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.