated that story with a grain of salt", Kenny added.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, also poured cold water on 
the reports of abuse of Hicks, on the grounds that he had not 
heard of these matters even though they occurred a considerable 
time ago.

However, the government is almost certain to have heard these 
reports, since Hicks claimed to have told representatives of the 
Australian Government and the Red Cross of his maltreatment, and 
a former British prisoner claims to have heard Habib tell 
Australian Embassy officials everything that had happened to him.

For his part, Kenny pointed out that as Downer would undoubtedly 
have been aware, under the terms of the agreement Kenny was 
forced to sign with the US military, he is unable to make public 
the details of the prisoners' allegations. Fortunately, the US 
authorities recently made a false statement about the case, which 
under the agreement Kenny is entitled to refute, thereby 
revealing the substance of Hicks' allegations.

There are certain to be more revelations about the sufferings of 
prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. According to 
witnesses, the interrogation sessions were filmed by the prison 
authorities.

Despite their long captivity, none of the Guantanamo Bay 
prisoners has been tried. But in a terrible twist, the unfolding 
evidence of the brutal American occupation of Iraq and 
Afghanistan has become part of a public trial, not of the 
Guantanamo Bay inmates, but of US imperialism itself and its 
monstrous activities in those long-suffering countries.

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