No evidence Habib a terrorist, says ASIO agetn


An Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) spy told a NSW Supreme Court judge on December 4 that Australian counter-terrorist authorities had no evidence that Mamdouh Habib had engaged in terrorist-related activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan before he was abducted by US authorities in October 2001.

The ASIO officer, dubbed "Officer 1", said that he had interviewed Habib three times after he had been arrested in Pakistan. Within a month of the interviews, Habib was handed over to US officials and flown to Egypt.

Officer 1 said he was aware now that Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, had been taken to Egypt, but had no role in the abduction and would have stopped it if he could.

After spending about five months in an Egyptian prison, Habib was flown by US authorities to the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was held without charges as an alleged al Qaeda terrorist.

Despite a relentless campaign of accusations by US and Australian governments, US authorities announced in January 2005 that they would not be charging Habib with any crime. He was returned to Australia later that month.

Upon his return, Habib claimed that an Australian official stood by and watched while US government agents tortured him in Pakistan.

In February 2006, a jury found that an opinion piece in News Ltd's Sydney Daily Telegraph by columnist Piers Akerman had defamed Habib by implying he made false claims of torture, and that he was a liar and a terrorist. Justice McClennan was hearing testimony on whether NSW Ltd has a defence and whether Habib should be awarded damages.

Officer 1 revealed for the first time that two US officials, believed to be CIA agents, as well as an Australian Federal Police officer, Mark Briskey, and several Pakistani officials participated in two of the 2001 interviews the ASIO officer conducted with Habib.

Officer 1 also revealed that he never identified himself as an ASIO officer to Habib, nor did he inform Habib of any rights he had — such as to decline to answer questions.

While Officer 1 played a quasi-consular role by offering Mr Habib a list of Pakistani lawyers and the business card of an Australian consular official, Alistair Adams, he never bothered to find out whether Habib had been able to make a phone call.

Officer 1 said he was not present during the alleged torture in Pakistan and says he would have moved to stop it if had he known about it.

Speaking via video link, Officer 1 said Habib appeared to need help with walking after returning from a brief break in questioning on two occasions during three separate interviews. But he said he was not convinced Habib was being mistreated by Pakistani authorities.

In earlier evidence presented to the court, it was revealed that a foreign affairs official, two federal police officers and an ASIO agent had submitted a report to the Howard government in 2002 detailing Habib's horrific allegations of torture in Egypt. PM John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer did nothing to investigate them and, three years later, were still protesting they did not know Habib had even been in Egypt.