Terror defendants ‘were mistreated’

TERROR defendant Bassam Raad, who was this week acquitted of all charges, claimed a German shepherd dog sniffed around his naked genitals during a strip-search by guards at Barwon Prison.
Mr Raad claimed he was made to stand naked for 10 minutes and apologise for calling the officers “pigs” before being allowed to put his clothes back on. He alleged the incident involved three guards and a dog handler and occurred on March 22 last year.
Other claims were made about ill-treatment in jail of the accused in the Benbrika terror trial, which concluded this week. They include allegations of assault, of men spending hours in a van with no water and no air circulation on a hot day, and of asthmatics being forbidden from carrying their inhalers on two-hour road trips.
The incidents allegedly occurred when the men were in high-security at Barwon Prison and commuting to court in the city each weekday.
Their daily routine involved rising at 5.30am, spending four hours in transit with their hands and feet shackled and being subjected to at least two strip-searches. Lawyers said they saw no daylight except when entering and leaving the van.
The claims can be revealed following verdicts this week in the trial of Abdul Nacer Benbrika and 11 other Melbourne Muslims on charges of fostering terror in the pursuit of violent jihad. Seven were convicted, four acquitted and no verdict was reached for one defendant.
Bassam Raad’s claims were made in an affidavit by his then solicitor, Peta Murphy, which was tendered on March 27 last year during pre-trial hearings.
The affidavit also made other complaints about the way Bassam Raad and others had allegedly been treated when returning to Barwon jail, near Lara, after court in Melbourne on March 22.
Mr Raad, along with Hany Taha (who was also acquitted) and Benbrika, later complained that they had been assaulted by Security and Emergency Services Group escort officers that day.
Mr Taha said he was manhandled, resulting in a mark on his left arm, and Benbrika alleged he was pushed into a holding cell and assaulted.
The complaints were referred to police, who concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations.
That the assault claims were reported to police was revealed in an affidavit to the Supreme Court in June last year by Michael Carroll, acting deputy commissioner of prisons.
Mr Carroll said the men were rated in prison as “A1”, the highest security risk. He said this was due to the seriousness of their charges, the risk that they might join together to threaten prison security, their likely danger to the community if they escaped, and the risk to the defendants from other prisoners “when the defendants may be vocal in contrary views from those of other prisoners”.
He said the rating was based on information about the defendants from Australian Federal Police. He said jails had since developed a national policy on dealing with those accused of terrorism offences.
“In May 2007, the Correctional Services Administrators Conference agreed in principle with the approach taken to deal with prisoners charged with terrorism offences in security classification and reviewing their security status,” he said.
In her affidavit, Ms Murphy said the men claimed that on March 22 the air-conditioning had failed in one prison van, leaving no ventilation on the 33-degree day, and that in the other van the air-conditioning was flipping between extreme heat and extreme cold.
When the armour-plated trucks reached the jail, the men were left inside without air circulation and denied water for up to one hour and 45 minutes, the affidavit said. One of the vans was parked in the sun.
Ms Murphy said the men told her that they were sweating profusely and suffered from dehydration, dizziness and breathing difficulties and that defendant Shane Kent lost consciousness. (The jury this week failed to reach a verdict on whether Shane Kent was a member of the organisation.)
Ezzit Raad vomited several times throughout the night, she said, and another three defendants requested consultations with a psychiatric nurse following the incident. (Ezzit Raad was this week convicted of being a member and of attempting to make funds available to the organisation.)
Ms Murphy’s affidavit was was not relied on in the proceedings as it was hearsay.
Benbrika’s lawyer, Remy Van de Wiel, QC, told the court: “I mean, not even Carl Williams, a man who has reportedly … killed 10 people, suffers the deprivations that these people do in custody.”
Mr Carroll said he had reviewed the failure of air-conditioning on March 22. “I consider it was a most unfortunate incident … Now that checking of the air-conditioning is a standard part of servicing of the truck, I believe the risk of breakdown of the air-conditioning should be substantially minimised.”
The long-running issue of the men’s jail conditions came to a head publicly in March this year when defence lawyers applied to have the trial stopped on the basis that the men’s treatment was inhumane and prevented the trial from being fair.
Justice Bernard Bongiorno agreed that the regime was intolerable. He said he would stop the trial and consider bail applications if the men were not moved to the Metropolitan Assessment Prison. He said they should not be shackled and should not be strip-searched if they had been under constant supervision in secure areas.
His warning followed a weekend in which two of the defendants were moved in crisis from Barwon and assessed as having psychiatric conditions.
The 12 men were moved and their security regime eased.
· See a terror trial multimedia special