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Doctor defies call for Habib file

The Australian
Sally Neighbor
July 2, 2007


MAMDOUH Habib and his psychiatrist are at loggerheads with the federal Government over an attempt by the commonwealth to obtain the former Guantanamo Bay detainee's medical file.

Mr Habib has gone to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal over the refusal by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to return his passport, cancelled in January 2005, three days before his release from the US military prison.

Chris Tennant, professor of psychiatry at Sydney University, was called last week to give evidence about whether Mr Habib had a pre-existing mental disorder before he was tortured in Egypt, where he was held for six months after being captured in Pakistan and before being sent to Cuba. It has previously been disclosed that Mr Habib was receiving treatment for depression before travelling to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001.

Dr Tennant says he examined Mr Habib in February 2005, a few days after his return from Guantanamo Bay, and diagnosed "as florid a case as I've seen" of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This assessment confirmed an earlier diagnosis referred to in a medical report issued at Guantanamo Bay on January 17, 2005. It stated that "most of his psychiatric issues included visual hallucinations of his wife and children, recollection of torture he experienced in a foreign country before being taken into custody and major depression".

Dr Tennant says that reliving the trauma in court would cause Mr Habib extreme anxiety and agitation, and would be exacerbated by his belief that an ASIO agent attending the AAT hearings was also present during his torture in Egypt.

The commonwealth has denied that any Australian official witnessed Mr Habib's torture.

After giving evidence to the AAT, Dr Tennant was asked to hand over his file on Mr Habib, but refused to do so on the grounds of doctor-patient confidentiality. "I said to them look you've ambushed me, you've brought me in here with my file and now you want to subpoena it, and I'm not prepared to beambushed," he told The Australian.

Dr Tennant is now anticipating a subpoena demanding the file from counsel for the commonwealth, Andrew Berger.

He has sought advice from the Medical Defence Union and plans to resist any attempt to force him to provide the file. "I'm happy to give it to the AAT, but not to the Government. I'm not prepared to hand it over, in effect, to ASIO, because that's where it would end up -- in the hands of Mr Habib's enemies," he said.

The federal Government is opposing Mr Habib's attempt to reclaim his passport, on the grounds that he is likely to engage in conduct prejudicial to Australia's security if allowed to travel overseas.

It has cited Mr Habib's links to the 1993 World Trade Centre bombers in New York, his previously stated support for Osama bin Laden and his travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where ASIO alleges he visited training camps run by al-Qa'ida and its Pakistani offshoot, Lashkar e-Toiba.

The hearing before the AAT is subject to extreme secrecy. The AAT will not release any information on the case, citing Section81 of the ASIO Act, which bars any AAT officer from providing any information about a security assessment review, under penalty of two years in prison.

The secrecy provisions also prevent Mr Habib, who is representing himself in the case, from hearing some of the key evidence against him. Under Section 39 of the AAT Act, the Attorney-General may certify that evidence whose disclosure "would be contrary to the public interest because it would prejudice security" must be heard in the absence of the applicant and anyone representing him.

Mr Habib says he has twice been ordered to wait outside, afterthe commonwealth's counsel sought a closed court to discuss information central to his case. "It's worse than Guantanamo Bay," Mr Habib told The Australian.

The case has been adjourned for two months.

Sally Neighbour is a senior reporter with The Australian and ABC's Four Corners.

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