The Australian pilot Daniel Duggan’s conditions of detention are “extreme” and “inhumane”, a clinical psychologist has said, while his wife says his 128 days of isolated incarceration have left him “a shadow of himself”.
Saffrine Duggan has lodged a complaint with the United Nations human rights committee, arguing her husband’s segregated, maximum security imprisonment is unjustified and causing him severe psychological distress.
“I was shocked when I saw Dan recently,” Saffrine Duggan said. “He’s trying to fight this injustice but he’s a shadow of himself. He’s extremely gaunt and lost a lot of weight. His face is shallow and hollow, like he’s in a concentration camp.
“They are trying to break him by slamming him in solitary confinement and maximum security, surrounded by convicted terrorists, murderers, paedophiles. There is screaming day and night. They want to break the man I love. An innocent man with a large family who loves him dearly.”
Duggan, a former US marine pilot, was arrested last October at the request of the US government, which is seeking his extradition on charges of arms trafficking and money laundering more than a decade ago.
The father of six school-aged children, Duggan, 54, denies the charges and is fighting his extradition from prison, a process that could take months, even years to resolve.
It is an eight-hour return drive for Saffrine Duggan to see her husband. He has not seen any of his children since he was arrested more than four months ago, and has been allowed to speak with them rarely, and only briefly, by phone on six-minute phone calls.
“We live under a black cloud, as we carry a heavy heart every single minute of the day,” Saffrine Duggan told the Guardian.
“My son re-reads a letter sent to him from Dad saying how much he loves him and how proud he is of him, as [he] sits at breakfast crying then wiping his tears away before he goes to school. We have five birthdays this month in our family and the only present that everyone wants is their father home.”
Despite never having been convicted of a crime in any country, Duggan has been classified as an Extreme High Risk Restricted (EHRR) and Protection Non-Association (PRNA) prisoner. He is currently being held in a two-metre-by-four-metre cell at Silverwater in Sydney’s west.
“This is unprecedented and an affront to Australia’s rule of law and manipulation of the Australian legal system by the United States, at the expense of the Australian taxpayer,” Saffrine Duggan said.
The complaint lodged with the UN’s human rights committee argues Australia’s detention of Duggan violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by: failing to protect Duggan from inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; failing to segregate Duggan from convicted prisoners; violating Duggan’s right to adequately prepare his defence, and violating of his right to confidential communication.
The complaint states a clinical psychologist who assessed Duggan in prison described his conditions of detention as “extreme” and “inhumane”, and that – having never had mental health issues previously – he was now at risk of a major depressive disorder.
The UN human rights committee, an independent panel of international human rights experts, can respond requesting Australia take measures to “avoid irreparable damage” to the alleged victim.
The US alleges Duggan, a former US citizen now a naturalised Australian, trained Chinese fighter pilots to land fighter jets on aircraft carriers, in defiance of arms trafficking laws, and engaged in a conspiracy to launder money. Those claims have not been tested in court.
Duggan served more than a decade flying in the US Marine Corps, rising to the rank of major and working as a military tactical flight instructor.
He left the marines in 2002 and moved to Australia, becoming an Australian citizen on Australia Day 2012 and renouncing his US citizenship.
A 2017 US grand jury indictment, unsealed last December, alleges Duggan received at least A$116,000 (US$81,000) in payments in 2011 and 2012 for his work training Chinese fighter pilots at a test flight academy “based in South Africa, with a presence in the People’s Republic of China”.
The indictment alleges Duggan “provided military training to People’s Republic of China military pilots … and instruction on the tactics, techniques and procedures associated with launching aircraft from, and landing aircraft on, a naval aircraft carrier”.
Duggan strenuously rejects all charges against him as being of a political character, and politically motivated, his wife argues.
She said the indictment contains “half-truths, falsehoods and gross embellishments” and appears to be an effort to paint an extremely misleading picture where Duggan knowingly entered into a conspiracy to defraud the US government, an allegation he categorically rejects.
Australia’s extradition treaty with the US states that extradition must be refused if the alleged offence is of a “political character”. The principle of dual, or double, criminality also applies: the alleged offences must be a crime in both countries.
The federal attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, approved the US extradition request late last year. Duggan’s eligibility or otherwise for extradition will be initially determined by a magistrate, but there are avenues for appeal to the federal and high courts, which could take years to ultimately determine. The attorney general makes the final decision on all extraditions.
Saffrine Duggan said she had received “overwhelming support” from around Australia and the world but her husband’s ongoing incarceration had devastated his close-knit family.
“Given the size of our family and the legal costs involved, we are struggling to make ends meet, but we will fight this injustice.”
The family has launched a petition calling on the Australian attorney general to refuse the US extradition request.