Guantanamo Detainee Loses Court Case
by Rohan Sullivan
March 7, 2008
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — A judge ruled Friday that claims by a former Guantanamo Bay inmate that he was tortured could not be fully believed because his testimony was inconsistent and may have been exaggerated to try to help him win a defamation lawsuit.
But Mamdouh Habib almost certainly was mistreated during his three years of detention without trial in four countries after being arrested in Pakistan in late 2001, during which he suffered extreme stress and trauma, the judge found.
The findings came in a judgment in Habib's case against Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper in which he claimed that the paper defamed him by implying he lied about being tortured.
A jury in 2006 found in Habib's favor, but the paper's publisher, Rupert Murdoch's Nationwide News Pty. Ltd., sought to knock down the case by proving that there was some truth to its article.
On Friday, Justice Peter McClellan of the New South Wales state Supreme Court upheld News' case, and ruled Habib would get no payout. Habib vowed to appeal.
Habib, an Egyptian-born Muslim immigrant, was arrested in late 2001 in Pakistan, where he says he was held for 28 days and interrogated by Americans before he was transferred to Egypt, then six months later to the U.S. military base at Bagram, Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Habib told the court he had been beaten and electrocuted by his captors while he was in Pakistan and Egypt, kept drugged and shackled, had his fingers broken, and was sexually molested.
He claimed that Australian officials were present during parts of his ordeal.
Habib said that while at Guantanamo he was regularly beaten before interrogation sessions, kept shackled and often naked, and had his cell sprayed with pepper spray.
In his ruling, McClellan said he could not accept a lot of Habib's evidence because it was inconsistent with previous statements he had made. The judge also found Habib was "prone to exaggerate," and "evasive" when pressed on details.
"I have no difficulty in accepting that the experiences which Mr. Habib suffered were traumatic" and were an "extraordinarily stressful experience," McClellan said.
"I also have little doubt that from time to time he was mistreated," he said, citing electric shocks, kicks and the use of hot and cold water as included in the likely abuse.
"However, the evidence he gave was disjointed and on many occasions he failed to respond to a question," the judge said. "I have ultimately concluded that I cannot accept the allegations of mistreatment in the detail which he gave the evidence in this court."
"That does not mean that I have concluded that these events did not happen but merely that I cannot be satisfied that they did happen," he said.
Habib was returned to Australia in January 2005, one of just two Australians to have been jailed at Guantanamo. The other, David Hicks, was released last year after serving a sentence for supporting terrorism that was struck in a plea deal.
No charges were ever filed against Habib, and the Australian government says he has committed no crime under Australian law, though it canceled his passport and says it still considers him to be a security threat.
Habib has made torture allegations in numerous media interviews and in his defamation case. He has also given inconsistent and confusing explanations about why he traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The Telegraph article was an opinion piece on his claims.
Outside the court on Friday, Habib said he would continue to fight the case "to the last drop of blood."
"I spent half my life in Guantanamo Bay, the rest I'm going to spend in an Australian court house," he said. "I want to get justice, that's what I'm after."
Habib is also suing the federal government for compensation, arguing the government failed to uphold his rights as a citizen during his detention. It was not immediately clear what effect Friday's ruling would have on the compensation case, which is under way in a different court.