"I've been in too many places. I never know where I am.
I've been blindfolded for eight months. I never see the sun." (continued below the fold)
Statement of Harold Koh, Dean, Yale Law School, at Gonzales hearing, Jan. 7, 2005:
"I appear today solely to comment upon Mr. Gonzales' positions regarding ... the illegality of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment [photo: prisoners at Guantanamo], the scope of the President's constitutional powers to authorize torture and cruel treatment by U.S. officials, and the applicability of the Geneva Conventions ... to alleged combatants held in U.S. custody.
"Mr. Gonzales' record and public statements could be read to suggest:
"first, that the extraordinary threats that we face ... somehow require that the President act above the law,
"and second, [those] deemed 'enemy combatants' or held on Guantanamo live outside the protections of the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions as 'rights-free persons' in 'rights-free zones'."
(Photo: Anthony Chuck, Veterans Against Torture)
"I've been in too many places. I never know where I am.
I've been blindfolded for eight months, I never see the sun but I see you and [the] kids every minute."
Note: The following is a dramatized account of the true facts of this case.
That's what Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib had written to his wife. Until the Americans told him his wife and his children were dead. All gone. All of them. Dead.
The Americans came into his cell -- in Guantanamo, even though he didn't know that's where he was -- and beat and kicked him. They sprayed him with mace. His eyes and nose burned. Then they grabbed the chains around his feet and dragged him bodily out of the cell, down the corridor.
He knew the letters he continued to get from his family were fakes. He told the other prisoners the letters were fakes. After, they were all dead. The Americans had said so.
He believed them. After what they'd done to him, he could only imagine what they'd done to his family in Australia. After all, an Australian official had stood by while the Americans beat and humiliated him shortly after his detainment.
Then there was the explosive hatred they had for him. They berated him, over and over, for his collaboration with the 9/11 hijackers and Al Qaeda.
It didn't matter the Americans were using the statements he'd made during six months of torture in Egypt. And that some of his confessions should have seemed absurd -- that he, a slightly portly 48-year-old man with only a yellow belt in karate, was a martial arts trainer for the Al Qaeda hijackers?
It had all started in October 2001 in Pakistan -- where he'd gone in August 2001 to find a business and school for his children, in preparation for the family's move from Australia to Pakistan -- when he was detained and beaten and humiliated in front of a fellow Australian. Then he was bound, hooded, and flown to Egypt.
He would have told the Egyptians anything. And he did. He made things up. Anything to make them stop.
They'd suspended him from hooks on the wall. He'd been repeatedly tied up, kicked, punched, and beaten with a stick. He'd been rammed with an cattle prod. When he fell asleep, they tossed cold water on him.
They hung him on hooks while his feet touched the side of a cylindrical drum that was attached to wires and a battery. If he didn't say what they wanted to hear, they threw a switch and a jolt of electricity went through the drum. The jolt made his feet slip, and he'd be left suspended by the hooks on the wall.
His life in Australia, where he'd lived since 1980, was a distant memory. He knew he'd probably never again see his wife Maha or their four children -- Ahmed (19), Mustafa (16), Maryam (11) and Hager (4). His contract cleaning and security business in Sydney was probably long gone.
When that was over -- those six months of intense fear and agony -- he was flown from Egypt to a U.S. base in Afghanistan. There, he was put on an airplane to Guantanamo. And he was hermetically sealed for the trip.
When he arrived at Guantanamo, he was too weak to walk.
But the guards thought he was faking, so he was placed in solitary confinement, in chains. Then they began the beatings and dragging him down the corridor for interrogations.
The other prisoners could see he was in perilous shape, both physically and psychologically.
He felt all was lost when, in just the past couple months, the Americans threatened to return him to Egypt. He couldn't take any more torture. He couldn't make up any more stories for them.
Sometimes he and the other prisoners were taken to interrogations by being tied down and wheeled. The same questions. Over and over and over. The beatings. The boots.
Little did he know -- in fact, we all knew of his release days before he did -- but his attorneys and others have succeeded in pressuring the U.S. to free him.
In weeks, perhaps sooner, he'll be back home in Australia.
And four Britons will be back in the United Kingdom.
All information in the above section has been dramatized, but is factual.
None of the prisoners in the photos is Mr. Habib. The photo that depicts torture is of an unknown prisoner in Egypt. The family portrait is the Habib family, many years ago, before their last two children were born. My primary source
was the diary (and sources therein) -- "Torture, Gonzales style
" -- that I wrote on Jan. 6, 2005. Additional sources: The Washington Post
, The New York Times
's article about Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights
, and the Web site of Amnesty International
"There's a lot of talk about how some in the world don't appreciate America."
"Well, I can assure you that those who have been helped by our military appreciate America," President Bush said Jan. 13, 2005 after a briefing on those efforts at the Pentagon.
"Declassified FBI and military documents point the finger at the White House for allowing the torture of suspected terrorists," from a remarkable, must-read article, "The price of pain - After Saddam," smh.com.au, Jan. 15, 2005.
Writes Robert Parry in Consortium, "Last August, an FBI counterterrorism official criticized abusive practices at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more," the official wrote. "When I asked the M.P.'s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occasion ... the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."
Parry observes that "[d]espite official insistence that torture is not U.S. policy, the blame for these medieval tactics continues to climb the chain of command toward the Oval Office. ..."
"It is now reasonably clear that there was action by the President," the American Bar Association's Scott Horton told the Herald. "I have now seen several further documents which persuade me that there is in fact a determination by the President that dates from roughly April 2002. It is addressing extreme interrogation procedures, though not in detail." "The price of pain - After Saddam
," smh.com.au, Jan. 15, 2005
Revelations may also come in Australia:
Until now, the [Prime Minister John] Howard Government has brushed off allegations of abuse by the two Australian detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks, failing to press the Bush Administration for a final report on the cases. But the dramatic descriptions of Habib's torture in Egypt after US officials helped render
him to that country has forced Australia to face whether its intelligence agencies, including ASIO and the Federal Police, have relied on information gained from torture or criminal abuse, as claimed in the Habib and Hicks cases. "The price of pain - After Saddam
," smh.com.au, Jan. 15, 2005
See also: Torture FOIA, ACLU, January 5, 2005
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has led the fight for the Guantanamo detainees -- and against the practice of rendition (see "Torture, Gonzales style") -- and is celebrating the pending release of four Britons and Habib, the Australian:
Said CCR President Michael Ratner, "These men and others have lost years of their lives under the most dire of circumstances. Let it never happen again that people can be detained without trial, treated inhumanely and even tortured. Let this be a lesson to never deviate from the fundamental protection of human rights. This lesson must now be applied to all detainees remaining in U.S. detention facilities, whether in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq or around the world. We want a world without Guantanamos."
"These releases show how unfounded the detentions were in the first place. The Administration had no justification for holding these men without according them the rights guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law." "Guantanamo Detainees from Original Supreme Court Case to be Released after Three Years Without Charges," CCR, Jan. 11, 2005
John Gibbons, who is U.S. counsel for one of the freed Britons and who successfully argued Rasul v. Bush in the U.S. Supreme Court, said:
"We are very gratified by the pending release of our client after his long ordeal. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the remaining five hundred and forty prisoners
who continue to endure the legal limbo that our client faced for three years. Every single individual imprisoned in Guantánamo deserves the protections of the rule of law regardless of citizenship." CCR
, Jan. 11, 2005
The treatment of the remaining detainees continues to be cruel:
"When we last communicated with Bisher [a British detainee not scheduled for release], he was in solitary confinement without toilet paper, toothbrush, soap, towel, or a blanket. His transgression: he had a list of names of prisoners who had asked his help in obtaining legal representation." CCR
, Jan. 11, 2005
So, why the announcement that these men would be released? Rumsfeld said the decision was not easily made.
The British and Australian governments gave "a number of security assurances" to the US government and will work to prevent the detainees from engaging in or supporting "terrorist activities" in the future, the Pentagon said in a statement. The Age
, Jan. 12, 2005
Michael Ratner of CCR offered the most intimate perspective on the pending release in an interview on Democracy Now!, Jan. 11, 2005:
What I really think is going on is now that we won the Supreme Court case ... in June of 2004, we're getting lawyers down there. The government soon will have to justify these detentions in an American federal court and I don't think they can do it. I think this was a fraud from beginning to end. ... It is conceivable that not only was it the lawyers' efforts here, and the fact that the government couldn't justify these detentions, but also the fact that someone like Habib
, who was charging the government with sending him to Egypt for six months of torture in what you accurately described as this rendition process. [See "Torture, Gonzales style
"] That's still going to be able to be sued upon. We still want to end it.
How Habib Will Get Home:
MAMDOUH Habib will meet an Australian diplomat today [Jan. 15, 2005] at his Cuban prison to discuss details of his return home.
Mr Habib will be freed from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay within days.
He will be forced to fly the long way home because of a US ban on him setting foot on American soil or using US airspace.
# A DIRECT military flight via Mexico.
# COMMERCIAL air charter via Mexico.
# MILITARY flight to Britain, then charter flight to Australia.
# MILITARY flight to Britain, then commercial flight to Sydney.
Australian taxpayers will foot the bill after American authorities decided they did not have enough evidence to send the Egyptian-born father of four to a military commission. He was detained in Pakistan in October 2001, sent to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured and then moved to Cuba in May 2002. "Habib plans trip home," Herald-Sun, Jan. 15, 2005
How His Family Found Out:
Mrs Habib had been at home with daughters Miriam and Hajer at 7.45pm (AEST) on Tuesday when Robert Cornell, director-general of the Attorney-General's Department, had phoned and said Mamdouh would be released from Guantanamo Bay without charge.
"I couldn't believe it at first - I asked him to repeat it again just to confirm it," she said. "Then I called the boys and said, 'You better come home, I have some good news'."
The Habibs' two sons, Ahmed and Moustafa, are now well into their teens, while Mahmoud has never seen his robust little girl, Hajer.
"This morning she was saying, 'Is bubba (dad) coming home today?'," Mrs Habib said. "It's not easy to explain to her where he has been." news.com.au, Jan. 13, 2005
The Effects -- What Mr. Habib & His Family Will Face:
After the elation of finally being home wears off, Australian man Mamdouh Habib may be depressed, angry and irritable, psychologists say. ...
Mr Habib, who has been locked up for more than three years, has never been charged and alleges he was tortured. ...
When he got home, Mr Habib would feel elated at first but then helpless, according to Australian Psychological Society president Amanda Gordon.
"(He would feel) a mixture of elation and a sense, perhaps, that he's got to pick up the pieces and he won't know any more what that is," Ms Gordon said.
"He's lost all opportunities for normal socialisation for about three years now, so he hasn't been in control of who he's spoken to, or where he's gone, or when he's eaten.
"Suddenly he's going to have to make choices, which can be quite daunting." The Age, Australia, Jan. 12, 2005
Mr. Habib's family will have changed too during the three long years:
"His wife and family have been getting on with their own lives as well as working for his release," [Gordon] said.
"I suspect his wife [photo right, with Mahmoud] will be very different now than she was when he first left because she's had to become stronger and make choices. ..."
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Australian authorities would keep a close eye on Mr Habib on his return.
He may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and not be able to relax, Ms Gordon said.
"Post-traumatic stress disorder typically can last for years and years," she said.
"Without treatment, he could suffer from various symptoms, including irritability, anger, depression, maybe hyper-vigilance - that means always on the look-out and never quite relaxing.
"In his vigilance he would notice that he was being watched."
Whether he was involved in any terrorism activities or not, he may act suspiciously because of his altered psychological state.
"We have to acknowledge that his psychological state might make him behave in a manner that's different from the way he behaved previously," Ms Gordon said.
"It might actually make him look more suspicious in his behaviour than he was."
Five British prisoners released from the Guantanamo Bay a year ago still suffered psychological trauma from their time in detention, according to British reports.
British Muslim Parliament leader Ghayasuddin Siddiqui told The Independent newspaper this week their lives were shattered by the events. The Age, Australia, Jan. 12, 2005
Australia's prime minister, John Howard, says Mr. Habib will receive no compensation or apology. However, PM Howard says, "I think the process took too long and we have made that known in very plain terms to the United States. I haven't questioned the right of the Americans, given the circumstances, to apprehend him but we have argued all along that they have had to either charge him or let him go."
Amnesty International has demanded that the Australian government reveal what it offered the United States for Mr. Habib's release.
And, Mamdouh Habib's wife Maha wants to prove that her husband is innocent. "I've said that from the beginning my husband innocent person and thank God's given me this chance to prove that my husband is innocent."
It's really only a very small beginning. And there's much more to worry about, as CCR's Ratner notes:
[G]oing forward, we have our issues. One is these people, of course, will go back to their countries and hopefully be released very, very quickly ... but there will be many that remain in Guantanamo. The U.S. is already planning a permanent prison there to indefinitely detain people. So we're going to have to still struggle for a number of people there. ...
One of my fears is that they use Guantanamo for a permanent prison now, where they are going to do all of these extreme measures of interrogation. They're going to be in C.I.A. holes around the world or in other countries around the world where they render people.
So we're only at the beginning of the end of what has been a nightmare, a real nightmare for these people, for law, for morality, for politics. Democracy Now!, Jan. 11, 2005
It will be more difficult with Mr. Gonzales as Attorney General.
Steps we can all take:
- Support CCR's heroic legal work with donations.
- Learn about Resources for Torture Survivors, Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, & People Affected by War.
- Support these groups listed by Amnesty International: Medical and Psychosocial Services for Victims of Human Rights Violations -- in particular, the Centre for Victims of Torture in Canada, whose director Douglas Johnson spoke at the Gonzales hearings.
- Check out the full articles linked above, particularly "The price of pain - After Saddam," smh.com.au, Jan. 15, 2005.
I have a few reservations about Mr. Habib's innocence that I discussed in my Jan. 6 diary -- "Torture, Gonzales style
." He was involved with a convicted participant in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and he traveled to Pakistan shortly before 9/11. But, he had been cleared by Australian authorities, and no charges have ever been brought against him by the U.S. Whatever the case, his treatment has been beyond despicable and will do irreparable harm to him, and his family, the rest of his days.
The title for my diary: Thanks to little Hajer, who's never seen her "bubba" (daddy), Mahmoud Habib. And thanks to Jonathan Steele who wrote the Jan. 14, 2005 article in The Guardian, "A global gulag to hide the war on terror's dirty secrets - Bush is now thinking of building jails abroad to hold suspects for life." The last part of his article:
One of the glories of the hearings was the appearance of Douglas Johnson, director of the Centre for Victims of Torture
. He argued that the new memo fails to give clear guidance on what the appropriate standards for interrogation and detention are. He also pointed out that torture does not yield reliable information and corrupts its perpetrators.
Psychological torture was more damaging than physical torture, he said. Interviews with victims show that depression and recurrent nightmares decades later more often relate to memories of mock executions (of the "water-boarding" type) and scenarios of humiliation than to actual physical abuse.
That these points might have impressed the man Bush wants to have as America's top law officer is not to be expected. Nor does anyone in Washington expect the Senate to refuse to confirm him for the job. Happy New War on Terror 2005.
(All emphases in quotes are mine.)
Update [2005-1-14 23:39:11 by SusanHu]: Mr. Habib's travails may not be over. He'll be monitored closely, charges may be pressed, his passport will be confiscated, and more:
New information has emerged suggesting the Federal Government was taken by surprise at the US decision this week to release Mamdouh Habib from Guantanamo Bay, prompting Labor to question whether Australia really had been pressing for an expedition of his case.
The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, has released an answer to a question on notice asked by Labor in December. ...
The answer, dated January 11 - the day ... Ruddock said Mr Habib was being released from Guantanamo Bay ... stated that "we understand that charges may be laid against Mr Habib in the near future".
The shadow attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, [Q: What is a shadow attorney general? Sounds like the U.S. needs one!] said the timing of Mr Ruddock's answer showed that "Australia had no idea what the US is doing in these cases, even though they have been defending their actions all along." ...
"The court decisions, the allegations of torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross reports (which said the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees amounted to torture) - none of these things seemed to trigger any concerns for the Government," she said.
Mr Ruddock said that although Mr Habib was being released without charge by the US, he would continue to be a "person of security concern". He will not be allowed out of Australia and the authorities "will do what is appropriate in relation to him".
It is likely his passports will be confiscated and he will be put under surveillance by police and intelligence agencies.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights said Mr Ruddock should withdraw his comments that implied Mr Habib had engaged in terrorist activities. "It is deeply troubling that the Australian Government has forgotten a fundamental aspect of our justice system: a person is innocent until proven guilty in a proper court of law," said the organisation's president, Simon Rice.
"Ruddock kept in dark before Habib release, says Labor," smy.com.au, Jan. 15, 2005
So, is Donald Rumsfeld really through with Maymoud Habib?