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Mamdouh Habib to be released from Guantanamo -

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Mamdouh Habib to be released from Guantanamo Bay

Reporter: Jonathan Harley

HEATHER EWART: For three and a half years, Australian terror suspect Mamdouh Habib has been
imprisoned in three separate countries without one charge ever being brought against him. Now, he's
about to walk free. American and Australian authorities have consistently claimed Habib had prior
knowledge of the September 11 attacks. But suddenly last night, the Australian Government announced
he would be released and returned home. It's a dramatic vindication of a man whose lawyers and
family have always claimed is innocent. But Canberra is still not letting go. In a moment, I'll be
speaking to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, but first, this report from Jonathan Harley.

NEWSFILE: The lawyer acting for an Australian man in US custody for suspected links to the al-Qaeda
network says the handling of the case has been disgraceful.

JONATHAN HARLEY: For the best part of the last three years, Mamdouh Habib has been incarcerated
here: the United States' detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It's the place America keeps
for the men it calls "the worst of the worst" - men accused of being ruthless terrorists.

MAN: These are bad people.

JONATHAN HARLEY: But soon, Mamdouh Habib is to walk free, having never been charged. But how free
will he be?

PHILIP RUDDOCK (ATTORNEY-GENERAL): The United States considers Mr Habib to be an enemy combatant
who has been detained in accordance with the laws of war.

MAHA HABIB (WIFE OF MAMDOUH HABIB): All I can think about is having him back with us.

STEPHEN HOPPER (MAMDOUH HABIB'S AUSTRALIAN LAWYER): The battle from now on will be to redress the
violation of his rights.

JONATHAN HARLEY: The announcement of Mamdouh Habib's release was made late last night and began
with an apology.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I apologise first for asking you here so
late in the evening, knowing...

JONATHAN HARLEY: There had been no clues as to what was to follow.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: The United States has now advised us that it does not intend to bring charges
against Mr Habib. In these circumstances, we have requested Mr Habib's repatriation to Australia.
The United States has agreed to that request.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Mamdouh Habib's own family had been told just moments before this public
announcement, and his wife, Maha Habib, was so shocked, she needed the Attorney-General's
Department official to repeat the news.

MAHA HABIB: I understood it, but I just want to make sure.

JONATHAN HARLEY: You didn't believe him?

MAHA HABIB: No, and then he repeat everything all over again, and I sat down and said, "Are you
telling me that my husband's coming soon?", and then he said, "Yes."

JONATHAN HARLEY: For Maha Habib, it's been an excruciating three years of not knowing what's
happening to her husband or even where he was being held.

MAHA HABIB: I've been all that time patient, and I think I can be patient until the time or the
moment when God demands for him to be returned and reunited with us.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Mamdouh Habib's three-year odyssey began in Pakistan, where he was arrested in
October 2001, just weeks after the September 11 attacks in the United States. He was flown from
there to Egypt, where Mamdouh Habib was held for six months before being taken to the US military
base at Bagram in Afghanistan, and then, for the bulk of his apprehension without charge, to the
American detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. It's expected Mamdouh Habib will be home with his
family within weeks, if not days. But his legal battles are not over.

STEPHEN HOPPER: We'll be seeking a number of remedies that are appropriate in the circumstances.

JONATHAN HARLEY: What do they include?

STEPHEN HOPPER: Well, obviously compensation. There could be defamation actions to restore his
reputation, and various other things that I'd rather not disclose at this stage.

JONATHAN HARLEY: There are hints of frustration from Attorney-General Philip Ruddock about
America's handling of the Habib case.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: But we are nevertheless disappointed at the way in which this matter has been
handled; it'd be very foolish to say otherwise.

JONATHAN HARLEY: But there will be no offers of redress from a government which has consistently
called Mamdouh Habib a terrorist.

JOHN HOWARD (PRIME MINSTER): We don't have any apology to offer.

JOURNALIST: What about compensation?

JOHN HOWARD: No. We won't be offering compensation.

JONATHAN HARLEY: In fact, Mamdouh Habib is not out of legal danger. His American lawyer, Joe
Margulies, has told the 7.30 Report that he's only guardedly optimistic that Mamdouh Habib will be
released soon from Guantanamo Bay.

JOE MARGULIES (MAMDOUH HABIB'S AMERICAN LAWYER): I have not heard, at least from the United States
Government, anything official. All I have read is the same thing anyone could read, which is the
Department of Defense press release saying that while he will be released, "the timing remains
under discussion", and that is altogether too vague and indefinite for me to be comfortable.

JONATHAN HARLEY: There also remains the prospect of charges being brought against him in Australia
and the likelihood of ongoing surveillance by intelligence authorities.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: But as I said, he remains of interest in a security context because of his former
associations and activities.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Mamdouh Habib has kept controversial company. He was filmed in 1991 in New York
among supporters of militant Egyptian-born cleric Omar Abdul Rahman. The so-called Blind Sheik was
later convicted over the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. American and Australian
authorities maintain that Mamdouh Habib later trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and even had
prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks. But with insufficient evidence to even bring charges,
the credibility of Mamdouh Habib's three-year legal limbo comes under renewed scrutiny.

PROFESSOR DON ROTHWELL (INTERNATIONAL LAW, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY): Australians should be aware that
they cannot seek any guarantees from the representations of their government, from government
officials or from government ministers if they've been improperly detained while overseas.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Just last week, papers lodged in a US court alleged an Australian official
witnessed Mamdouh Habib's apprehension and interrogation in Pakistan, before he was flown to Egypt,
where he was subjected to "unspeakable brutality". Professor of International Law Don Rothwell
believes that the government must explain what happened and that history will judge its handling of
Mamdouh Habib harshly.

PROFESSOR DON ROTHWELL: An Australian citizen was effectively abandoned whilst overseas, whilst
having their human rights abused, and it will be a fairly shameful episode.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Maha Habib just wants to see her husband together with their children. She's
worried about what physical and psychological state they'll find him in, and doesn't know how
they'll rebuild their lives.

MAHA HABIB: I think they should back off and just leave us alone and leave him alone. He's been
through a lot, and they know that, and for nothing, you know. He committed no crime; crime been
committed against him, you know. I think the criminal in this situation is the government. They
committed the crime.

HEATHER EWART: Jonathan Harley reporting there.