Shrugging our shoulders at torture

The Senate has been sitting last week and this week. The Parliament will then rise, returning in the second week of August (missing the period which is usually the harshest part of Canberra’s winter). Pre-election hysteria has very much hit inside the sealed off bubble that exists around Parliament House, and any issue that doesn’t fit into the chosen storylines and mantra of the political spin doctors and commentariat tends to get quickly filtered out and cast aside.

It is somewhat understandable that this winnowing process occurs in a pre-election period, but occasionally it still surprises me how quickly some issues get pushed to one side. One example of this is the lack of major interest in the further revelations last week about the facilitation of torture by our key ally, the USA, and the fact that the Australian government knew quite well that one of our citizens, Mamdouh Habib, was taken for torture in Egypt, and basically acquiesced to this, whilst continuing to publicly deny it. Last week’s 4 Corners program detailed this at length.

Sally Neighbour, a reporter with The Australian who put the 4 Corners story together, gives more detail:

After being sent to Egypt by the CIA’s rendition team, Habib was held for six months in a tiny, windowless cell, infested with rats and cockroaches. He was beaten, given electric shocks, put in rooms that were slowly flooded with water, placed in a box smaller than a coffin, had cigarettes stubbed out on him, and had all his nails pulled out one by one.

His account has since been corroborated by other detainees and in court testimony in the US. His case was cited by US District Court judge Joyce Hens Green in her landmark ruling in January 2005 that the combatant status review tribunals in Guantanamo were illegal, in part because they relied on evidence obtained under torture.


During estimates hearings in the Australian Senate in 2004 and 2005, a number of senior government officials insisted they knew nothing of Habib’s rendition and had never been given formal confirmation by the Egyptian authorities that Habib was in Egypt. But a series of intelligence veterans with direct knowledge of the rendition program, including its founder Scheuer, say that Canberra would have been informed.

A former senior agent in the FBI’s bin Laden unit, Jack Cloonan, says: “It’s impossible for me to believe that the Australian Government did not know. Somebody is just not telling you the truth if they are denying this.” Internal government cables and memos support this assertion, showing that within days of Habib’s rendition, the Government knew he was in Egypt and “in the custody of an Egyptian agency”.

His presence there was confirmed definitively in February 2002, when two ASIO agents travelled to Cairo and discussed Habib’s case with Egyptian intelligence. The Government put out a statement saying it had obtained “credible advice” that Habib was “well and being treated well”.

This was simply false.

And even after this the Government continued to maintain that it had been unable to confirm Habib’s detention in Egypt. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told the SBS current affairs program Dateline: “We were seeking access to him, if he was there. It was never obtained. I think that’s the end of the matter. We have no knowledge of him being there.”

So our government co-operates with torturers, even when it involves the torture of our own citizens. Meanwhile, it deploys a battalion of lawyers trying to send nonviolent peace protesters to jail.

I’m probably being naive blaming the pre-election atmosphere for the lack of ongoing interest in this. Maybe it’s because this sort of news has become so common-place that people have lost the ability to be shocked by it. I remember writing a post on this blog back in January 2006, following some new revelations in a newspaper piece at the time, that maybe this will “finally increase the pressure on the Australian government about how willing it has been to turn a blind eye to the use of torture by our ally in the so-called ‘war on terror’.” Not much happened then either.

Our key ally, the USA, has its own form on how it deals with allegations of torture. The New York Times reports that ” The Army general who investigated the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal has said he was forced into retirement by civilian Pentagon officials.”

Yes, they’ve got rid of the guy who helped expose the torture. A good message to send to everyone in the military system – If you want to ruin your career, investigate allegations of torture. You can read the full interview with the General in this comprehensive story in the New Yorker.

General Taguba was assigned to the Office of Reserve Affairs at the Pentagon after completing the Abu Ghraib investigation. His March 2004 report on the scandal found that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees” at Abu Ghraib by soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company from October to December 2003.

He also questioned Mr. Rumsfeld’s claims that he had been unaware of the extent of the abuse and that he had not seen photographs documenting it until months after the Army began an investigation into the allegations in January 2004. General Taguba said senior Pentagon officials had been briefed on the case and given accounts of the pictures early in the investigation.

General Taguba said some of the most graphic evidence of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib had not been made public, including a videotape he said he had seen of a male soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.

Move on. Nothing to see here.

Like & share:


  1. This is also only the second time I’ve seen the 4 corners story mentioned in the blogosphere – it’s not just Canberra ignoring it. Your parliamentary bubble theory is plausible for that context, and for the MSM, but it doesn’t explain the ear-splitting silence everywhere else.

    I’d come to think of the blogosphere as a kind of 5th estate, keeping tabs on all the other estates, so it’s been disappointing (to put it mildly) that pretty much nobody is interested.

    Brownie points to you for raising the issue alongside the latest on Abu Ghraib. Is anybody paying attention, or are the latest poll results more worthy of consideration?

  2. Its all tip of the iceberg stuff,and Abbott wants to bring back corporal punishment..whilst there was silence…. there certainly was some modification.I dont think Australians are safe from torture as victims or perpetrators.All this talk of ,again,Aboriginal problems in the same week we get to know more than white miners might be interested in NT girls now the U.S.A. has built its plane golf course with agreement of Aboriginal owners.Dare say, the government and others will try to find some wedge here that proves fatal to those protesting Pine Gap. APEC around the corner,little war games off the coast of Little Queenie,practiced your American accent recently Senator!? They are throwing the bloody lot at you!? And heaps of enviro issues,social issues,industrial issues to come before the election. No time for cowards..I might even have to vote out of complete repulsion.

  3. The problem is that the media collectively demonised Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks without a trace of evidence they had ever done a single thing illegal or committed a single crime and now they dare to blame human rights activists as the Australian editorial has today.

    When it first came out that Habib had been tortured the government and Murdoch hacks led the charge to call him a liar and a fraud and bizarrely focussed on why he was in Afghanistan, as if that was some sort of crime or something.

    Now they are caught with nowhere to go without being called for what they are – svivelling, cowards and hypocrites.

    It is sickening and shameful but not unusual for this government – they have known about the torture of people in Abu Ghraib since 2003 and live in denial, demonise anyone who says so.

    There is an interesting case in the UK at the moment. A case was brought using the Bakhtiyari kids case against a group of soldiers who murdered an Iraqi man – 93 injuries he had after 6 British soldiers kicked and beat the stuffing out of him while he pleaded for mercy.

    The case lost in the lower court, but won in the High court – thanks to two young Afghan boys and their case the British are responsible for every person on any area deemed to be under the control of the Brits.

    Pity the same has not every happened here when habeas corpus has even been thrown in the bin for us.

  4. Pingback: Larvatus Prodeo
  5. i must admit, this enraged me no end. while i do not support the METHOD of ‘terrorists’ [who decides? gwb. u? ETc], i support NOT allowing our security forces of any breed, with implicit or explicit polly support, from becoming an instrument of terror.

    the reALLY big terrorists are eco terrors; be simple, count the bodies of any class.

    sadly, the big terror groups hold the levers of power, across the globe.

    such as ‘pollies’ who lack a soul and/or simply follow orders or slogans from the bowels of a false history [e.g., from religions, cults, sects, social GURU_***_sss etc>>>?].

    it is easy to counter the so-called ticking bomb slogan that is promoted as ONE instance justifying ALL torture i.e., it is a logical error going from the particular to the general. this type of reasoning under pins the whole of the ‘war on terror’ strategy via the goOD gals & guys, us.


    once people in power find the facts, unbiased or at least validated via fair process, then take FAIR & measured action[s].

  6. I’d just like to assure you that, in my case at least, I have not lost the ability to be shocked by torture or our complicity in the practice. My reaction to the continued revelations is more along the lines of impotent rage. I’ll certainly be excercising my democratic power at the next election and hope to see Howard’s reign consigned to history.
    It makes my blood boil to think that the country I live in and the government that represent me have allowed ANY of this torture to pass without the most strenuous condemnation. It’s also a sad indictment on those who re-elected Howard even after the Abu Ghraib stories broke and no rebuke of the US was forthcoming.

  7. Fleeced, I watched the youtube footage you posted and I saw the 4 corners program last week. The main thing about human rights that many people seem unable to reconcile themselves with is that all humans have rights, even those humans you don’t particularly like or those humans you think don’t deserve them.

    I don’t know Mamdouh Habib or David Hicks and quite frankly I don’t care to. But when the Australian government fails to fight for the basic human rights of these two Australian citizens what does that mean for the rest of us? God forbid I ever have to rely on the Australian government if something happens to me while overseas.

    When you are fighting for somebody elses human rights, you are in fact fighting for your own as well.

  8. Vivki: My point was not that such people “deserve” bad treatment… nobody does – and I’ll always stand against torture.

    But seeing them fake an injury to get police in trouble does put certain claims of torture under suspicion, no?

  9. Let us see the scars from the cigarette burns on this person’s body and then we’ll talk! Where is the YouTube video or Google pic? I have a cigarette scar from 20 years ago that is still visible and no one tried to “stub” it out on my hand, either.

  10. For pete’s sake fleeced, get a grip. The cops have been hounding a totally innocent man for all these years. Serves them right if they get a bit back.

  11. Thordaddy:
    Many forms of torture don’t leave a mark – even on a corpse.

    Andrew Bartlett:

    Yes, they’ve got rid of the guy who helped expose the torture. A good message to send to everyone in the military system – If you want to ruin your career, investigate allegations of torture.

    So what else would you expect out of a bunch of losers and imitation soldiers?

    Quite apart from the immorality and illegality of allowing foreign regimes to hold and ill-treat two Australian citizens ….. there is the practical military intelligence issue of two potentially very valuable and very recent sources of information and observations being left in the hands of a pack of ratbags, sadists, thugs and other assorted incompetents instead of being sent straight back to Australia for questioning WITHOUT TORTURE by competent experienced investigators.

    Our alliance with the US is such that any reliable intelligence gained thereby would have been made speedily available to the Americans.

    Heaven only knows what fairy-stories were eventually extracted under duress – or how many good soldiers died in operations based on faulty concoctions pretending to be intelligence.

  12. Yesterday, I was attended the Administrative Appeals Tribunal having been summonsed to give evidence by Mamdouh in relation to his application to have his passport returned. The viciousness of the government’s legal representative, the innuendo upon which they rely in perpetrating their case, is quite stunning. I am currently, with the Habib’s full cooperation, currently writing Mamdouh’s biography. What has been revealed to me thus far, is the picture of a beautiful family man that simply becomes outraged at injustice. One should not believe, at all, what one reads in the commercial-based media which has it’s own narrow-minded agenda to follow

  13. In relation to the injury sustained by Moustafa, I have viewed the diagnostic report issued by the hospital and it confirms that there was an injury sustained to his foot.

  14. “In relation to the injury sustained by Moustafa, I have viewed the diagnostic report issued by the hospital and it confirms that there was an injury sustained to his foot.”

    LOL… Claiming that after seeing the video just doesn’t wash.

  15. Graham Bell,

    “Snubbed” out cigarettes on a person’s skin will leave a mark. It would almost certainly leave a life-long mark. Where are these scars to substantiate the torture?

  16. I was going to support Thordaddy,because a cigarette burner was applied to my little finger knuckle,but,just looked at both hands,cannot see it.The burn site was visually abled to be seen for years,happened when I was about eight and wasnt medically treated. Whatever Habib.s family and himself problems are now,doesnt change the unwillingness of the Australian government to recognise its inconsistences,now spread to APEC via the N.S.W government and Police re who can protest….although it probably would be helpful if no riot gear,and battlegear was worn on either side,and,maybe a joint insurance cover by Police and protestors to show Good will.This could take the politics out of it and the registered,but,not allowed protestors could stand as proxies for those who cannot attend..and some non-attendees with higher incomes could help out on the insurance..or is it assurance.There may be many people willing to protest,but,if people considered the pressure on the Police, in other matters besides protesting, smaller numbers would mean security plus protesting meeting expectations of appropriate for Australia policing.Some organizations could auction of a proxy protestor number to raise monies for specific matters that are not considered a real threat to APEC countries,but lack monies.International protestors could then stay at home have someone protest on their behalf and put the money to better use.Messages carried by protestors could indicate the number of people registered as supporting them.Police could insist cameras by media treat protestor organizations seriously and comprehensively or lose access.

  17. What can I say? We live in an evil world where nearly everything seems to be wrong.

    You can run over children in your car and drive off leaving them to their fate, and get off with a small fine.

    If you kill an animal, the RSPCA will do their best to ensure you get a jail term.

    This is what appears to be the modern pecking order:


    If you are being tortured in a distant locale, most people would consider you a “one off” – unworthy of the slightest attention.

    Of very great concern to me as a parent is the tremendous push in our high schools to get students into the armed services.

    My son came home saying he wanted to join the Navy with a starting pay of $55,000.

    So I told him a little of what life at sea might be like, and how much the government would care about him after he had been slaughtered/maimed/tortured by Muslim fanatics in the USA’s oil war.

    I told him I would not sign the papers.

  18. Believe nothing of what you read or hear, and only half of what you see (especially if it is on TV, where nearly all of the footage/sound/vision/TRUTH may have hit the cutting room floor).

  19. i had a quick read of what andrew has to say – i often read his views AFTER i write my own. in this case, i think has done a very good hatchet job on our, oz, justice system – i think there ample grounds for this gov to be dis-missed by the GG.

    once u lose u-soul, it is not simply a matter of using spin doctors coming out of u ears, like jc & groupies seem to think.

    in fact, i think the case against gwb & CON_$$$ is even stronger – sadly, i think their supreme court lacks the BALLS to defend their system of justice. it seems to me that usa GOV [NOTE BEST, not the people of the usa], has been totally corrupted by power, greed & an arrogance that surpasses any theocracy that ever existed i.e., the usa has a LOT of military muscle.

    can usa make the changes? only the supreme court with military support could make the changes, the evil gals & guys are simply to well-entrenched at all levels of governance, business, ‘civil’ centres & academia.

    as it turns out, there is a ray of hope in the form of people like casti at the institute of advanced studies. he KNOWS gwb is full of sh***T and can see how the usa good into the poo, and by implication the rest of us slobs. further, casti has the resources & skills with people like ian stewart, of IMPLENTING my tech system AT A GLOBAL LEVEL.

    greed & arrogance can only see one thing, FORCE.

  20. basically, i am saying there should be a military take-over of the usa by its military. my guess is that a lot of reALLY pissed off generals, with a spARK of intuition & strategy, would agree with me.

    what happens when u com in chief is stark raving bonkers fellas?

    what happens if he is jihad george, who does NOT listen to any one except his soul-less buddies?

    what happens when u supreme court lacks balls to make HARD decisions?

    what happens when u system of gov has been totally sub-verted by the media, who control the flow of facts & views, AND a pack of lab-rats sniff around all the the genitals, of every polly ON BOTH SIDES OF THE FENCE!?

    i think u are in deep poo, and thus the rest of us are in the same POO***^U&i.

  21. Thordaddy [15]:
    There are a lot of factors in whether a burn leads to a VISIBLE scar – duration of exposure, temperature, location, etc, etc – suggest you talk to someone who works in a Burns Unit or a Plastic Surgery Unit first.

    Roy Barnes, you said [on 12]

    The viciousness of the government’s legal representative, the innuendo upon which they rely in perpetrating their case, is quite stunning.

    Why the surprise? This is the way the Commonwealth government treats any of its war veterans who challenge its whims-and-fancies …. do you think they would suddenly become more decent when dealing with someone smeared, some years ago, with allegations of being influenced by terrorists? Hardly. The horrifying thing is that they probably see themselves as being on the side of the angels and hence have no insight into their actions; we have seen this mentality elsewhere ………

    CORAL [17]:
    Hadn’t thought of what effect the torture controversy might have had on ADF recruiting.

  22. Graham Bell,

    I think the larger point is that there is little hard evidence that this person was tortured. Furthermore, it is beyond dispute that the definition of torture has been thoroughly cleansed of any definable features so much so that putting panties on a Muslim’s head or smearing fake menstrual blood is constituted as torture.

  23. dear thordaddy, it is true that there has been ‘little’ hard evidence for any thing at all, such as war in iraq.

    for my part, i ease my stress by assuming it is all just a bad dream & i will wake up some time soon, and then surprise/surprise/***?, it IS a bad dream.

    has there been torture? it depends on WHO defines torture. it also depends on access to the facts – people who do the torture are NOT going to leap into the public domain, and announce “hey, yeh, i did this/that/the other & so on”.

    is gitmo a place of ‘torture’? well, we will never really know, unless there is an unbiased umpire to test the facts of the matter.

    when u say “beyond dispute” it depends on who u talk to, as always. thus, if u want to give a view, a good thing, why not start from a common basis on a definition of torture. if torture is NOT defined, then the rule is “any thing is OKAY?” okay?

    let us assume people are going to lie thru their
    teeth, ONCE they get out of prison, to some where ‘safe’ – such as, the poms who got sent back from gitmo.

    is what they say evidence? well, it depends on who listens & their bias.

    let us assume ALL views given by ALL ex-gitmo conS is FALSE, or TRUE or a BIT of BOTH [the most likely case].

    do we have any INDEPENDENT evidence/facts?

    yes, we have publicly admitted statements of facts as set out by usa GOV agencies. these documents & statements set out the SYSTEM of interview & conditions & a ‘rough’ outline of what is permitted for PUBLIC review & analysis[at least to senate
    review, IFF imposed].

    do many countries ‘torture’? i do NOT know, i can only base my views that are in the public domain, as reported by credible sources. if a source is not credible, such as most commercial media, i say to myself “maybe” with a large measure of doubt. if abc, bbc and so on say some thing AND they provide some sort of evidence of source[s] and the people giving the report[s] have have credibility
    in MY eyes, THEN i say MAYbe.

  24. doctor victor kacala,

    There is little doubt that the definition for torture has expanded very recently and one need only look at Abu Ghraib for evidence of such a statement.

    I find it implausible that a completely innocent man was tortured and had cigarettes “snubbed” out on his skin with no resulting scars.

    I find it much more plausible that either a jihadist-sympathizing or jihadist-practicing Muslim was given very rough treatment that may have bordered on torture.

    How come we only torture innocent mistaken Muslims and never the ones that blow up dozens of people in the town square?

  25. Thordaddy:
    Now would be a good time for you to read some of the memoires of allied service personnel held as prisoners by Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea, North Viet-Nam, etc. Torture has not changed much at all in several decades, new technology notwithstanding.

    Torture is a SUBSTITUTE for competence, training, efficiency and the will-to-win …. those who use torture are losers and they are losers because they believe the rubbish that comes out of torture and sooner-or-later will launch military operations based on that rubbish…

  26. Graham Bell:

    Two other factors which relate to the degree of scarring are the person’s age and skin type – maybe even their state of general health and diet. Some people’s skins scar much more easily than others (e.g. keloid scarring).


    Since none of us was there to see what happened, we cannot be certain of anything.

    Thordaddy has a right to have his say whether we agree with him or not.


    People who blow up the town square killing dozens of people have already shown at first hand they are terrorists.

    They might then be subjected to an inquisition or other coercive methods to determine who their leaders are, and details of their operational plans.

  27. Coral,

    Minutes before that terrorist highjacks a plane, blows up a pizzeria or detonates bombs on a commuter train, he was a jihadist in training roaming our free societies.

    There are those that claim we cannot use extreme measures in order to stop such murderous intentions because such methods would be a violation of fundamental human rights. They have even begun to argue of new methods of torture that haven’t been traditionally recognized. Things such as panties on the head, smeared fake menstrual blood, being blindfolded naked are now considered torture by the new conventional wisdom. The practical effect is that we now have even less chance of stopping the jihadist who snuffs out the human rights of an indiscriminate number of innocent people.

    Those who hold an extremist stance on torture live in a fantasy world where jihadists are only a fictional account. The only guy that is ever tortured is the innocent Muslim man who knows nothing and just happens to be an unfortunate casualty of our people’s wanton desire to torture innocent men who know nothing about anything.

    Marylin is a perfect example of such a person. All I asked for was some YouTube video or Google images of the scars that would have been caused by having cigarettes “snubbed” out on one’s skin. Even this little request receives nothing but obfuscation and misdirection.

  28. Thordaddy [28]:
    Torture certainly does make people talk; they’ll talk their heads off – and if you are extremely lucky and the signs of the zodiac are in accord, you might get a useful hint or a name or whatever your heart truly desires.

    And none of it – absolutely NONE! – can possibly match the consistently reliable intelligence that comes from sensible planning, comprehensive training, prudent selection of responsible personnel to carry out the duties, adequate funding/resourcing, patient surveillance, careful collection of scraps of information, efficient record-keeping, inspired cross-checking and collation, open-minded analysis, good communications, thorough understanding of the enemy’s language and its underlying culture, swift well-advised action, firmness of resolve and a willingness to learn and adapt ….. not a mention of torture in any of that!!!

    Guess what? Almost everything that is extracted under torture can be obtained far more easily, quickly and unobtrusively off a local news-stand or overheard in a cafe or market-place or seen walking along the streets. Torture is the crutch of the lazy, the ignorant, the perverted and the fanatical.

    Re scarring – my suggestion in post 21 still stands. :-)

  29. Someone once showed me a book about UFOs.

    He showed me a picture of the field where a spaceship had landed on a particular date.

    All I saw was an empty field of grass.

    Then he showed me a black and white photograph of a cow which had been severely mutilated in the hindquarters (sexual organs). This he said had been carried out by aliens using lasers many years before we ever heard of a laser on Earth.

    All I saw were the results of a butchering which could have been carried out by anyone at any time.


    Are we going to jail all murderers before they have committed a crime? How will we know who and where they are?

    As an experienced exit counsellor, I think the best thing to do with any kind of destructive cultist (jihadist or otherwise), is to try to counsel them out of their destructive belief system.

    I once worked in a government department with a terrorist. He gave himself up to police years later.

    There are many misguided (mostly young) people who end up under the spell of dangerous cult leaders. They’re looking for a place to belong and something to believe in – often very high IQ people.

    The mother of David Hicks’ children said she would never have considered him dangerous. I thought the same of the man I worked with.

    BTW I would not rely on UTube or Google images of scarring. Makeup artists are fairly good these days.

    The only reliable evidence for me would be a chance to have a good look at the scarring, also touching it – and even then it could have been self-inflicted, couldn’t it?

  30. Graham Bell and Coral,

    The title of this post by Mr. Bartlett is, “Shrugging our shoulders at torture.” So we have a situation where the evidence of torture only meets the most minimalist of standards while Mr. Bartlett presumes our governments and people guilty of torturing an innocent Muslim.

    Why does Mr. Bartlett not presume our governments as innocent and Habib worthy of torture even when there is little evidence of Habib’s torture? We can’t even see his scars from the cigarettes “snubbed” out on his skin (does that even really qualify as torture?).

  31. I’m certainly not arguing with that, thordaddy.

    But you still haven’t answered my questions as to whether you think we should execute all murderers before they have committed the crimes, and how we are going to find and identify them.

  32. Coral,

    You can’t execute someone unless they have committed a capital crime, IMHO. Thinking about mass murder is not equivalent to committing mass murder. Yet, we still are obligated to confront those that are thinking about mass murder, and in extreme cases, torture may be required to thwart such potential carnage.

    Those that take an absolutist position against torture must acknowledge two things. First, their “principled” stance against torture will do nothing to stop a potential jihadist from carrying out a terrorist attack. Secondly, they may very well be sacrificing the lives of the innocent at the alter of their ideology.

    To claim that one’s stance against torture in all cases is a matter of fundamental human rights shows a blindness to the reality of this world and the very real consequence of innocent lives being snuffed out so as to give some a sense of moral superiority.

  33. With regard to the signs of torture on Habib’s body I can advise that two weeks ago I sat in on the proceedings before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where Mamdouh was seeking leave to have his passport returned. I heard expert evidence provided by a professor that stated that there were marks on Mamdouhs back consistent with kidney damage resulting from severe/excessive beating. [I have used my own words here as I am under and order not to quote from the transcript]

Comments are closed.