The Guardian 23 February, 2005
Howard Government backs torture
Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill said last year — after the revelations of the torture of prisoners in Iraq by the occupying American forces — that no Australian personnel have been involved in the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. He has now been exposed as lying to the Australian people. And it is now clear that the Howard government's position on this fundamental human rights question is that it unofficially supports the use of torture.
The abuses at Abu Ghraib prison brought this from the Defence Minister on June 16 last year: "Defence has thoroughly reviewed the information available to it, and has confirmed the key facts in this issue; Australia did not interrogate prisoners, Australia was not involved in guarding prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, or any other Iraqi prison."
In fact Hill claimed that Australian forces had nothing at all to do with prisoners, only for it to be revealed last May they were holding about 100 Iraqis. The fuller meaning of that has now been brought out. Australian forces were not simply guarding the Australian Embassy as claimed — they were also involved with Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad airport, where they were interrogating prisoners.
Camp Cropper is where "high value detainees" are imprisoned, such as scientists and government officials, as revealed by former defence intelligence officer Rod Barton last week. It is also where one leading Iraqi scientist died from head injuries.
Last March, following his return from Iraq where he was working with the Iraq Survey Group, Mr Barton told the Defence Department that Iraqi prisoners were being mistreated and that he believed Australian personnel should no longer interrogate prisoners at Camp Cropper.
He has since resigned in anger at the failure of the Government to act on his advice.
In an interview on the ABC's Four Corners program on February 14, Rod Barton said, when asked of his concerns about prisoner abuse: "Yes. There's a separate prison, not Abu Ghraib. There's a prison where what is known as 'high value detainees' are kept.
"It's called Camp Cropper, and it's near the airport. And we had … prisoners kept there, about 100 prisoners in all, and these are all senior people from Iraq."
He went on to describe some of the conditions at the prison. They include the small, isolated cells which amounted to prisoners being kept in solitary confinement; the disorientation process where a prisoner has a hessian bag tied over his head for two days; also prisoners with cuts and abrasions — when he asked how they came about he was told the prisoner had "resisted arrest".
Mr Barton was told the death of senior scientist Mohammed Hamdi Azmirli at Camp Cropper in February 2004 was from a brain tumour. However, the autopsy showed he had died from brain damage due to a beating, including a fractured skull and a broken jaw.
Hill is playing word games, saying the Camp Cropper prisoners were "interviewed" not "interrogated". A fractured skull and a broken jaw — some interview!
During his imprisonment in Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay and Egypt, Mamdouh Habib — who was released by the US with no charges being laid after three years of incarceration — said he was tortured. Accused terrorist Joseph Thomas, out of prison on $100,000 bail, said he was tortured as a prisoner in Pakistan.
In response, ASIO Director-General Denis Richardson and Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, have rejected as one Habib and Thomas' claims.
Two psychiatrists, on the other hand, have unequivocally stated that both Habib and Thomas display evidence of being tortured. As for the other Australian citizen incarcerated by the US military in Guantanamo Bay, David Hicks, the government is clearly trying to keep him away from public scrutiny.
But last week the Amnesty International legal observer at Guantanamo Bay, Jumana Musa, was in Australia on David Hick's behalf. When asked why she had come, she replied, "Because Australia is the only country that seems to have come out and said that the idea of trying their own citizen before this process [US military tribunal] might be okay, and I think that should be a concern to anybody."