Dissident Australians tortured by US military
Peter Mac Hard on the heels of revelations that Australian prisoner of war David Hicks was beaten by the US military comes the story of the torture of the other Australian detainee, Mamdouh Habib. Both men are still being held by the US at the infamous (and illegally occupied) military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after allegedly having been involved in the military resistance to the US invasion of Afghanistan by Taliban forces in 2001. Habib was captured in Pakistan and handed to the US military. With the complicity of Australian officials they subsequently flew him to Egypt, where for five months he was tortured by the use of electric shocks and beatings, in between being interrogated at gunpoint. He was later taken to Guantanamo Bay, where he was subjected to beatings and pepper spray, and was dragged around the prison by chains attached to his feet. He was detained for long periods in solitary confinement, was subjected to the sort of sadistic humiliation for which the US military has now become notorious, and became mentally unbalanced after being told that his wife and children had died. Hicks was captured in Afghanistan by soldiers loyal to the Northern Alliance warlord group, which was then an ally of the US. While in captivity there, and later on a US naval vessel, he was repeatedly bound hand and foot and beaten by US personnel, was subjected to sleep deprivation and was kept shackled during interrogation sessions. A fellow prisoner, Pakistan-born Shah Mohammed, said that because of his ethnic background Hicks was given especially vicious treatment by US military personnel, who called him "the white boy". At Guantanamo Bay he was kept in solitary confinement for nine months. The Howard Government has rejected claims of mistreatment against the two Australian prisoners. However, their stories have now been confirmed by fellow prisoners who have since been released. One prisoner recalled seeing Hicks undergoing beatings and interrogation, while another stated he witnessed Habib screaming in agony as he was dragged about the Guantanamo Bay prison by his shackled feet. True to form, the government has dismissed these allegations. The Prime Minister John Howard retorted that the witness to Habib's mistreatment had been a Taliban supporter, and, by implication, was therefore incapable of telling the truth. In point of fact, the witness, a Pakistani baker, was simply employed by the Taliban to bake them bread, and was rounded up with all the others when the Taliban compound was overrun. He was later released after being officially classified as posing "no threat to the United States military and its interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan". In reply to Howard's statement, Hick's lawyer, Stephen Kenny, pointed out that the government had accepted the Bush administration's assurances that the Australians were being well looked after in Guantanamo Bay, but that the same administration had assured the government there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the US invasion. "I wish the government had treated that story with a grain of salt", Kenny added. The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, also poured cold water on the reports of abuse of Hicks, on the grounds that he had not heard of these matters even though they occurred a considerable time ago. However, the government is almost certain to have heard these reports, since Hicks claimed to have told representatives of the Australian Government and the Red Cross of his maltreatment, and a former British prisoner claims to have heard Habib tell Australian Embassy officials everything that had happened to him. For his part, Kenny pointed out that as Downer would undoubtedly have been aware, under the terms of the agreement Kenny was forced to sign with the US military, he is unable to make public the details of the prisoners' allegations. Fortunately, the US authorities recently made a false statement about the case, which under the agreement Kenny is entitled to refute, thereby revealing the substance of Hicks' allegations. There are certain to be more revelations about the sufferings of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. According to witnesses, the interrogation sessions were filmed by the prison authorities. Despite their long captivity, none of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners has been tried. But in a terrible twist, the unfolding evidence of the brutal American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has become part of a public trial, not of the Guantanamo Bay inmates, but of US imperialism itself and its monstrous activities in those long-suffering countries.