PolySciFi Blog

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Mamdouh Habib

I had said I would do my research on Habib and report back, so here it is.

Brief overview
In short, there may be merit to Habib's charge that the US had him transferred to Egypt from Pakistan and there may be merit to the charge that the US didn't take the required precautions to ensure that Habib wouldn't be tortured. (In comparison, I don't think we did anything wrong with Arar.) The first charge hinges on an interview with a Pakistani Interior Minister and the second is made in the absence of evidence to the contrary. However, while there is the possibility of the US doing an extraordinary rendition here, I'm currently giving the US the benefit of the doubt pending the discovery of new evidence.

Habib is probably a bad man
In 1980 or 1982 (I've seen both - I could research this fact further, but it's immaterial to the discussion), Habib moved from Egypt to Australia. In 1993, shortly before the World Trade Center bombing, Habib visited sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (the blind sheik) which got Habib on various watch lists. I'm unclear what happened with Habib over the next several years. There's a charge that Habib trained the 9/11 hijackers in karate, but that seems unlikely.

On July 29 2001, Habib left to Pakistan on a 3 month Visa for the stated reason of looking for schools for his children (a claim I find dubious in light of the following). Shortly before 9/11 (I don't know the exact date and I doubt it's public domain), the Aussies intercepted a phone call from Habib to his wife in which he told her the something big was about to happen in the US. This doesn't mean that he was in on the planning, but it probably means he was moving in al Qaeda circles. The Aussies also claim (I don't know what the evidence is) that Habib was training in the camps in Afghanistan during this time.

To me, there's enough here to justify picking him up.

Habib's run-in with "the law"

On October 5, in the town of Khuzdeh, in Baluchistan province bordering Afghanistan, Mr Habib was arrested by Pakistani security officials (not from a watchlist but from being where his Visa didn't allow him to go). Habib alleges that over the next three weeks he was interrogated by Americans (I don't doubt this claim - I would hope we would) and that he was tortured in the presence of an Australian official. (I doubt this claim, however. Not just because Australia has denied it, but because it would be stupid to watch with other witnesses there.) Habib also claims he was roughed up by some Americans in Pakistan shortly before the transfer to Egypt. This may be true, but I don't really care about this claim because:
"Mr. Habib started to fight with the Pakistanis, he recalled, and "then the Americans came and started beating me.""
(Nor do I care if they next stripped him because a strip search prior to boarding a plane seems appropriate, particularly when a prisoner had just started a fight with his guards . Nor do I care about them taking pictures of Habib because if his custody was about to be transferred, it's probably a good thing to document what kind of shape he was delivered in.)

Then Habib was transferred to Egypt where he alleges very bad things happened to him. Egypt denies this, of course (I lost my link for this), but I don't think they have a lot of credibility in this department.

After 6 months Habib was transferred to Bagram for a short stay before being transferred on to Guantanamo. At Guantanamo, Habib alleges that he was fake menstruated on (which I don't really care about), lied to about the death of his family (which I don't care about), shown photoshopped pictures of his family (which I don't care about), and had his head struck against the ground (the circumstances determine whether or not I care about this).

Eventually the US decided it didn't want to try Habib, nor transfer him back to Egypt (who had petitioned to get him back) and sent him back to Australia where he is preparing a lawsuit against Australia.

Some general comments
There are two real issues here as far as the US is concerned.

1) Did the US request the transfer of Habib from Pakistan to Egypt?
2) If so, did the US get promises from Egypt that they wouldn't torture Habib?

Most of the claims in this case rest solely on the claims of Habib and his cell mates. While prisoners don't make for credible witnesses (and Habib in particular has some credibility issues), that's immaterial as there's no way a prisoner could have first hand knowledge of who requested his transfer, so I completely ignore his charges with respect to these two issues.

The two pieces of evidence cited in the New Yorker with respect to these two issues are also useless.
1) The New Yorker cites other Guantanamo detainees who could be useful for determining mistreatment, but they would not be useful for determining the details with regard to a request for Habib's transfer from Pakistan to Egypt.
2) The other piece of evidence cited by the New Yorker is flight logs showing that the US transfered Habib from Egypt to Pakistan in April 2002. This is just silly. How does a transfer (acknowledged by everyone) into US custody by a US plane have any bearing on any possible transfer between Pakistani and Egyptionan custody six months earlier? That we transfer prisoners around is no big secret (how else did we get all those people to Guantanamo) and, again, his transfer to Bagram from Egypt is denied by no one.

However, there's one credible piece of corroborating evidence that I found beyond what's typically reported. That's a July 2004 interview with Pakistani Interior Minister Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat in which the following exchange occurs:
REPORTER: Did the Australian Government ask to have Mamdouh Habib deported to Australia?


REPORTER: And who sent Mamdouh Habib to Egypt?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: You see, now you are transgressing into some very sensitive areas, you know. This is an area, unfortunately, we cannot simply share the outcome of the investigations with anyone.

REPORTER: Was it a Pakistani decision?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: Obviously it's a Pakistani decision initially, because if anyone is caught on Pakistan soil, it's Pakistan's decision, it's Pakistan's prerogative, certainly.

REPORTER: So, just to clarify, it was a Pakistani decision to send him to Egypt?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: It's not exactly a Pakistani decision. You know, a person who is caught in Pakistan - let me also clarify this. If he or she is of Pakistan origin, certainly they do not go out of Pakistan. If that person is of foreign origin, then if he or she is wanted by a foreign government - any government - they put in a request to Pakistan and the arrangements which we have on a reciprocal basis, on a bilateral basis, even with some countries on a multilateral basis, if we feel that their request is valid and genuine, then we do accede to that request.

REPORTER: Which country are you talking about?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: I'm talking about all the countries. The US, the European Union, Egypt, you know, all these countries.

REPORTER: So are you implying that Egypt request...

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: No, Egypt did not request us.

REPORTER: Egypt definitely did not request Mamdouh Habib?


REPORTER: So did the United States request him?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: Yes, they did request it, yes.

REPORTER: The United States requested that he be sent to Egypt?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: The US wanted him for their own investigations. We are not concerned where they take him.

REPORTER: You don't see it as Pakistan's issue?

MAKHDOOM SYED FAISAL SALEH HAYAT: No. As far as we are concerned, we were satisfied with our own investigations at that point in time. Once that was over, once we were satisfied with our own investigations, certainly we had no problem handing him over to another ally of ours.

REPORTER: The Americans?

A couple comments on the interview (the transcript never comes back to Hayat after that line).

1) We gotta sign up that reporter (Bronwyn Adcock) for the CIA. For a "sensitive area" that the Pakistanis "cannot simply share the outcome of the investigations with anyone," Hayat sure crumbled quickly under questioning.

2) Where are the obvious follow-up questions? a) What is the name of the US official that requested this transfer? b) What evidence do you have to back up this claim?

I don't particularly fault Adcock for not following up as she was pursuing the Aussie angle, but where are the American journalists with these questions? It's been half a year since this interview and I can't find any follow up interviews.

I think these two follow questions are important for the following reasons.

1) If you want to actually get to the bottom of this case and not just demagogue the issue *cough* New Yorker *cough* we need to follow up with the only person who can credibly claim to have first hand knowledge of who authorized the transfer.

2) The US government and the CIA (although I've read where this may have been the FBI) in particular are highly compartmentalized. Unless you have a good name to begin with, you'll never get anywhere. If official after official denies knowledge, you'll never know if they're denying knowledge because the US really didn't authorize the transfer or if they're covering up.

3) Hayat should produce evidence (forms or taped phone calls which should presumably exist if we were actually taking the trouble to photograph Habib as Habib claims) so a) his credibility on this claim and b) there's an angle to go after whatever official Hayat names. [You say you didn't authorize this transfer? Isn't this your signature? Isn't this your voice on tape?]

Of course none of this addresses my second issue of whether or not the US requested that Egypt not torture Habib. But that's only relevant after we establish that the US made the transfer to Egypt.

Bottom line
For the moment, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the US as there's only one person (Hayat) who could credibly claim to know that the US requested the transfer and the interview where this comes out is rather odd. Call this a 65-35 belief that the US did nothing wrong with Habib versus my 99-1 belief that the US did nothing wrong with Arar Of course both assessments are subject to revision if additional information becomes available and I would very much like to see a follow up interview with Hayat.


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