Rendition: a dangerous euphemism
The Age (Australia), March 11, 2005
Allegations that an Australian citizen has been tortured ought to be thoroughly investigated.
Rendition is an opaque term coined by US bureaucrats to describe the practice of sending terrorism suspects to countries that allow the use of torture. The Bush Administration says it does not hand people over to face torture – a line that is consistent with US obligations under the Convention Against Torture. But in recent interviews, serving and former government officials have said they believe the Administration knows that torture is carried out in countries – including Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – where prisoners are transferred, but will not acknowledge it. Why are the prisoners being moved in the first place? Rendition has been justified, somewhat disingenuously, as a cost-saving measure. While the Bush Administration is not the first to practice rendition, before September 11, 2001, the international transfer of prisoners required approval from the Justice Department or the White House. But after the World Trade Centre attack President George Bush signed a directive allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to continue the practice without case-by-case approval.
The number of prisoners affected by the new arrangements is unknown. One source of information is the prisoners themselves when they are eventually released. One of these former prisoners is Egyptian-born Australian Mamdouh Habib, who was arrested in Pakistan several weeks after September 11, then moved to Egypt, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, where he spent three years in detention without being charged. Mr Habib says he was tortured while in custody by US, Egyptian and Pakistani authorities. The Australian Government says its requests to Egypt for information about Mr Habib were ignored. Mr Habib has said Egyptian interrogators asked him for information that must have come from a mobile phone simcard left at his house in Sydney, suggesting the involvement of Australian intelligence. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock responded that in the fight against terror he expected intelligence authorities "to take any lawful steps they can . . . If that means exchanging information for intelligence purposes, I’ve got no problem with that".
But if Mr Habib was subject to rendition to Egypt, and if he were questioned on the basis of information supplied by Australian authorities, that means Australians may have been complicit in the torture of one of their own citizens. The Australian Greens have called for a Senate inquiry into rendition and want to test Mr Habib’s claims. But Labor appears divided on the issue. Foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd wants the Government to provide "all relevant information" but Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has shown little interest in Mr Habib’s torture allegations thus far, and has said he is "not in the business of making this bloke a hero". Mr Beazley is confusing two separate issues. Terrorist suspects ought to be pursued vigorously, but this should not include trampling on their rights and subjecting them to brutal and inhumane treatment. Turning a blind eye to torture is no way to fight terrorism.