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Detainee Sent Home to Australia

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2005; Page A21

Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after more than three years, arrived in Sydney yesterday and was immediately freed by the Australian government. He boarded a small aircraft with his wife and child and flew to another location in the country.

A government spokesman said Habib, 48, whom U.S. authorities say they suspect of being an al Qaeda trainer, is unlikely to be charged with wrongdoing but will be kept under surveillance, in line with an agreement reached with the United States as a condition of release.

Mamdouh Habib arrives in Sydney after being released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Dan Peled -- AP)

Habib's attorney, Joseph Margulies, who accompanied him on the flight, said Habib slept a lot and will soon seek treatment for physical and mental problems. He plans to spend time alone with his family, Margulies said.

Habib looked gaunt as he disembarked and shook hands with Australian officials at the airport. He has alleged that after his capture in Pakistan in October 2001, he was taken by U.S. officials to Egypt and tortured there during interrogation. He asserts that he confessed to halt the torture and was later taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo Bay in May 2002.

Three Britons released from the same prison -- Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul -- have said Habib was in "catastrophic shape" when he arrived. Most of his fingernails were missing, and while sleeping, he regularly bled from the nose, mouth and ears. They said U.S. officials often denied him treatment.

Habib, who was born in Egypt and left when he was 18, moved to Australia decades ago. He has told his attorneys that he went to Pakistan to find a home for his family, which he wanted to have a more Islamic lifestyle.

Habib's fate seemed to change earlier this month when a U.S. District Court ordered the disclosure of classified court papers related to his effort to block what he believed was a U.S. plan to transfer him back to Egypt. The papers revealed Habib's allegations of torture in Egypt.

The Defense Department, with President Bush's approval, decided to release Habib and four British detainees.

Margulies said Habib was unshackled during the trip and had been allowed to change out of prison garb. But he said that Habib was kept shackled for eight hours in a holding area before leaving. As he waited, Habib told Margulies, a U.S. official informed him he was being taken back to Egypt. Later, a military policeman whispered to him that he was actually going to Australia, Margulies said.

The United States insisted that the Australian government charter an airplane to take Habib home, at a cost of about $250,000.

Habib's sister, Sally Habib, told an Australian radio station that she had spoken to him by phone before leaving for a family reunion: "I just cry . . . I just want to see him and touch him and hug him and . . . I'm so excited, but I know he needs a rest and he's happy now, and I'm happy, too."

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