ASIO head honcho Paul O’Sullivan told a Senate Hearing that Australia expressed its opposition to Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib being sent by the US to Egypt after he was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 – The Age and The Australian report the story today.

Habib is of Egyptian origin. He speaks fluent Arabic. Why would Australia object to a short holiday in the home country? Because the Howard government knew that Habib was going to be tortured.

They also knew about the Bush administration’s practice of extraordinary rendition – the outsourcing of torture to another country which lacks the strict laws against torture that would (at least in theory) enable a detainee to bring action under US law.

Habib’s torture is mentioned by former British Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg in his memoir Enemy Combatant. He tells of a detainee who had been kidnapped by Indonesian security services and sent to Egypt where he was “held in a tiny room and interrogated brutally for three months before being handed over to the Americans”. That detainee told Begg of “the screams of another man [Habib] from a room nearby”. Begg himself recalls Habib as “a man who was often made to stand but kept fainting and dropping to the floor”.

Back in November 2005, hardly 10 months after Habib was finally released from Guantanamo, the Washington Post reported of “a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe”.

But it isn’t just foreign governments helping the CIA by providing venues for its gulags. In their 2006 book Torture Taxi: On The Trail Of The CIA’s Rendition Flights, AC Thompson and Trevor Paglen mention that even commercial airliners are contracted to transport suspects to and between CIA prisons.

The Oz reports: “The Prime Minister’s Department told estimates last night it had no record of whether then prime minister John Howard was advised of the situation.”

If ASIO knew but Howard didn’t, on what basis would ASIO communicate Canberra’s displeasure to the United States over Habib being the subject of extraordinary rendition?

At the very least, one can say that the Howard government’s insistence on blindly supporting the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda was often at the expense of Australian citizens.

Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen, spent years being abused and tortured in Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan and then Guantanamo. After all that, he was released without charge. Whether the Australian government was complicit in all this remains to be seen. But the fact remains that someone in Canberra knew in advance what would happen to Habib.