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Habib’s day in court

February 15th, 2005

Having seen Mamdouh Habib’s 60 Minutes interview the other night, I’m keener than ever that he should have his day in court. I think it’s clear enough that Habib’s allegations that he was tortured in detention are true in general (why else would he have been shipped to Egypt?) and that the Australian government either knew or, in its Children Overboard mode, chose not to know about it – most likely some mixture of the two.

That said, Habib said nothing[1] to refute the government’s allegation that he’s a terrorist, claiming that he would give his answers in court. I certainly hope that this takes place. Both Habib and the government have a lot of explaining to do, in my view.

At this distance in time, I find it hard to believe that there’s much in the mooted excuse that producing the government’s evidence would compromise intelligence sources. Habib’s alleged crimes took place in 2001, when the Taliban was still in power, and Al Qaeda was operating more or less openly. The failure to detect the S11 attacks [on the government's own account, a matter of common gossip for Habib] suggests that there can’t have been much in the way of intelligence penetration of AQ at the time and the destruction of the Taliban government must have rendered most such sources obsolete.

fn1. To be clear, he denied the allegation, but did not respond any questions about the details.

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  1. Michael Burgess
    February 16th, 2005 at 21:45 | #1

    Comments please – well the only comment really necessary is to suggest that a bet might be a worthwhile way of settling the argument of who is the really bad guy in the Middle East. You go to Syria (or any other Arab country) and criticise the government strongly in a public place and I go to Israel and do the same – the one who suffers the most at the hands of the respective governments pays for airfares and expenses – I think we both know who will win the bet.

  2. Jill Rush
    February 16th, 2005 at 22:20 | #2

    Habib wins no friends with his wife and daughter dressed like people who live in another country which will limit opportunities for women.

    The benefit of a democracy however is that as individuals we have the right to dress as we please. We have the benefit of the rule of law.
    Prof Quiggan makes the point that this is what we should rely on to temper the government and to test the actions of Mr Habib.

    This is the critical issue. If a society is truly free then criminal actions will be dealt with in a considered way – not by a lynch mob which has no concern with evidence or justice.

    The concern is that we have a government which is more than willing to put the output of uranium in the hands of foreign nationals with no effective controls over the useage of that uranium. Who are the bigger terrorists – those who get uranium for terrorist actions or the governments that lack the will to control the sale of a deadly natural resource?

  3. observa
    February 17th, 2005 at 07:58 | #3

    “The concern is that we have a government which is more than willing to put the output of uranium in the hands of foreign nationals with no effective controls over the useage of that uranium.”
    Jill, are you seriously suggesting that WMC can sell its uranium to anyone now and that situation will change with change of ownership? By the way, a suspected terrorist like Habib can be part owner of WMC now if he wants to buy some shares. So what?

  4. michael.burgess
    February 17th, 2005 at 10:08 | #4

    Get a grip Jill – there is a massive difference between the peaceful use of nuclear power and using uranium to make nuclear bombs.

  5. Dave Ricardo
    February 17th, 2005 at 10:18 | #5

    “there is a massive difference between the peaceful use of nuclear power and using uranium to make nuclear bombs. ”

    Of course, some countries are perfectly entitled to make nuclear bombs to protect their national security.

  6. observa
    February 17th, 2005 at 10:58 | #6

    “Of course, some countries are perfectly entitled to make nuclear bombs to protect their national security.”
    Of course Dave, a bit like the pharmacist who is qualified to concoct, handle and dispense dangerous dugs. True, there are always some who want us to drop our pharmacists’ qualification standards eg the schoolyard pushers.

  7. michael.burgess
    February 17th, 2005 at 11:52 | #7

    Dave, who said anything about nuclear bombs – I was talking about Nuclear power – opposition to which is generally based on hysteria rather than reason. However, I make no apologies for the fact that I am glad it is the likes of the US, UK, Israel and even France that have nuclear weapons and not Middle Eastern countries.

  8. Dave Ricardo
    February 17th, 2005 at 12:02 | #8

    “I am glad it is the likes of the US, UK, Israel and even France that have nuclear weapons and not Middle Eastern countries.”

    Even France ? That’s generous of you, considering the French are so anti-semitic.

    How about Pakistan?

  9. February 17th, 2005 at 14:03 | #9

    derrida derider — 16/2/2005 @ 4:24 pm seems blithely optmistic about the likelihood of a terrorist nucleological (or biological) attack:

    [The WoT] like the popularity of harsh immigration laws, is not set by a rational weighing of costs and benefits but by more atavistic impulses.

    test]
    So what happened to these “atavistic impulses” during “the era of good feelings” between the collapse of the Berlin Wall and 911/Bali?
    I dont doubt that atavistic instincts exist. But I also dont doubt that they sometimes have social utility. Try walking alone at night through Central Park.

    A paranoid man is one in full posession of the facts..

    test]
    William Burroughs
    In reality, since 2001, the slight increase in public xenophobia in Anglospheric countries is reasonably well correlated to a slight increase in the risk of being killed by a terrorist-type “alien”. The countermeasures are not terribly out of whack with the scale of the threat. The cost of AUS’s counter-terrorist initiatives since then would be dwarfed by the cost of law enforcement on the roads.
    The probablity of a future attack by terrorists using WMDs is low, but the expected costs of a successful attack are monstrously large. It is therefore rational to make significant annual mental and material investments into constraining such an attacks.
    Habib, and the unprofiled 911 bombers (Thankyou Wets!), are clearly the kind of person who need to be watched. Habib’s civil rights in AUS allowed him to come and go as he pleased. Yet he also had connections with the shadowy world of Central Asian jihadists. Note that Pakistan has been identified as the most likely source of black market fissionable material. And a simple nuclear weapons is not beyond the technical ken of a reasonably well-trained physicist. Time reports:

    “The simplest nuclear bomb,” says Ivan Oelrich, director of the security project at the Federation of American Scientists, “is very simple indeed.”
    The most basic design is that of the Hiroshima bomb, which fired two pieces of HEU at each other from opposite ends of an artillery tube. The bomb could be assembled at a basic machine shop and would fit in the back of a truck.
    The biggest hurdle is getting the material that causes the nuclear explosion. For a basic nuclear weapon, terrorists would need about 100 lbs. of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium (HEU).
    many states have already done the hard work, creating 1,800 tons of HEU that is housed at research facilities, weapons depots and other storage sites in as many as 24 countries, .

    test]
    The biggest nuclear threat is not to the West. The biggest nuclear threat is to the ME. If Islamic terrorists staged a nuclear attack against their Great Satan enemies – USA, RUS & ISR – these pioneering nuclear states would probably collaborate and launch a massive retaliation against Islamic states suspected of assisting the terrorists. It would be Carthage revisted. So anti-terrorist and anti-proliferation actions are highly rational for humanitarians, let alone “atavistic instinctives”.
    PS Iraq-attack is another matter. Although triggered by 911, the causes of this attack go back long before 911 and the issues it raises transcend the issue of terrorism.

  10. February 17th, 2005 at 15:51 | #10

    MB, JS, et al. Those are not all it takes to make a primitive bomb. It’s just that once you’ve done the hard yards, the working bomb has those features.

    On the other hand, if you just do those things you are far more likely to get a horrible workplace accident than a working bomb.

    That’s why I gave the “simple” gunpowder description; every year vast numbers of boys injure themselves trying to make gunpowder by following such misleadingly simple recipes.

    To make “good” gunpowder you need to know about milling, corning, graphite coating, and many other things.

    To make a working A bomb you need to know about tamping, what gas to have between the pieces, speed of light in fuse wire, microcrystalline behaviour of alloys, and many other things (and never mind the purification and fabrication).

    What you described is not how to make an A bomb but what an A bomb of the simple kind does.

  11. Andrew Reynolds
    February 18th, 2005 at 17:54 | #11

    Interesting to see how a thread on, essentially, unlawful imprisonment got to nuclear proliferation. Ya gotta love the blogosphere.
    Anyway, for what it is worth, I totally agree with you, John. What happened to Habib and is happening to the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo is a travesty. This cannot be anything but wrong if you have any belief in the freedom and dignity of the individual.
    Agreeing with this is the only thing I can think of where this government has truly and unambiguously let the country down.

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