Sunday, February 13, 2005

"Detainee Says He Was Tortured in U.S. Custody," Raymond Bonner's front page story on this morning Times

Raymond Bonner's "Detainee Says He Was Tortured in U.S. Custody" is on the front page of the New York Times and belongs there.

Mamdouh Habib still has a bruise on his lower back. He says it is a sign of the beatings he endured in a prison in Egypt. Interrogators there put out cigarettes on his chest, he says, and he lifts his shirt to show the marks. He says he got the dark spot on his forehead when Americans hit his head against the floor at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
After being arrested in Pakistan in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, he was held as a terror suspect by the Americans for 40 months. Back home now, Mr. Habib alleges that at every step of his detention - from Pakistan, to Egypt, to Afghanistan, to Guantánamo - he endured physical and psychological abuse.
The physical abuse, he said, ranged from a kick "that nearly killed me" to electric shocks administered through a wired helmet that he said interrogators told him could detect whether he was lying.
Speaking publicly for the first time since he was freed two weeks ago, Mr. Habib, a 49-year-old Australian citizen born in Egypt, also described psychological abuse that seemed intended to undermine his identity - as a husband, a father and a Muslim man. At Guantánamo, he said, he was sexually humiliated by a female interrogator who reached under her skirt and threw what appeared to be blood in his face. He also said he was forced to look at photographs of his wife's face superimposed on images of naked women next to Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Habib's claims of mistreatment and torture cannot be confirmed, yet many are in line with accounts from other former detainees, as well as from human rights reports and from some government agents involved in the detention system. In addition, Australian officials confirm Mr. Habib's movements during his confinement, including his imprisonment in Egypt, where his lawyers say the United States sent him for harsh interrogation through a process known as rendition.

Democracy Now! has been covering this story in great detail. But the fact is, though scanners of the paper may not know it, Bonner's been covering this as well for the Times. It just didn't turn up on the front page.

As we noted on January 29th in "What the Fluff Patrol (Sanger, Stevenson & Bumiller) left out of Thursdays with Bully Boy:"

Today, buried inside the paper (A4), you'll find a long article by Raymond Bonner entitled "Australian's Long Path in the U.S. Antiterrorism Maze." Here are the opening paragraphs:

For more than three years, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian with a volatile temper and an intense devotion to radical Islam, was in American custody, transported from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Egypt to the prison at Guantánamo Bay.
The Americans designated him an "enemy combatant," saying he had admitted to having prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks and to having trained some of the hijackers. He said he confessed while in Egypt only to stop the waves of torture.
But Mr. Habib's journey came to an unexpected end on Friday afternoon at Sydney's international airport when he stepped off a white executive jet and was set free.
Another section of the article:. . . what distinguishes Mr. Habib's case are the severity of the accusations on both sides - the Americans' allegations of his connection to Sept. 11, and his charges, in legal papers made public earlier this month, that he was subjected to a process called "rendition," under which the United States sent him to Egypt. There, he says, he was tortured with beatings and electric shocks, and hung from the walls by hooks.
In a statement, the Department of Defense said, "There is no evidence that any Australian detainee in D.o.D. custody was tortured or abused." United States officials have acknowledged using renditions but say they do not condone torture.
Australian officials confirmed that Mr. Habib was indeed taken to Egypt, and added that when they interviewed him at Guantánamo, he told them of being beaten and given electric shocks in Egypt.
In separate interviews, three senior Australian officials agreed to discuss the case on condition of anonymity, in part because they were discussing intelligence material and sensitive diplomatic negotiations. Moreover, some of what they said went beyond what has been asserted
publicly. . . .
In early October, Mr. Habib was heading to Karachi to catch a flight home when his bus was stopped by Pakistani police officers, who seized two Germans wanted in Germany in connection with a terrorism investigation. When Mr. Habib protested to the officers about the arrests, they took him away, too. Within weeks, the Pakistanis turned Mr. Habib over to the Americans, but not before they, too, tortured him, Mr. Habib told his lawyer, Joseph Margulies.
One form of torture in Pakistan, Mr. Habib said, involved hanging him on hooks with his feet on the side of a large drum. Wires from the drum ran to what seemed to be a battery. When the interrogators were not satisfied with his answers, they threw a switch and a jolt of electricity shot through the drum, causing it to rotate and leaving him "dancing" on it. When he slipped off, he said, he was left hanging.
. . .
Australian officials said this week that consular officials had sought access to him in Egypt, although at the time the Egyptian government said repeatedly that he was not being held there. When Australian investigators visited Mr. Habib after he had been taken to Guantánamo, he told them he had been tortured with electric shock and beatings in Egypt, an Australian official said.
The Egyptian Embassy here declined to answer any questions about Mr. Habib.
Mr. Margulies's affidavit contains further statements by Mr. Habib about his time in Egypt.
For almost six months, the affidavit says, Mr. Habib was kept in a small, roach-infested, windowless cell, roughly 6 feet by 8, with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. He slept on the concrete floor. He was taken out for interrogations, sometimes in the middle of the night. Sometimes he was hung from hooks on the wall, he said. He was "kicked, punched, beaten with a stick and rammed with what can only be described as a cattle prod," Mr. Margulies wrote.

Bonner's earlier article belonged on the front page but didn't end up there. Today this one does.
Read the article but in case you don't have time (or need further persuasion), we'll highlight two more sections from Bonner's front page story:

Mr. Habib's lawyers have alleged that he was sent to Egypt as part of the rendition program, which the United States has used increasingly to transfer terror suspects to countries where they can be interrogated, sometimes using practices not allowed in the United States, according to American diplomats and C.I.A. officers. In recent months, several stories have emerged of men who say they were the subject of renditions and complain of being mistreated by their captors.
One frequent destination for renditions, those officials say, is Egypt, which has a history of torture. In its 2003 human rights report, the State Department said "there were numerous credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated detainees."


At Guantánamo, Mr. Habib was also interrogated by Australian investigators who hoped to learn enough from the Americans to prosecute him, Australian officials said. But, one of them said, "all they had was that he was caught on the bus, and whatever he gave up under 'extreme circumstances' in Egypt."
When the Americans decided last month not to charge Mr. Habib, the Australians sought his release. With Mr. Habib back home, Australian officials have revoked his passport and say they intend to monitor him closely.
A few days ago, Mr. Habib said, he gathered his family and told them everything that had happened since he left Sydney in July 2001. Just in case something bad happens to him, he said, "I want them to know fully everything."