The tale of a terrorist who wasn't
'A gripping story of one man's descent into hell on earth - and of the country that betrayed him.'
Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane
written with Julia Collingwood
'While John Howard advocated Aussie mateship and a fair go, this Australian was being secretly handed over to rendition and torture. Mamdouh Habib's harrowing story will leave fair-dinkum Australians feeling nauseated by the double standards of their elected leaders.'
Senator Bob Brown
"Everyone had terrible stories to tell of having been kidnapped, tortured and sold to the Americans ... Catching foreigners was big business. It didn't matter if they were terrorists or not, the Pakistanis told the Americans that they were anyway." - Mamdouh Habib
'My Story begins as a conventional biography of a Middle Eastern immigrant, but becomes an unrelentingly stomach churning account of maltreatment, torture, and persecution ... Was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? Whatever the truth, Australian politicians and officials were complicit in his detention, and ignored his inhumane treatment ... Scary. FOUR STARS'
(Bookseller & Publisher)
Title: My Story
In the early hours of 2 October 2001, Mamdouh Habib and two young German men were taken off a bus traveling between Quetta and Karachi by Pakistani security officers. It was shortly after 9/11, and only days before the United States attacked Afghanistan. The Pakistanis were rounding up anyone who looked foreign or in any way suspicious, interrogating them, and passing them on to the Americans. A few unlucky ones were then 'rendered' to a third-party country to be further interrogated and tortured, where they either disappeared into a web of secret prisons or were sent to Guantanamo Bay.
This is what happened to Mamdouh Habib. Branded as a terrorist, accused of attending al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and of training the 9/11 terrorists in martial arts, Mamdouh Habib was incarcerated and tortured - first in Pakistan, and then in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Eventually, after three-and-a-half years, he was released without charge from Guantanamo, and reunited with his wife and four children in Australia.
Here, for the first time, Mamdouh Habib reveals the full story of his journey to hell and back. He exposes the complicity of the Australian government in his abduction and maltreatment, as well as its subsequent neglect of him while in Guantanamo. He also describes his encounters with other well-known alleged terrorists, including his meetings with David Hicks both in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo.
My Story is also the account of a young Egyptian man who migrated to Australia in 1982 in order to settle down and to make a good life for himself. It is about his marriage to Maha, a remarkable young woman originally from Lebanon, who was to become his steadfast companion and who, throughout the years of their ordeal, tirelessly fought for the release of her husband and the restitution of his name.
Mamdouh Habib is an Egyptian-born Australian Muslim best known for his extrajudicial detention in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on suspicion of his having been involved in terrorism. He was born in 1955 in Egypt, moved to Australia in 1982, met and married Maha, a young Lebanese-Australian woman, had four children, became an Australian citizen, and owned a café and ran a cleaning business. After being released from Guantanamo without charge, he ran as an independent political candidate in the New South Wales state election of 2007.
Julia Collingwood has worked in publishing since 1975 as a senior editor, acquisitions/commissioning editor, managing editor, and publisher. She has also run her own editorial services company, and has taught editing and book production. She is the co-author of three other books.
Voyage to the darkest side for Mamdouh Habib
FORMER Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib is telling his version of the events in 2001 that he says led to his detention as an alleged Australian terrorist: He was stretched out on the bed in his Dubai hotel room watching television when there was a knock at the door. In the doorway, with an Emirati police officer, were two men who identified themselves as ASIO agents before pushing their way into his room.
According to Habib, the two spooks knew he was heading to Pakistan and they asked him to spy for them. "They pulled out a bundle of photos to show me. I didn't want to hear this stuff or be involved but they wouldn't stop," says Habib, who was to end up in the US prison in Cuba accused of terrorism.
The Australian Government has long disputed many of Habib's claims, which appear in great detail in his new book My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn't, published this week.
"Names and information kept pouring out of them. They kept telling me that I had to work for them and report to them immediately if I came across any of these people. I told them over and over again that I would never work for them as a spy."
The people they wanted him to keep under surveillance included "Jihad" Jack Thomas, Australian Rabiyah Hutchinson, former wife of a terrorist leader, and a man they called Andrew Stewart (actually Matthew Stewart), a former Australian army officer who is missing and feared dead.
Habib says they warned him if he didn't co-operate "life was going to be very hard" for him. This was just weeks before September 11, 2001 and Habib speculates that ASIO was so desperate for information that the agents offered him holidays, world trips, money: anything he wanted as long as he co-operated.
In his book written with Julia Collingwood, Habib tells for the first time the full story of his fateful trip to Pakistan and the events that led him to become labelled an "enemy combatant".
He was arrested in Pakistan in early October 2001, two months after ASIO burst into his room, and in what is now known as extraordinary rendition taken to Egypt where he was held and tortured for more than six months.
He was subsequently taken to Guantanamo Bay. He was released 3˝ years later.
Habib has never been charged with any terrorism-related offence.
Since giving his first interview on 60 Minutes a few weeks after his release in January 2005, Habib has maintained that the Australian officials knew what was going to happen to him. He is suing the federal Government, arguing it was complicit in his kidnapping and transfer to Egypt.
Part of what he says has been unexpectedly corroborated by Paul O'Sullivan, director-general of ASIO, who told a parliamentary committee in June this year that his predecessor Dennis Richardson was approached by US officials about taking Habib to Egypt.
This contradicts Howard government claims that it had no knowledge of Habib's rendition until after he was in Egypt. In fact, Richardson, who has been questioned by a parliamentary committee, has never admitted it either.
The Australian has been investigating Habib's case for more than a year and has found ever-widening gaps in the evidence that Australian intelligence agencies had relied on to paint Habib as a national security threat. Those investigations have already cast doubt on claims by the authorities that Habib was in telephone contact with one of the men convicted over the 1993 World Trade Centre al-Qa'ida bombings in New York.
The calls cited by authorities were made weeks after the man, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, had been taken into custody. The Australian has also discovered that another document used by the authorities to portray Habib as a terrorist sympathiser was an assignment written by his wife, Maha, eight years ago for a TAFE class.
And a handwriting expert has cast doubt on whether Habib wrote a series of damning notes about weapons training in Pakistan that have been at the heart of the federal Government's case against him.
Now, seven years on, slowly and through the perseverance of Habib and Maha and with the help of several lawyers working pro bono, new allegations are emerging.
Habib has told parts of his story before in interviews and in the courts, however the book fills in the gaps on the reasons he went overseas and how and why he ended up in Taliban-governed Afghanistan.
Habib explains that he left Australia after being hounded for years by ASIO because of his alleged links to the supporters of one of the World Trade Centre bombers and after losing his contract cleaning business. He writes that he travelled to Pakistan to pursue a business opportunity with a rich Saudi businessman known only as Mr Qahtani whom he hoped would help him and his family start a new life overseas. But while travelling they were abducted by Pakistanis and Qahtani was murdered.
Habib says he fled across the border into Afghanistan with one of Qahtani's staff with the idea of contacting the Arabic television station Al Jazeera and telling their story.
He wound up in a guesthouse in Kandahar where he met Stewart who was telling people he had quit the Australian army because of alleged atrocities committed in East Timor. "I was completely shocked when I first saw him because he had been one of the people in the photos that ASIO had shown me," Habib writes.
Then at another guest house in Kabul he met David Hicks and saw Thomas who was this week found not guilty of receiving funds from terrorists. At the time Habib wondered why ASIO had not shown him pictures of Hicks too.
But within days things started to deteriorate in Afghanistan. Habib says he heard about the assassination of the Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud and then word went around that the US had been attacked and he rang home to find out what had happened.
That telephone call was to become an important piece of evidence against Habib with authorities accusing him of having prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks.
However last year the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, when refusing to order Habib's Australian passport to be returned, found there was no evidence that he had any prior knowledge of the attacks. But the AAT did criticise him as untruthful about some of his past activities and used that as a reason for backing an ASIO assessment that he remained a national security threat.
In the wake of the attacks on the US, Habib writes that he fled Afghanistan for Pakistan and was arrested on a bus with two Germans. They were all arrested by what the Australian courts have been since told were US drug enforcement agents called in to patrol the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Official government documents that have since come to light reveal that Habib and the two Germans were picked up "under a general alert to detain suspicious foreigners" and that those who detained them (allegedly the US) had "no official detention powers" in Pakistan but they did it anyway.
After being questioned by ASIO and Federal Police in Pakistan, Habib was kidnapped by the US and sent to Egypt under the CIA's rendition program, which was basically taking terror suspects to countries where they could be co-erced, free of US or Australian laws, during their interrogations.
Habib writes about torture in Egypt where he claims he was drugged and tortured with electric shocks, was threatened with sexual attacks by dogs and hung by his feet and beaten.
Then he was handed back to the Americans who took him to Guantanamo where he found he was not alone in his experiences.
"Everyone had terrible stories to tell of having been kidnapped, tortured and sold to the Americans ... Catching foreigners was big business. It didn't matter if they were terrorists or not, the Pakistanis told the Americans that they were anyway."
But in his story there is also the unknown side of Habib's early life. The man who was to become a household name in Australia had grown up as the second son of a middle-class Egyptian family.
At 17 he joined the army to do his compulsory military service but as soon as his three years was up he left the defence forces and Egypt.
Deciding to travel the world he headed for Syria and worked as a waiter, in Jordan he delivered gas cylinders.
"I worked in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, working long days often on the streets selling everything from Scotch whisky to ladders. There wasn't anything I couldn't sell. I became very street-smart, made lots of friends and made enough money to survive," he writes.
In Turkey he made friends with a group of Middle Eastern boys and they decided to hop on a train to Milan in Italy.
Habib washed dishes for $US5 a day until he heard a circus in Florence was looking for someone to look after their animals. He was hired immediately and given two elephants to look after - one called Sheila - as well as four horses, three donkeys and some dogs.
"For the next six months or so I slept with the animals. It was a great life. I had to take special care of the elephants when we were travelling by train to make sure they didn't undo the locks with their trunks. They were very sneaky. If they thought I wasn't watching they have the bolt undone in no time."
With promises of higher pay he left the circus to become a racehorse trainer and was offered a job in the US. But Habib's brother and sister in Australia had been pressing him to join them and so he decided to apply for a green card in the US and a visa for Australia and take the first one that came through. He arrived in Australia aged 27 in 1982 and within months he had met Maha and they were married.
Although he became an Australian citizen, he kept his Egyptian citizenship and that was to cost him dearly.
Throughout his ordeal he kept protesting that he was an Australian but his captors had told him he was being treated as an Egyptian.
Since his release Habib has been battling the Australian authorities in the courts fighting for compensation.
The AAT conceded last year that his case was a "troubling matter" and he had suffered a significant ordeal. "It is an understatement to say that we are concerned about the treatment given to Mr Habib. Even if Mr Habib's account is only partly true, then he was treated in Pakistan, Egypt and Guantanamo Bay in a manner that if known to the Australian public would shock them," the AAT wrote in its decision. "That an Australian citizen could be detained by a foreign entity and subjected to such treatment is antithetical to Australian values, regardless of the security risk that citizen might pose."
ASIO agent watched my torture, claims Habib
Sydney Morning Herald
A MAN described as an ASIO agent stood by as a naked US marine wearing a condom threatened Mamdouh Habib with rape, the former Guantanamo Bay inmate alleges.
In a book to be published next week, Mr Habib says he saw the words "Allah Akbar"' [God is great] written on the condom to compound his humiliation.
The claims are detailed in My Story, excerpts of which will appear in Good Weekend tomorrow.
The book includes Mr Habib's first explanation of why he was in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks.
Australian intelligence agencies have long accused Mr Habib of training with al-Qaeda during that period but Mr Habib says he fled to Afghanistan some weeks before the attacks after Pakistani police had abducted him and shot one of his companions while they were on a business trip.
Mr Habib recounts in excruciating detail the torture he says he was subjected to by Pakistani and Egyptian security agencies after his arrest in early October 2001, and describes the grim reality of life in Guantanamo Bay, where he was subsequently imprisoned.
The book rejects the repeated assurances the Howard government gave that Mr Habib was well treated during his years in the US prison.
In the book Mr Habib alleges:
Mr Habib told the Herald yesterday that when Mr Hicks was in Guantanamo Bay, he had been shown a videotape of Mr Habib being tortured in Egypt in an attempt by interrogators to force Mr Hicks to confess. He said he was disappointed that Mr Hicks had not spoken out about Guantanamo.
Mr Hicks has maintained his silence since his release from the Cuban-based prison last year, and his lawyer, David McLeod, said yesterday Mr Hicks would be making no comment on the claims.
Mr Habib says he was treated as a worst category "level 4 minus" inmate at Guantanamo. He says he was denied clothes except for a pair of shorts, and allowed only one blanket. He says he was given an orange uniform only when taken for interrogation, during which he would be shackled to the floor. He was held in a cage-like cell and forced to drink "yellow water" from a tap in the cell.
He writes he was "heavily drugged, deprived of sleep for weeks, beaten, given electric shocks, repeatedly injected with a needle in the same place so that it became terribly painful, left naked in freezing rooms for hours on end in isolation and threatened with rape."
He claims US guards raped detainees and were sexually active with each other.
Mr Habib was never charged during his incarceration and denies training with al-Qaeda. He is suing the Federal Government for compensation, saying it turned a blind eye to his treatment.
One of his lawyers, Clive Evatt, told the Herald yesterday he had "no reason to think the book is not truthful" and that it was "consistent with what he has told us". He said it "should be of interest to most Australians" and that Guantanamo was a "terrible blot on the people of the US".
When Mr Habib was interviewed on 60 Minutes shortly after his release in January 2005, he was criticised for dodging questions about what he was doing in Afghanistan when the World Trade Centre was destroyed.
He has been evasive about this in subsequent interviews, claiming he was acting on legal advice.
Now he writes that he travelled to Pakistan in mid-2001 to pursue a job opportunity with a Saudi businessman called Mr Qahtani, who was offering him and his family the chance to start a new life abroad.
While in Pakistan, he and Mr Qahtani and several of Mr Qahtani's associates were abducted by Pakistani police, who then murdered Mr Qahtani.
Mr Habib maintains he fled to Afghanistan with one of Mr Qahtani's employees and that they stayed in guesthouses while Mr Habib tried to contact the Arabic TV station Al Jazeera. Mr Habib said he wanted to expose various attempts ASIO had made to recruit him, including one in Dubai on his way to Pakistan, and another in Pakistan. (Mr Habib had been of interest to Australian security agencies for some years because of his links to supporters of Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.)
After the September 11 attacks, Mr Habib says he considered it unsafe to remain in Afghanistan, and crossed by taxi back over the border.
He was intercepted by Pakistani security forces, and some weeks later flown covertly to Egypt as part of the CIA's top-secret "renditions" program, which took terrorist suspects to countries where they could be tortured during interrogation.
Mr Habib repeats earlier claims that an Australian diplomatic official saw him in Pakistan prior to his rendition and did nothing to prevent it.
The Australian Government has always denied this although the former ASIO head Dennis Richardson told a Senate committee in 2005 that an ASIO officer had seen Mr Habib in Pakistan on three occasions in October 2001 after his arrest.
In June this year the current ASIO head, Paul O'Sullivan, revealed for the first time that US officials had sought Australia's views on Mr Habib's "transfer to Egypt" shortly after his arrest but that Mr Richardson had said Canberra could not support it. However, Howard ministers had previously denied official knowledge of how Mr Habib got to Egypt.
In Egypt, Habib alleges he was subjected to excruciating torture, including electric shocks to his testicles and being made to stand in a room which was slowly flooded up to the level of his nose.
"I had to stand for hours and hours on my toes, trying not to drown," he writes.
Bumping into each other in out of the way places
Sydney Morning Herald
IT SEEMS the small group of Australian Muslims who were in Afghanistan in the days before September 11, 2001 could not help bumping into each other.
In his about-to-be-released book My Story, written with Julia Collingwood, Mamdouh Habib describes supposedly random encounters with several of these characters, who would later become household names in Australia as the "war on terrorism" unfolded. The first of these was a former Australian soldier, Matthew Stewart, whom Habib met at a Saudi-funded guest house in Kandahar at the beginning of September 2001.
Stewart was in the communal kitchen one night talking to a group of men through an interpreter. He had just arrived in Afghanistan via a sheep truck from Iran and was, Habib says, highly agitated about Australian peacekeeping forces in East Timor. Stewart was saying that Australian troops had raped male and female detainees in Timor and "murdered many people".
"He had been so disgusted by what had been done in the name of peace that he had wanted to kill himself," Habib says.
"In the end, he told us, he had left the Australian Army because he couldn't stand it any longer, and that was when he came to Kandahar to study Islam."
A few days later in Kabul, Habib encountered David Hicks at a second "guesthouse".
Hicks, he said, looked "very dirty ... as if he never washed".
They had been talking for only a short while when a bearded man pulled up in a station wagon next to them. Habib said he later came to recognise him as Melbourne man Jack Thomas (subsequently dubbed "Jihad Jack", who was yesterday acquitted on a charge of having received money from al-Qaeda).
Habib asked to be introduced but Hicks declined. In the next few days, Habib says, he saw Hicks a few times and dined with him once, but generally Hicks kept his distance. He claims Hicks was always talking about "the front line".
Meanwhile Habib himself claims he was waiting in Kabul for a contact with the Arab TV station Al Jazeera. A few days later the World Trade Centre in New York was destroyed and all went their separate ways.
The strange little hiatus in Kabul was over. But Habib and Hicks were to see each other again: in Guantanamo Bay.
Title: My Story
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