The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Editorial

Covering Up

More and more evidence is emerging to confirm that Howard government Ministers are lying when they claim that they had no knowledge of Mamdouh Habib being in Egypt — a favourite country to which the US sends alleged terror suspects for torture.

In his interview on the SBS Dateline program, Habib alleged that Australian representatives were present on some occasions when he was being interrogated in Egypt. It is inconceivable that the Australian Government was not informed.

Habib claimed that questions asked by interrogators about persons he might have known in Australia could have only come from a mobile phone SIM card which had been seized by ASIO agents during a raid of his home a long time ago. In response Philip Ruddock, Attorney-General and the Minister responsible for ASIO, has denied on more than one occasion that the Government had any knowledge of his presence in Egypt. Ruddock claimed that the government had lost contact with this Australian citizen.

When finally confronted following Habib's interview on Dateline, Ruddock was forced to hide behind the coward's retreat that he does not comment on security matters. Ruddock did not deny that information was exchanged with other intelligence agencies. "I expect intelligence authorities to do anything they can to avert terrorism here or anywhere else", he said.

An unnamed intelligence analyst admitted to a Sydney Morning Herald journalist that Australian intelligence officers regularly shared information such as phone numbers in SIM cards with their US counterparts.

By denying knowledge that Habib was in Egypt the government is attempting to escape responsibility for torture that everyone knows is the sole reason why prisoners are sent to Egypt. It is futile for Ruddock to declare that "It is inappropriate to torture people…" when nothing was or is being done even by way of a diplomatic protest to protect Australian citizens from such treatment.

The attempt by the Greens and the Australian Democrats to initiate a Senate inquiry into the treatment of Habib and others was defeated by a combined vote of Liberal and Labor Party Senators. Their decision indicates a continuing cover-up of the activities of ASIO and the Howard government in connection with the treatment of Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks by the US when they were arrested in Pakistan, were at a US-run jail in Afghanistan, in Egypt and finally in Guantánamo.

Not a single inmate of Guantánamo has yet been tried (even by a military court) but many have been released without trial. David Hicks is still held pending a trial that has not even started after about three years of imprisonment there. Once again the Australian government just goes along with the legal processes that have been instituted by the US military and which have received widespread condemnation in legal circles in Australia and elsewhere.

It seems that there is now a united front of the Liberals, the ALP leadership, Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty and the ASIO head, Denis Richardson, to cover-up the truth of many events that have arisen out of the invasion of Iraq. There is massive illegality — thousands of people have been arrested and held without trial, there is the destruction of many democratic rights in Australia, the US and Britain and there is widespread torture. One by one these unacceptable developments are coming to light.

Perhaps the government is fearful that there will be more leaks and exposures by former intelligence officers such as those that have been voiced by Andrew Wilkie and others in Australia, the US and Britain.

The stakes are now very high. New wars against Syria and Iran are being threatened. The agony and chaos created in Iraq is getting worse not better. A new danger is emerging in the Taiwan Straits were the US leaders are encouraging and arming the Taiwanese separatists.

It is an encouraging sign that so many are prepared to stand against these excesses and in support of the democratic rights that are being swept away. Peace organisations are holding demonstrations this coming weekend. Some in the media are also making a stand.

But much more is needed if the dangers now facing the world are to be avoided. They can and must be stopped. Let's give peace a chance!

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