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Guantanamo protest play in Australia

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

The Habibs
Mamdouh stars in the drama while his wife is played by an actor

Allegations of rendition and torture have been dramatised in a play starring Mamdouh Habib, an Australian held for several years at Guantanamo Bay.

Waiting For Mamdouh details the ex-captive's recollections following his arrest in Pakistan a month after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

He was suspected of training extremists and of having prior knowledge of the hijackings.

The production explores Mr Habib's complaints of mistreatment while in custody in Egypt, something he claims was orchestrated by the US.

"They try to keep their hands clean but they sent me to Egypt for torture," the former cafe-owner says in a monologue during a rehearsal. "I have been beaten [and given] electric shocks. I hear people suffering, screaming in the other cells."

'Good reasons'

The play was co-written by the former terrorism suspect and also explores his wife Maha's difficult experiences in Australia during his incarceration.

The part of Maha Habib is played by a young actor, who rails against the authorities in Canberra for allowing Australian citizens to be detained without charge at the US facility in Cuba.

There were apparently very good reasons why my government of the day did not repatriate him back to Australia sooner
Fran Bailey
former Australian cabinet minister

"He is not a dog that we just lock up in a cage and leave to die," she says in the play. "I urge the Australian government to help my husband and to bring him home. He is in hell and he does not deserve this."

During a break in rehearsals, Mamdouh Habib, a chain-smoker in aviator sunglasses, said that years after his release he still felt besieged.

He claimed to be under constant surveillance - an assertion the Australian federal police have refused to comment on.

"They won't leave me alone because they want me to be a dog, a coward," he said.

Although Egypt-born Mr Habib was never formally charged, he was held at Guantanamo Bay for almost three years.

A devout Muslim, he has insisted that he was looking at religious schools in Pakistan for his children after becoming disillusioned with life in Australia.

A former cabinet minister, Fran Bailey, has denied allegations that Australia's previous conservative administration abandoned Mr Habib during his time in custody.

"Any minister making a decision - no matter what the matter is, whether it is repatriating someone back to a country who is held by another country on foreign territory - you really can only act on the best advice from your department," said Mrs Bailey.

"There were apparently very good reasons why my government of the day did not repatriate him back to Australia sooner."

The government in Canberra has previously scrutinised Mr Habib's allegations of torture but could find no evidence to support them.

But the co-author of Waiting For Mamdouh, Kuranda Seyit, believes the 10-minute production - part of a theatrical festival in Sydney - will shock the audience.

"A play like this can really highlight the types of abuses that we can all fall in to," he says.



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