& Sarah Stephen, Sydney
Freed Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib and his family were given a long and moving standing ovation when they made a surprise appearance at a public forum organised by the Canterbury-Bankstown Peace Group on February 24. Titled "Who are the real terrorists?", the forum was attended by 100 people.
Habib thanked everyone for their support, saying he felt that everyone in the room was his family. He added that he would gladly answer people's questions about his time in Pakistan after he has had his day in court.
Habib's lawyer, Stephen Hopper, told the forum that people's reaction to Habib, whenever he went out in public, exposed the federal government's lie that most Australians regarded him as a "terrorist suspect". Hopper said that wherever Habib has gone, whether it's walking down the street in Palm Beach or in Bankstown, he has been swamped by crowds of well-wishers, hugging him, shaking his hand and expressing their disgust at the way the government has treated him.
Hopper was vicious in his attack on the Australian government, arguing that the biggest injustice of all was that an Australian official — who represented himself as the Australian consul from the High Commission in Pakistan — watched Habib being interrogated and tortured in Pakistan, but did nothing; said nothing. The official handed Habib a leaflet and told him that if he wanted a lawyer he could call the numbers on the leaflet. When Habib asked to use the official's mobile phone, the official refused.
Hopper recounted Habib's recollection of the day in October 2001 when he was kidnapped by US military thugs and forced onto a plane. While one soldier put a boot on Habib's face and neck, another cut his clothes from him. Habib had a suppository inserted into his rectum, and was dressed in a nappy while a soldier took photos and told Habib he'd show them to his girlfriend. Hopper described Habib's treatment as "reminiscent of Abu Ghraib".
Hopper explained that, while on the plane, Habib was hooded and repeatedly beaten. Habib wasn't told where he had been taken, but he recognised the sounds he heard as coming from Egypt, his country of birth. He was held in a cell and tortured for five or six months.
Hopper was scathing of calls from some Muslim leaders for Habib to explain his movements prior to his arrest in Pakistan. "Habib has been denied access to the legal system for three-and-a-half years. Mamdouh Habib will tell all when he goes to court, where the evidence can be properly tested, and corroborated with other evidence. We will see which story stands up in a court of law — Mamdouh Habib's or the government's."
Hopper said that he has listened in detail to Habib's story and he is in no doubt that he is telling the truth.
Other speakers at the forum included Rihab Charida from the Sawiyan Coalition for Palestine, who spoke on the terrorism that the Palestinian people suffer on a daily basis at the hands of Israeli occupation forces. She described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the most inequitable battles in the world.
Charida accused Israel of jumping on the anti-terror bandwagon, claiming "victim" status while destroying whole towns and the livelihoods of 200,000 people through the construction of its apartheid wall.
Raul Bassi, speaking on behalf of the Canterbury-Bankstown Peace Group, posed the question: Who are the real terrorists in Iraq? He asked why Iraqis who were fighting for their national freedom from an invading army were vilified as terrorists when the majority of deaths in that country since March 2003 have been caused by the US-led occupation forces. Bassi said that the anti-war movement is "against the 'war on terror' as Bush, Sharon, Blair and Howard depict it — they are the real terrorists".
Bassi expressed happiness that Habib was home, and launched the peace group's petition demanding compensation for Habib and the return of his passport.
Former Australian political prisoner Tim Anderson, framed for the 1978 Hilton Hotel bombing, told the meeting: "Our leaders have carried out horrific crimes in our names. We are responsible for what they do if we do not question them or name them."
Anderson pointed out that, unlike the US government, Australia's leaders are accountable to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and the public "needs to look for new paradigms for discontent — start speaking straight, get away from the doublespeak, it's about time we grew up as a nation and named war criminals for what they are".
From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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