“Hidden evidence over Mamdouh Habib’s torture claims suggests the
Australian Government suppressed critical facts in the case and
repeatedly misled the public,” Marian Wilkinson wrote in The SMH over the weekend.

Just what happened to the former Guantanamo Bay detainee? Was he
tortured in Egypt by “one of the most torture-prone security services
in the world” on the way to Guantanamo? Who cares?

“One former Howard cabinet minister told the Herald he could not
recall a government official ever raising a legal question over Habib’s
transfer to Egypt when it happened,” Wilkinson reports. Yet it appears
that an Australian has undergone the “rendering” process that is
causing such strife in Europe and the United States:

Today, a year after Habib was released from Guantanamo Bay,
there is growing evidence that the Australian Government suppressed
critical facts in the case and repeatedly misled the public about what
it knew about his rendition and torture.

Hundreds of documents on the case, requested by the Herald under
freedom of information law, have been released to the paper heavily
censored. Some, along with interviews with former government officials,
politicians and lawyers, raise serious questions about a government
cover-up.

Specifically, one former government official has told the Herald that
despite the Government’s claims that the Egyptian Government never
confirmed Habib’s imprisonment, ASIO was involved in its own
negotiations with the Egyptian intelligence services to allow an
Australian intelligence officer to interrogate Habib in the Egyptian
prison.

Habib has long claimed that during his time in Egypt he was interviewed
by an ASIO officer. He also alleges he was shown documents from his
home in Sydney that had been seized in the ASIO raid.

According to one former government official, Richardson set up “a
parallel process” to question Habib while he was in Egypt, “seeking to
get access through intelligence links” with the Egyptians.

On this account, ASIO officers travelled to Cairo two or three times
believing they would get access to Habib. But the Attorney-General,
Philip Ruddock, said ASIO did not get access to him. “No Australian
official, including ASIO, was ever provided with access to Mr Habib,”
his spokeswoman said.

Wilkinson claims to have evidence the Government lied:

Mr Habib says he was interviewed by an Australian
intelligence officer in an Egyptian jail. Hundreds of documents on the
case released to the Herald under the Freedom of Information act have
been heavily censored but they reveal that while ASIO was negotiating
with the Egyptians, it circulated misleading information that Mr Habib
was “well and being well treated” in Egyptian custody at a time when he
was most likely being tortured by Egyptian security services. This
advice came from ASIO’s Egyptian counterparts.

The documents show this false information was taken up in “media
talking points” by the Department of Foreign Affairs in March 2002.
“Australian authorities (if asked: intelligence authorities) have been
told that the man is well and being treated well,” it reads, citing
this as “credible advice” despite Egyptian security services being
notorious for the torture of terrorism suspects.

The documents reveal that there was no doubt within the Government that
Mr Habib was in custody in Egypt despite public statements by Mr
Ruddock and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, that
this could not be confirmed after Mr Habib disappeared from Pakistan
after his arrest in October 2001. A declassified secret Foreign Affairs
cable shows that on November 19, 2001, Canberra told the embassy in
Cairo without qualification that Mr Habib was in Egypt.

Only a handful of bleeding hearts have tried to ensure Habib – and
David Hicks – enjoy the processes of what we believe a justice system
should entail.

Yet Wilkinson paints a portrait of an Australian citizen broken by treatment instigated by our great and powerful friend.

The charitable interpretation is that we are all now Barry Goldwaters, proclaiming “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice.”

Another is that Australia’s national security agencies are out of
control, out of democratic oversight – and that the vast majority of
our parliamentary representatives don’t give a damn.

Peter Fray

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