|Mamdouh Habib was accused of ties to Al Qaeda.|
Ex-detainee runs for Australian parliament
Had been held at Guantanamo
SYDNEY -- Former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib says he's no enemy of democracy. To prove it, he's running for election at home in Australia.
Tomorrow, Habib will contest the district of Auburn, a predominantly Muslim suburb of Sydney, in elections for the parliament of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state.
He says he is undeterred by polls that give him little chance of success, and insists he will run for a federal parliament seat this year if his state bid fails.
US officials accused Habib, an Egyptian-born immigrant, of traveling to Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and knowing about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they happened. He was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 and detained for three years.
Habib says he was sent back to his native country and tortured at Washington's behest, a life-changing ordeal that spurred him to enter politics as a campaigner for human rights.
"They say I'm against democracy. Who's against democracy? What's democratic about taking people from their homes, kidnapping, and torturing them?" Habib said yesterday during a break from campaigning.
Habib has not given a clear explanation about why he was in Pakistan, referring variously to business reasons and researching schools for his children.
In media interviews and an affidavit presented to a US court in 2005, Habib said he was held in Pakistan for 28 days -- at one point being interrogated by three Americans -- before being transferred to Egypt, where he alleges he was beaten, shocked, and nearly drowned.
After six months, he was sent to the US military base at Bagram, Afghanistan, and then to Guantanamo Bay. He was returned to Australia in January 2005.
No charges were ever filed, and the Australian government says he has committed no crime under Australian law.
Since returning to Australia, Habib has been a high-profile critic of Prime Minister John Howard's support for US foreign policy, including the Iraq war and "extraordinary rendition" -- the secretive practice of grabbing terrorist suspects in one country and sending them to another for questioning.
He regularly speaks at anti war protests and human rights forums sponsored by the Socialist Alliance, an Australian far-left group.
Wearing aviator sunglasses, a long black ponytail, and a wrist band with the slogan "Change the World," Habib, 51, strikes an unlikely figure for a politician.
In an interview at a suburban shopping mall cafe, he chain-smoked cigarettes and discussed topics ranging from his ordeal to suspicious rants against President Bush and Howard, whom he blames for failing to call for his release.
He said he wants to expand opportunities for young Muslim men and improve education and healthcare in his mostly immigrant community. "If you want to defend the community, why not go to parliament?" he said.
Local media and government officials have treated Habib's candidacy as a novelty that has little chance of success.