Thursday, February 17, 2005

Habib sacks psychiatrist over torture comments

A leading psychiatrist has been dismissed from Mamdouh Habib's legal team after publicly backing Mr Habib's claims that he was tortured while in detention at Guantanamao Bay and in the Middle East.

The head of psychiatric medicine at the University of Sydney, Christopher Tennant, examined Mr Habib on his release and has told the 7:30 Report he showed classic symptoms of terrible and brutalising experiences.

Professor Tennant's comments have angered Mr Habib's lawyer Stephen Hopper, who says his comments have potentially affected future legal action and breached his client's confidentiality.

"The whole issue here is the breach of doctor patient confidentiality and the Habibs have lost confidence in Professor Tennant, and they no longer wish to deal with him, that's it," Mr Hopper said.

Mr Hopper says Professor Tennant's good intentions do not make his actions right.

"There are strategies put in place and things are very sensitive, and for someone who has joined our team to release information in an unauthorised fashion is simply unacceptable," he said.

Professor Tennant said he realised he was breaching confidentiality in going public without Mr Habib's permission, but believed it justified.

"In technical terms yes I did, but I did try to contact Mr Hopper and Mr Habib and was unable to do so," he said.

"After considerable deliberation, I thought at this point in time Mr Habib's version of events warranted at least some substantiation."

Torture claims

Last night, Professor Tennant said he took issue with statements ASIO chief Dennis Richardson and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty made to a Senate committee in regard to Mr Habib's treatment.

Before a Senate committee on Tuesday, Commissioner Keelty said that Mr Habib had claimed during questioning in Pakistan that he had been kidnapped and tortured by men in yellow uniforms.

Commissioner Keelty said he dismissed the claims as "a concoction" Mr Habib made up to serve as an alibi for his activities in Afghanistan.

Mr Richardson backed Commissioner Keelty's view, dismissing Mr Habib's story as "humbug" and saying Mr Habib was in Afghanistan at the time and was with people who had a history of "murdering innocent civilians".

Professor Tennant says Mr Habib's claims should be taken seriously.

"[We have had] the witnesses before the Senate, Keelty and Richardson, who I think inferred strongly that they had no evidence of torture," Professor Tennant said.

"We've had [Attorney-General Philip] Ruddock speaking out saying he has no evidence of torture despite inquiries and I thought that was all kind of spurious.

"I believe Mamdouh Habib has probably been tortured."

Difficult to fake

Professor Tennant examined Mr Habib for two-and-a-half hours shortly after he returned to Australia from Guantanamo Bay.

He says the scars from Mr Habib's experience are not just psychological.

"He showed me marks on his back, he showed me cigarette burns on his body and the subsequent examination by another professor of medicine ... confirmed that he's got skin discolouration on his right loin, which would be consistent with old bruising which in turn would be consistent with beating possibly," Professor Tennant said.

He says he has also seen a medical report from Guantanamo Bay which backed Mr Habib's story that he was beaten while in US custody. Professor Tennant says it would be difficult for Mr Habib to fake the symptoms he observed. "He would've had to have had access to a very good psychiatric textbook and to be a very competent actor," he said. "I don't believe he had either of those two attributes."

By Taunted and Tortured 17 February 05


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