The question comes to mind as the NSW Supreme Court continues to slice open that can of worms known as the Mamdouh Habib case.

We’d previously learned that Howard and Downer and other senior government ministers had been briefed on Habib’s allegations of mistreatment as far back as mid-2002. Not only did they make no effort to investigate (it was only torture, after all), they blatantly lied to the public by claiming well into 2005 that they hadn’t even known that Habib had been sent to Egypt.

Now the Australian security agencies have admitted to possessing no evidence implicating Habib in terrorism at the time the Americans kidnapped him from Pakistan and sent him to Egypt.

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That’s particularly significant given that former CIA officers have said Habib’s rendition could not have taken place without Australian complicity. Jack Cloonan, a former agent from the Bin Laden Unit, explained to the ABC in June: “It’s impossible for me to believe that the Australian Government did not know that the Pakistani Government — maybe at the urging of the United States and others — didn’t know that one of their citizens was being rendered to a third country. I can’t imagine under what circumstance the ASIO representative in Islamabad didn’t know what was going on.”

Obviously, ASIO understood the reason why the US liked to transport prisoners to Egypt. So our spy agency seems to have agreed to hand a man over for torture — even though they didn’t have any evidence against him.

If that’s not mind boggling enough, consider some of the other testimony from the case.

Apparently, an ASIO agent (known only as “Officer 1”) did, in fact, visit Habib during his detention in Pakistan. He noted the curious fact that, during a break in questioning, Habib couldn’t walk unaided. Yet the prisoner’s mysterious incapacity didn’t seem to have bothered our man in Islamabad, since he flatly declined Habib’s repeated requests to talk privately away from his gaolers. Nor did he find out whether Habib had been given a phone call or understood his rights to refuse questioning.

If that weren’t enough, there’s also the question of ASIO’s relationship with the Murdoch press. Habib’s barrister Clive Evatt has accused the agency of being “hand in glove” with the News Ltd papers, with friendly journalists given access to material censored in the documents provided to the court.

We’re only getting this fascinating glimpse of our secret agents at work because of Habib’s defamation case against the loathsome Piers Akerman. But what we’ve learned so far surely necessitates a full, public inquiry.

Which brings us back to Rudd and JC.

In his much admired Monthly essay on religion and politics, Kevin Rudd opined that Christianity meant siding with the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed.

Well, it’s hard to think of anyone more vulnerable than a prisoner in a Pakistani gaol, at the tender mercies of the CIA, the local thugs and the sinister Officer 1.

Unfortunately, there’s another scriptural referent when it comes to the mistreatment of prisoners. Christ might side with the oppressed, but Pontius Pilate, with his eye on the polls, washed his hands. So let’s see what our new PM does.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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