General Omar Suleiman — Hosni Mubarak’s new vice-president and possible replacement as pressure on Mubarak to resign grows — tortured Australian Mamdouh Habib, according to Habib’s account about his experience of illegal rendition.
The Australian Government recently settled a long-running compensation case brought by Habib after his release from Guantanamo Bay in 2005. The Egyptian-born Habib had been arrested in Pakistan in the wake of 9/11 attacks. The settlement came in the wake of further evidence, revealed by The Australian, that Australian officials had been present at the interrogation of Habib in Cairo.
Habib has repeatedly claimed since his release that Australian officials, including DFAT and intelligence agency officials, were present when he was interrogated, a claim repeatedly denied by the Federal Government. At one point, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock denied having any information on Habib’s whereabouts, despite extensive evidence that the Australian Government knew exactly where he was and what was being done to him.
Habib was tortured in Pakistan before being secretly moved via a CIA rendition flight to Egypt, where he spent five months. He was subsequently moved to Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay. Richard Neville has provided extensive details of Habib’s kidnapping and torture, including his interrogation in Egypt, based on Habib’s account (read Neville’s full account at his website www.richardneville.com.au.)
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Habib’s settlement with the Federal Government included a confidentiality agreement. Neville wrote:
Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman, whose is ranked second in power to President Hosni Mubarak. Back in 2001, Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Suleiman slapped Habib’s face so hard, the blindfold was dislodged, revealing the torturer’s identity. According to his memoir, Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.
He was again interrogated by Omar Suleiman. To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib – and he did, with a vicious karate kick. Suleiman is expected to be the next President of Egypt.
Suleiman played a key role in the US Government’s illegal rendition program. The central nature of his role in the rendition program and the “investigation” and “prosecution” of detainees sent to Egypt under the program is discussed in a Wikileaks cable from 2005:
General Soliman’s stature and power in the Egyptian establishment, and his history of close cooperation with the USG on counterterrorism, corroborate the Egyptian intent take responsibility for the detainees in such a way that protects both U.S. and Egyptian security interests.
As the cable shows, Habib was only one of many men subjected to kidnapping and torture by the US Government and its allies. Worse, Habib’s experience is only one of many thousands in Mubarak’s Egypt, where torture has been described as “widespread and persistent” and an “epidemic”.
A 2004 Human Rights Watch paper noted that torture and beatings by police had gone beyond political dissidents to anyone in police custody, including children. In July, the blatant beating to death of an anti-corruption activist by police drew widespread international attention.
Far from pressuring Egypt to end its extensive use of torture, the US and its allies like Australia appear to have been eager to exploit it.