11 January 2005

Mamdouh Habib a free man

11 January 2005 US to release Habib without charge.
Australian Mamdouh Habib will be released from the United States's prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge.

The US has told the Australian Government it does not intend to bring charges against Mr Habib, who has been at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says there is no timetable for his repatriation.

Mr Habib's lawyer Stephen Hopper has told Sky News he was surprised by the announcement.

'It's a great day for justice. This proves we were right all along,' he said.

The US Government continues to assert that Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Ruddock says it is unlikely he will face charges when he returns to Australia because counter-terrorism laws are not retrospective.

But he says Mr Habib will remain of interest to Australian security agencies.

Mr Hopper has called on the Attorney-General to concede that Mr Habib is innocent.

'This sounds like the Attorney-General is full of sour grapes,' he said.

'Why can't he clear this man?'

Mr Habib's release means that David Hicks, from Adelaide, is the only Australian still detained at Guantanamo Bay.

On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said only about 25 per cent of the 550 detainees at Guantanamo Bay had intelligence value.

More than 200 other detainees have been returned to their home countries to be detained or released.

11 January 2005 Government must explain: Labor
Opposition attorney-general spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said the release raised serious questions about the Australian government's credibility.

"It does seem extraordinary that for three years the government has been describing Mr Habib as a terrorist, really from day one, and now the US is going to release him I think we're entitled to an explanation as to the reasons for the release and the reasons that the government was already accusing him from day one," Ms Roxon said.

"Is it really fair to spend three years telling the public that (Hicks and Mr Habib) are terrorists?

"To then find that (one of) these men isn't going to be charged, let alone convicted, certainly raises questions over both of them."

Mr Ruddock said Hicks would not be repatriated because he faced three terrorism-related chargers under American law, for which he is due to face trial by a military commission in early March.

The sudden decision to request the release of Mr Habib may have been prompted by allegations last week that the men had been tortured while in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Ms Roxon said.

"You have to query why he's now suddenly being released and we'd like the government to explain whether it's related in any way to the recent allegations of treatment in custody, torture in custody," she said.

8 December 2004 Ruddock Doorstop Interview, Canberra
JOURNALIST:  Just on another topic, there’s been some reports from foreign wire services, concerns about unfair practises at Guantanamo Bay. There’s a human rights lawyer, one of the first British non-government people to visit Guantanamo Bay, said he had serious concerns about the situation there. Do you have any sort of updated information on the, where does the Government stand on?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:  Well look, our interest is of course in relation to Australians who are within that system and to ensure that they are humanely treated and we’ve taken those matters up as matters specific to them are raised and they are being investigated. There’ve been some preliminary comments, we’ve received assurances that they have not been the subject of abuse and there are further enquiries that have yet to report. Look, I know that there are people who want to focus on every statement made in relation to these issues whether people have been there, whether they haven’t, whether they have any first hand knowledge or whether they don’t. The only point I’d make is that the only context in which these matters become relevant are legitimate complaints to those who are in authority that can do something about it and that means that people who have information, first hand information, that warrants enquiry they should take it to the United States authorities. If it relates to the Australians, we will follow it up as we have before. But there’s no new information that’s come to us relating to either Hicks or Habib. Finally, if these matters are relevant to any trial process in which they’re engaged, whatever form of process is used, evidence that is obtained inappropriately, that issue will be raised before the competent authorities, and it’s unhelpful I think if people have substantive issues they want to see raised at a trial, to have them canvassed in a way which is prejudicial to a proper consideration of those issues by people who are competent to determine them in a proper process, whether it’s the military commission or whether it’s any other trial process. I don’t comment on those issues here at home and it’s unreasonable to expect that I should comment on every remark made by people who may or may not have first hand information and published abroad.

JOURNALIST:  Are you confident you’re getting information regarding some of these tribunals, there’s been some concerns about combatant status review tribunal not being sort of being open and accountable and providing enough information publicly?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:  Look, there are people who are going to mount critiques, who don’t like the results, and

JOURNALIST:  But do they see the results?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:  Well, I have seen results published, I think they said today that 33 people have been [inaudible] combatant review tribunals, their matters have been considered and

JOURNALIST:  [inaudible] reasons been given?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:  Well, I think that again is a matter for the Americans as to what degree they will publish material that may have broader security implications. I mean the question of holding people and reviewing their status as combatants is one, a serious one, and if you have material that goes to national security, you may not publish it. It’s the same issue that we are debating in the Parliament now as to our own courts where you have national security information the extent to which it is appropriate to put it in the public domain. So, if the United States formed a view that information that might go to sources, might go to the techniques that they use, may compromise foreign agencies who provide information, they may well have the same view that we have that that information needs to be handled sensitively and not necessarily in the public domain. I don’t think it tends to be a major question to me.

What a difference a month makes. The reason, as Ruddock should know, for the traditional rights that protect civil liberties, is that uncontrolled executive power makes mistakes. In this case the Bush administration, backed by a supine Ruddock and a supine Man of Steel, has inflicted catastrophic harm on this man and his family. The US now says it cannot charge him. He must be very innocent indeed for the US military tribunal system, with its disregard for the rules of evidence and the independence of the courts, cannot convict.

Perhaps what we are seeing is not so much a new form of warfare as an old form of bungling with impunity.

One wonders if the Autralian government will offer an apology or any form of compensation. I would not not hold my breath waiting.

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