Home > Oz Politics > Habib’s day in court

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. Katz
    February 15th, 2005 at 09:18 | #1

    Many Islamist groups trained in Afghanistan until the end of 2001. These groups attracted hotheads from all over the world, including, doubtless, Australia.

    However, to count al Qaida as an important component of this assemblage of Islamist fighters one must refute the findings of an excellent program made by the BBC, entitled “The Power of Nightmares”. These findings, in part, are:

    1. The name “al Qaida” to describe an Islamist terrorist organisation was first used by the prosecution in a court case against the first WTC bombers. It was a legal device that enabled the State to prosecute under organised crime legislation. The evidentiary basis justifying this device was provided by a paid informer whose testimony has since been discredited.

    2. Osama bin Laden never uttered the term “al Qaida” in public pronouncements until after 9/11.

    3. Until his 9/11 coup, Osama bin Laden was a fringe-dweller among the Islamists training in Afghanistan. He used his money to produce clever propaganda that asserted that he wielded powerful authority among Afghanistan’s Islamist fighters. The West chose fortheir own purposes to believe this myth. Recall those reports of huge Dr Evil-like underground complexes that al Qaida was asserted to have built. US Special Forces scoured unsuccessfully every inch of Tora Bora in search of them. Perhaps they had been removed to Iraq to store all those WMDs.

    4. (Ever since, of course, Osama has parlayed his western-generated notoriety into iconic status among Islamists world-wide.)

    Inserting Habib into this story, it seems likely that he had something to do with one or another of Afghanistan’s Islamist groups. He may even have caught sight of Osama bin Laden as he went fom camp to camp in the cause of hyping his status.

    But it seems unlikely that Habib was ever part of an organisation that was minuscule before 9/11.

  2. February 15th, 2005 at 10:29 | #2

    So what do you make of the story (see link address below) that Australian police found no physical evidence that Mamdouh Habib had been tortured while in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty said today. Surely, that suggests that the claims made about torture etc are highly dubious, if not self-seeking.

    Might be also worth having a look at http://americaisnottheproblem.blogspot.com/

    cheers

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/Anti-Terror-Watch/Habib-offered-no-evidence-of-torture-AFP/2005/02/15/1108229971069.html

  3. February 15th, 2005 at 11:16 | #3

    I tend to agree with you JQ.

    It seems fairly apparent to me that the Australian Government (or at least the U.S. Government) did not follow the letter of the law when dealing with Habib.

    By the same token, I would not be at all surprised if it happened that Habib was in contact with or in some way affiliated with people that the media would label “terrorists”.

    I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer for something a bit closer to the full truth to come out.

  4. Geoff Honnor
    February 15th, 2005 at 11:18 | #4

    I’m sure his detention was no picnic but inevitably there has to be an element of “he would say that, wouldn’t he” attaching to his commentary. However, American ineptitude at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere has made torture claims inevitable for those in Habib’s circumstances and we can hardly be suprised if people avail themselves of the potential legal claim motherlode inherent therein.

    The ABC ‘Four Corners’ take on his activities last year made a compelling argument for Habib as a big noting dreamer who was probably more an aspirational terrorist than the real thing but I don’t think that sympathy for him will be immense nor will it be unqualified.

    On the plus side, the 200 grand payout from Kerry Packer should enable him to avoid Centrelink benefits for a while……

  5. Philg
    February 15th, 2005 at 11:55 | #5

    I suspect that if the truth ever does come out, the worst that Habib will be accused of is being an idiot.

    Roberto, what you have to understand is that torture is not confined to beatings, buggery and electric shocks etc. From what little we know of the facilities at Guantanamo Bay I would suggest that just being held there would be torture in my book. Especially if such confinement was unjustified.

  6. William
    February 15th, 2005 at 11:57 | #6

    Geoff Honnor: “I’m sure his detention was no picnic …”

    You’re aware of the US transfer of prisoners to non-Geneva-convention countries so they can be tortured without breaking US law?

    OUTSOURCING TORTURE
    by Jan Mayer
    The secret history of America’s “extraordinary rendition� program.
    [snip]
    “The most common destinations for rendered suspects are Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Jordan, all of which have been cited for human-rights violations by the State Department, and are known to torture suspects.” “Martin Lederman, a lawyer who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002, after eight years, says, “The Convention only applies when you know a suspect is more likely than not to be tortured, but what if you kind of know? That’s not enough. So there are ways to get around it.â€?”

    “[Habib] said that he was beaten frequently with blunt instruments, including an object that he likened to an electric “cattle prod.â€? And he was told that if he didn’t confess to belonging to Al Qaeda he would be anally raped by specially trained dogs. ”

    A very good article, I recommend it.

    http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?050214fa_fact6

  7. Homer Paxton
    February 15th, 2005 at 12:43 | #7

    Geoff, his disability pension was stopped sometime ago so his Packer payout doesn’t matter this fiscal year.

    I presume next fiscal year he could get it again.

  8. Geoff Honnor
    February 15th, 2005 at 12:49 | #8

    I read somewhere – SMH? – that he’d re-applied for it on his return but that Centrelink had advised him he was in over-payment breach – owing to the fact that he’d failed to inform them before heading overseas for “longer than the permitted period.”

  9. February 15th, 2005 at 13:10 | #9

    Thanks Philg for your comments, and yes I understand that torture may not be just visible via bruises and marks on skin.

    However, its interesting nonetheless that the Commissioner for the Federal Police before a Parliamentary Committee did indeed testify as he did.

    Now of course I cannot verify or disprove Mr Habib’s claims, nor that of the Federal Government’s.

    But, if you look at today’s SMH, there is a readers’ poll that asks should Mr Habib have disclosed what his intentions were in Afghanistan, and overwhelmingly the opinion is ‘yes he should’.

    Of course the presumption of innocence may have been waived in the case of Mr Habib, but clearly we are in an international environment where presumptive action needs to be taken by the policing authorities.

    The long tradition that criminal investigations can only take part after an act has been undertaken, has steadily been eroded by Terrorists and other sympathisers that work inclandestine and seek terrible harm.

  10. Michael Burgess
    February 15th, 2005 at 13:34 | #10

    The broader issue here to what extent it is necessary for law enforcement agencies to have extra powers when dealing with terrorism. There clearly is a need for some additional powers as there were many instances where, while there was a lack of proof to satisfy conventional legal requirements, there were strong reasons for thinking that certain individuals were planning or supporting terrorist activities. Unfortunately, both the Bush administration with its tolerance of torture and its excessive inroads into civil liberties and many human rights organisations and civil libertarians with their tendency to be over-protective of the rights of terrorists and their general unwillingness to countenance any change have greatly muddied the waters and prevented a more considered approach to the problems we face.

  11. Homer Paxton
    February 15th, 2005 at 13:37 | #11

    Geoff, He hasn’t recieved anything this fiscal year so the payout doesn’t matter.

    If you are on such a pension I do believe you must inform Centrelink of the period you are away.

    I don’t know whether the reason his pension was stopped is becassue of his own time in Pakistan or what happened after that.

    I heard from Mr Hopper that the payments stopped after he was ‘picked up’.

    I would assume that he could resume his pension next fiscal year unless Centrelink has new information that renders him ineligble.

  12. paul2
    February 15th, 2005 at 13:40 | #12

    If PBL can pay for Gretel’s guru and James’ dianetics counselling, it can do its bit for established religion by bankrolling Habib to front row at the mosque.

  13. R. Patterson
    February 15th, 2005 at 13:53 | #13

    H*b*b *s * l**r! m*sl*ms *r* *ll*w*d t* *nd *r* *nc**r*g*d t* l** t* *nf*d*ls, th*t *s *ny n*n m*sl*m – l**k *p *sl*m*c t**ch*ngs. M*sl*ms h*v* wh*t *s c*ll*d * ‘h*dn*’ – th*t *s th*y w*ll *cc*d* t* * tr*c* *nt*l th*y *r* st*ng *n**gh t* *br*g*t* *t – *g**n * tr**ch*r**s l**, l**k *p th**r t**ch*ngs. H*b*b *n th* *v*d*nc* *v**l*bl* *s * f*ll bl*wn g*tl*ss t*rr*r*st *r * t*rr*r*st *n tr**n*ng (s** r*m*rks g*v*n t* * s*n*t* *nq**ry by th* h**d *f th* f*d*r*l P*l*c*).*f th*r* w*s s*m* m*n*r “t*rt*r*” l*k* sl**p d*pr*v*t**n *nd th* s*ch t* g*t *nf*rm*t**n th*t w**ld/c**ld s*v* l*v*s – m*yb* m*n* th*n G**D!! Th*s* *gly c*w*rdly bl**d s**k*d *n*m*ls n**d st*pp*ng y*t w* h*v* tr*m*l**s, bl**d*ng h**rt tw*ts spr*ng*ng t* th**r d*f*nc*. r*g*rds, R. P.

    This post disemvowelled for religious bigotry. Summary: Patterson says all Muslims are liars

  14. February 15th, 2005 at 14:03 | #14

    Piss off, Patterson.

    (Sorry about the language, John, but there are other blogs like Little Green Footballs that cater for R Patterson’s type.)

  15. February 15th, 2005 at 14:20 | #15

    From my reading I’m inclined to Geoff H’s view that Habib is a drippy hangeron, we see them all the time hanging on to all sorts of causes. He is unlikely to be a key person in anything requiring reliability or competence. Al-Q would have seen that. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be occassionally useful as a “mule” for various things. Hes not a key person but that doesnt mean he should escape all scrutiny. He seem exactly like the sort of guy ASIO etc should be fostering as an information conduit. Apologise, pay him an allowance and give him back his passport and give him a phone card to phone home to his minder a bit of info on what Al-Q etc are up to.

  16. Katz
    February 15th, 2005 at 15:21 | #16

    MB, the extra powers governments often claim law enforcement agents require to combat suspected terrorists test the limits of constitutionality, natural justice or international treaty.

    Sometimes these intrusions into civil rights are motivated by genuine fear. Sometimes they are motivated by political opportunism. Sometimes they are motivated by a desire to undermine civil rights.

    And sometimes these intrusions have unintended effects. For example, British anti-terrorist law passed in the wake of 9/11 has netted few Islamists. However, the old-fashioned Ulster terrorists now come under these provisions.

    One may well way that the Real IRA and the UDF and clones deserve it. But old-fashioned methods were doing the trick. A heavy hand may provoke unfortunate consequences.

    Lawless states require the imposition of legitimate authority. The US intervention into Afghanistan was justified. I question the methods.

    Border surveillance and passport control must be diligent.

    Surveillance of domestic nests of disaffection is legitimate.

    Australia’s laws are already appropriate to those tasks. They merely want enforcement.

    Beyond the discipline of criminal law there remains a more important task: prevention of the development of “swamps” in which terrorist sentiment might be nurtured and spread. Promotion of a humane civil society free of the jackboot of government seems to be the best long-term guarantee of tranquility.

    I know this sounds terribly old fashioned and culpably sentimental in the ears of our growing battalions of RWDBs. But with friends like them who needs enemies?

    FXH, your comment “[Habib] is unlikely to be a key person in anything requiring reliability or competence. Al-Q would have seen that.” Gives a prominence to Al Qaida in Afghanistan pre- and immediately post-9/11 that the evidence does not support.

  17. Youie
    February 15th, 2005 at 15:35 | #17

    I believe there is still a charge in effect in most places (ie Aus, USA) that can be levelled against propsective criminals. “Conspiracy (to commit a crime)” be its name. That there has been insufficient evidence for either Aus or the US to charge Habib with this – surely they would’ve if they could’ve – raises legitimate suspicions about whatever claims are made against him. Agreed, he should explain his presence in Afghanistan if he is to be believed, but I urge caution to those who would condemn him for not doing so. Who knows – he might’ve been having an affair with a woman (or man!) over there! This is hardly something anyone would willingly confess to on national TV without something approaching absolute certainty of absolution for such a “crime”.

  18. observa
    February 15th, 2005 at 15:52 | #18

    “Piss off, Patterson”
    Well no Robert. He may have some valid points to make, even if you find some of them disagreeable. If it is true that Habib as a devout Muslim, is brought up to believe that lying to infidels is totally justified, we may view his testimony somewhat differently to say a devout Christian, who believes thou shalt not lie. Also our courts generally are very hot on perjury, which reflects the community(christian?) view that a man caught lying once in court is not to be trusted at all. You may not like religious types generally, but you may well take a more benign view of people who believe in tenets like, thou shalt not lie generally, rather than it’s OK to lie to people my God tells me not to like.

  19. Razor
    February 15th, 2005 at 16:09 | #19

    Katz, if “Osama bin Laden was a fringe-dweller among the Islamists training in Afghanistan” and he managed to organise the September 11 attack, then logic suggests the mainstream Islamists were planning something even bigger. Because Osama was just a side-show.

    I believe you and the BBC because they don’t twist the truth, ever!!

  20. michael.burgess
    February 15th, 2005 at 16:10 | #20

    Katz, while I am also concerned with the slippery slope argument against undermining civil liberties, I have several problems with your argument. First, Islamic terrorists exploding a nuclear device in a major city (or some other WMD) is a very real possibility (if not probability). Second, extremism is very much the mainstream in Islam and, given the large number of Muslims that live in the west or work or study periodically in the west or in India etc keeping tabs on extremists is somewhat more difficult than keeping tabs on extreme animal libbers etc. Third, Islamic extremists have said on numerous occasions that they intend to use the tolerance of western societies against western societies. Indeed, their attitude to western pseudo-liberals (real liberals support free speech and enlightenment principals in general and oppose religious extremism) who take their side is essentially the same as that of the Soviets attitude to western pacifists in the past – pretend to be friends with them while their useful and when their not…

  21. John Quiggin
    February 15th, 2005 at 16:10 | #21

    I’m with Robert in relation to R. Patterson. Since others have responded, I’ve disemvowelled rather than deleted this comment. I don’t intend to tolerate this kind of religious bigotry – this kind of slander is straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and I’m sure that there are anti-Christian versions as well.

  22. Razor
    February 15th, 2005 at 16:25 | #22

    The other issue in all this is that the criminal code had evolved over the centuries to deal with criminals. Terrorism, in particular militant Islamic terrorism is not criminal – it is war. Therefore, the criminal code is inadequately equipped to deal with the terrorists and their associates. Fundamental elements of criminal law such as the presumption of innocence and protections from coercion lose relevance when viewing this as a war.

  23. Katz
    February 15th, 2005 at 16:27 | #23

    MB, “First, Islamic terrorists exploding a nuclear device in a major city (or some other WMD) is a very real possibility (if not probability).” The question is how to callibrate the response to the threat. A nuclear device will, as they used to say in the far-off innocent days of the Cold War, ruin your whole day. But this is a debate breaker. Under these conditions there is no legitimate limitation to state power. Just how “probable” is “probable”?

    “Second, extremism is very much the mainstream in Islam and, given the large number of Muslims that live in the west or work or study periodically in the west or in India etc keeping tabs on extremists is somewhat more difficult than keeping tabs on extreme animal libbers etc.” Again, how much more difficult? Those damned animal libbers have been seen dragging false baits all over the hunt. But nary a raghead in sight.

    “Third, Islamic extremists have said on numerous occasions that they intend to use the tolerance of western societies against western societies. Indeed, their attitude to western pseudo-liberals (real liberals support free speech and enlightenment principals in general and oppose religious extremism) who take their side is essentially the same as that of the Soviets attitude to western pacifists in the past – pretend to be friends with them while their useful and when their not” Ah yes, the old “useful idiots” trick. The funny thing is that on a rough count of countries around the world, the greater the number of “useful idiots” the smaller the influence of Communism. Looks like “useful idiots” might be a vaccination against communism. And the reason? Useful idiots thrive in a culture of freedom, the very freedom that’s inimical to extremism.

  24. Youie
    February 15th, 2005 at 16:51 | #24

    Razor, at what point does war pass beyond the realms of criminality? When “they” do it, not us? War is simply a euphemism for (supposedly) legal murder and slaughter, usually of innocent people. Given war’s doubtful moral basis in more cases than not, I would hesitate to list it as anything more than an abominable crime; any warlike behaviour, therefore, is sanctionable in accordance with criminal law. View this as you will, and dispense with certain niceties if you like, but I fear views such as yours are much more a part of the problem than the solution. Force, of itself, will not work against our enemies (whoever they are); viewing any solution to their acts as dependent upon force alone – their chief weapon, other than indoctrination – is playing them at their own game. Time to find an alternative solution…

  25. harry clarke
    February 15th, 2005 at 18:00 | #25

    Habib doesn’t deserve anyone’s support or sympathy. He has alligned himself with evil people. Australia would be better-off without him.

    Mainstream muslims if they are to be credible must dissociate themselves from such people. I think John overreacted to Michael Burgess. We should not extend tolerance to people who condone and support the killing of innocents. No excuses and no phony tolerance.

  26. John Quiggin
    February 15th, 2005 at 18:03 | #26

    To clarify, my comment was not a response to Michael Burgess, but to R. Patterson some distance up the thread. I’ll edit to fix this

  27. Razor
    February 15th, 2005 at 18:21 | #27

    Youie – You may personally believe that war is criminal. You are not supported by the generally held principle that the use of military force (war) is justifiable in many circumstances. If you believe that the Allied side in WWII, the British in the Falklands or the Coalition in the ’91 Gulf War or the Australians in East Timor were all criminal, then so be it. What about Kosovo. . .I could go on.

    I and those that support firm and resolute action against terrorist do not say that force is the only avenue – you imply this without any evidence. An example of force being a last resort is Afghanistan. The Taliban were given options. They chose not to go down the path of peace. They paid the price.

    And as for my views being part of the problem – I am not the one wanting to destroy societies that don’t fit my relgious view point – the Radical Moslems started this – not us. But we are going to finish it, and we will win.

    By the way – what is your alternative solution? Sign the Kyoto treaty, perhaps they’d stop wanting to wipe us off the face of the earth if we did that – No? What then. . .make our women cover up and behave subserviantly? Any other suggestions?

  28. peter kemp
    February 15th, 2005 at 18:57 | #28

    I think what is being overlooked here are the principles of International law which precludes the kidnapping of visitors to other countries and their ‘rendition’ to countries that allow torture.

    The two German citizens arrested with Habib were promptly deported to Germany on their government’s demand as they had not committed any offence in Pakistan. Nor had Habib , who paradoxically was arrested because he complained of the arrest of the Germans.

    Contrast the German government’s action with the Australian government’s reaction to Habib and US demands. The point being, if one is of middle eastern appearance and an Australian citizen, the Howard government will accede to any US request to fuck you over on any evidence, flimsy or otherwise.

    Given that Habib appears to want to sue the government for breach of fiduciary duty, abandoning him to the tender mercies of Egypt and GITMO, his remaining silent on certain issues is mandatory given the desire to not signal his legal bombshells. The government likewise does not want to show its evidence, so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Habib was kidnapped and unlawfully imprisoned without just cause let alone being charged. False imprisonment is a clearcut tort in common law nations and the Australian government clearly aided and abetted in that false imprisonment. Argueing that he may or may not have been a terrorist, may have met Osama Bin Laden, may have had meetings with terrorist organisations or not; the onus of proof lay with arresting Pak./US authorities and their sycophantic running dog friends back here in Australia. Proof was never forthcoming, that obtained by torture being inadmissable in most civilised nations excepting it seems the Military Tribunals in GITMO organised by one George Bush.

  29. derrida derider
    February 15th, 2005 at 19:27 | #29

    How easy it is to scare people! And how willingly do scared people descend to bigotry!

    The “War on Terrorism” is 99% bullshit. A few loonies got in a lucky punch on 9/11 on the other side of the world to Oz (had it been 3000 Africans, Arabs or most anyone else but Yanks it would be forgotten by now). In the long run, our lifestyle is in far more danger from arrogant and intrusive “authorities” than from manifest loonies like Habib.

    Let’s face it, the odds of any warblogger being killed in a car crash are probably many orders of magnitude greater than that of being killed by a terrorist. So why aren’t they on the government’s back about road safety and public transport?

    But then it’s just so easy to fear and hate the “other” – the Ev Psych people can tell you why.

  30. February 15th, 2005 at 19:53 | #30

    Let’s face it, the odds of any warblogger being killed in a car crash are probably many orders of magnitude greater than that of being killed by a terrorist. So why aren’t they on the government’s back about road safety and public transport?

    Because cars are essential to our society, and radical muslims are not?

  31. Youie
    February 15th, 2005 at 20:14 | #31

    Razor, yes, I believe war is criminal. In reference to your examples, my youth could do me a disservice here, but in most if not all cases you refer to, the “good guys” (ie Western democracies) acted in response to a legitimate threat or obvious aggressor (a bad guy). I’ll admit to being uncertain about the first Gulf War, mind you – it seems to me every party involved could argue its case equally validly. (Oooh, pro-Saddam heresy! Forgive me. Would you mind regarding this as pro-Iraq rather than pro-Saddam? I think there’s a difference.)
    Nonetheless, such action is a bit different from thrusting one’s battleships to the fore in the name of truth, justice and the American way.
    In my own defence, you say “militant Islamic terrorism is not criminal – it is war”. I say this is still a crime. Killing others in circumstances other than in self-defence is wrong; people who do this are criminals. The problem starts when we begin to label certain criminals as more dangerous than others because of their intentions or desires. I don’t have an instant solution to this; but I feel it is a point that – in a broader context – needs to be considered, especially when certain rights and/or freedoms which have come to be considered natural (or “inalienable”, to quote a more prominent thinker) for the past one or two centuries of enlightened thought are under threat from fearmongers.
    I hope “we” win (whoever we are). I’m just not convinced we know who we are, let alone who “they” are…
    Footnote: And fer God’s sake… Kyoto, female subservience!? Nah mate. Understanding; learning. Not acceptance, understanding. “Know thine enemy” – that sorta stuff. This takes a bit of time to achieve, and maybe time is a luxury we don’t have, but we could do worse than try.

  32. February 15th, 2005 at 20:21 | #32

    derrida derider — 15/2/2005 @ 7:27 pm is true as far as he goes, but he does not see just over the horizon:

    The “War on Terrorism� is 99% bullshit. A few loonies got in a lucky punch on 9/11 on the other side of the world to Oz ..

    …test]
    That is true as far as it goes, but it does not go very far.
    derrider derrider misses the point. The 1% of the WoT that is non-bullshit will be very, very lethal – 911 was an overture.
    Bill Joy presciently predicted that the confluence of retro-theology and proto-technology was the major threat to global security. Suitcase-ported nukes and basement-brewed plagues are going to be within the grasp of non-state agents within a generation or so. The jihadist combination of failed state undetectability and suicidal undeterrability makes this threat extremely difficult to contain using orthodox methods.
    So the Howard govt got it exactly right with its “be alert, not alarmed”.

  33. February 15th, 2005 at 20:31 | #33

    Lets get a few things straight here.
    The suggestion that habib had few physical scars therefore had not been tortured is crap.
    He was not flown to egypt to see the pyramids.
    The problem I have is not with the dodgy mr habib,who I think deserves a spot on “pizza”,two habibs are better than one….
    But with the lying of our servants howard,ruddock and downer about all aspects of the war in Iraq and its human toll.
    Habib is but a catylist for us to see the duplicity of the howard gang.

  34. Michael Burgess
    February 15th, 2005 at 20:55 | #34

    Derrida Derrider states that The “War on Terrorism� is 99% bullshit. A few loonies got in a lucky punch on 9/11. Well actually tell that to Salmon Rushdie and to the many thousands of Rushdie liberal equivalents in Muslim countries such as Iran, Algeria, Somalia, Sudan (members of the UNs human rights committee) and Saudi Arabia who are persecuted, tortured and murdered by Islamic fanatics. And then there are the women in these countries …… This few looney individuals view is very much at the heart of the failed liberal or rather pretend liberal response to the events of Sept 11 etc. Political correctness and the desire to protect so-called minorities at all costs combined with a hatred of their own cultures have lead to an unbelievable lack of perspective. As Muslim liberal writers such as Irshad Manji point out the extreme is the mainstream in Islam and even in the west those who support a more tolerant and liberal Islam are generally scared to speak out not simply because of cultural ostracism but because of fear of violence. At one times liberals would have stood up the likes of Manji and other Muslim liberals but now they are an embarrassing reminder of the poverty of victim/Multi-cultism politics and the rejection by much of the left of enlightenment ideals such as the belief in free speech, reason, secularism and science.

  35. February 15th, 2005 at 21:06 | #35

    The Americans, supported at every turn it is be supposed by the Australian government, seem to have gone to extraordinary amount of trouble with apparently low level players (if, indeed, players at all) like Hicks and Habib. They do not seem to be the sort of people who could fly planes into office towers, or otherwise be in information and decision loop. If the government, and their Ameerican friends, had waited for Habib to return home, they could have saved the money of the $450,000 airfare at taxpayers expense from Cuba, and the cost of the not very salubrious accomodation at other exotic locations.

    I am personally sticking to the rule that guilt is not judged until people have had a fair and proper trial.

  36. Andrew
    February 15th, 2005 at 21:21 | #36

    I personally think this stuff about nukes hanging about on Russian street corners is pure Tom Clancy blathering.

    Nukes are a very very serious weapon and every government who has them knows they are. They are not given up lightly given the difficulty of making them and the dreadful consequences of losing them.

    The ex-Soviets may lose the odd tank or plane, but not a nuclear device. The former don’t make much a difference in a war zone by themselves. A miniature Fat Boy certainly would.

  37. February 15th, 2005 at 21:28 | #37

    I found it intriguing to read up a 19th century view, as reflected in the works of a persecuted Mormon sect. Their prophet, James Strang, gave them a teaching that war should only ever be in self defence, or as a result of a direct command from God. It gives a weird sense of dissonance, seeing that combination of calm reason and religious fanaticism.

    Incidentally, the remnants of the sect today were condemning an invasion of Iraq while it was still being threatened, on grounds many here would find sound no matter the strangeness of its delivery. The sect’s religious exception simply hadn’t been triggered, so they were speaking with the voice of reason.

  38. Michael Burgess
    February 15th, 2005 at 22:07 | #38

    Andrew before you go on about people blathering I suggest that you familiarise yourself with the topic. As several recent publications have documented in great detail, manufacturing a crude gun type nuclear device is relatively easy once one obtains a sufficient quantity of Highly Enriched Uranium (also a relatively easy task). The outcome would not be an efficient weapon which could be fired in a missile etc at a sophisticated enemy but it would do the trick when it comes to obliterating a city such as Sydney.

  39. February 15th, 2005 at 22:45 | #39

    Andrew in comment #36 15/2/2005 @ 9:21 pm pays me an unintended compliment:

    personally think this stuff about nukes hanging about on Russian street corners is pure Tom Clancy blathering.

    …test]
    Tom Clancy correctly predicted the mode & targetting for the 911 attack. We can take it as given that Andrew’s terrorist-attack model failed that reality test.
    In the future, all science will be computer science and all techology will be cyberlogical. The logic of Moore’s law applies to tools of destruction and production.
    What kind of computer did Andrew use a generation ago? None, I bet. Now he uses the kind of computer that could have run the Fire Control centre of an eighties Missile Cruiser.
    What kind of nukes were being built a generation ago? Leaner versions of Fat Boy. Now the US is building mini-nukes: bunker and ‘hood busters in a suitcase.
    If the US can do it now, then other powers will be able to do it a generation hence. Watch the Pakistanis.
    And dont get me started on customised genetic pathogens. The Calicivirus is just the start. The day is not long coming when an ethnic-specific deeadly viruses will be manafactured and unleashed against blood enemies: true genocide.
    These weapons will be cheaper & deadlier. And the warriors will be slippier to detect and harder to deter.
    Somehow we have to chill the theo-warriors out whilst curbing their access to the techno-weapons.
    Any ideas?

  40. observa
    February 15th, 2005 at 22:59 | #40

    I guess if a diet of bacon and eggs for breakfast, fritz sandwiches for lunch and pork snags for tea, or sleep deprivation, truth drugs or even used tampons, would induce a confession to prevent a Sept11 incident and this was contrary to Geneva conventions, I might face somewhat of an ethical dilemma. I have a feeling it wouldn’t be for too long though, particularly if experiencing these types of activities has bipartisan political support, for our own troops. At some stage though, ethical concern about means and ends might cause me to desist going down such a slippery slope, although how far might well vary depending on a direct threat to a close family member.

    As to the guilt or innocence of Habib I will form a personal view of that, depending on whether or not he passes my logical test. You will recall that Mr Habib stated that he went to Pakistan/Afghanistan, with a view to migrating there. Now clearly this was attractive to him before his ordeal. If as he now claims, he was totally innocent of the allegations against him, then clearly he has been treated abominably by Australia and one of its close allies, the US. The course should be crystal clear, for he and his family now. Presumably this is why he wants his passport back and is being so cautious with authorities, who might want to frustrate his legal attempts to get it back. All will be revealed in due course, to the logic of the observa.

  41. February 16th, 2005 at 02:09 | #41

    As several recent publications have documented in great detail, manufacturing a crude gun type nuclear device is relatively easy once one obtains a sufficient quantity of Highly Enriched Uranium (also a relatively easy task).

    No, it’s a very difficult task. If it was easy, some major city centres would be glowing green as we speak.

  42. February 16th, 2005 at 13:57 | #42

    Tom Clancy has become a kind of guru in this area – the one time a novelist’s fantasies have been politically predictive.

    The security people now seem to be good at cooking up scarey scenarios and frightening themselves – or more likely their political masters – so much they can’t bring in Occam’s Razor. Possible is not plausible.

    Clancy was wise enough to realise the criteria for a successful attack – it was easy for those people with those resources and that security system.

    A dirty bomb is possible, but other alternatives are much more tempting. Terrorists just won’t flow in that direction.

    The trouble with Hicks and Habib et al is that they make such plausible targets for terrorist organizations. Roaming around the area, coping with their own demons, they have passports, family cover in the West and know exactly how we function.

    It is the very fact that they were sad and innocent that was dangerous. But that does not justify what happened to them.

  43. February 16th, 2005 at 14:09 | #43

    David Tiley — 16/2/2005 @ 1:57 pm unjustly defames the esteemed profession of scaremongering novelists:

    Tom Clancy has become a kind of guru in this area – the one time a novelist’s fantasies have been politically predictive.

    …test]
    No. Ian Fleming predicted the petering out of the (SMERSH) Cold Warring and the rise of (SPECTRE) sub-state, WMD-scale terrorism.
    Bill Joy and Tom Clancy predicted 911 type terrorist attacks. Others didnt. So I will look at their models and predictions before anyone else.

  44. michael.burgess
    February 16th, 2005 at 14:49 | #44

    David,
    All it takes to produce a gun type nuclear weapon is about 60 kilos of HEU with half the amount fired at the other half. This is easily from a variety of sources including the large stockpiles that exist in Russia. A couple of years ago a Russian walked through one of the numerous holes in a security fence cut the padlock and work out with several Kilograms of HEU. He was caught because a) he was dumb and left the padlock simply lying on the ground and b) because a friend he fell out with dobbed him in. Now it is not stretching the imagination too much to suspect that a terrorists group will be less incompetent and less prone to arguing among themselves.

  45. February 16th, 2005 at 15:55 | #45

    MB, that is not all it takes, any more than all it takes to make gunpowder is to mix 10% sulphur, 15% charcoal, and 75% saltpetre – even though those things do roughly happen.

  46. derrida derider
    February 16th, 2005 at 16:24 | #46

    Michael Burgess –
    Where to begin?
    1) No-one who knows me would be likely to accuse me of ‘political (or indeed any other kind of) correctness’
    2) For every Salman Rushdie (whose fate is a very real concern – ‘Midnights Children’ was a great novel), there are many thousands of people whose lives are destroyed by war, by oppression by authorities and, yes, even by car accidents. My point is that a rational Australian, assessing the marginal benefit of government action to reduce threats to life or lifestyle, would be very unlikely to think the WOT high on the list of priorities. Its popularity, like the popularity of harsh immigration laws, is not set by a rational weighing of costs and benefits but by more atavistic impulses (the ref to Ev Psych was a dig at John’s earlier post).
    3) IIRC it wasn’t HEU but non-weapons grade stuff that the Russian stole – and it wasn’t a couple of years ago but ten years ago (Russian nuclear security is far more effective now than it was soon after the breakup of the USSR. If the baddies didn’t get hold of enough of the stuff then, its unlikely they can now). Oh, and I have a couple of nuclear physicist friends who tell me that even a gun design is far from easy – handling two 30kg subcritical masses without dying quickly is a feat on its own. I wouldn’t claim this was totally out of the question for some groups though – just that its enough of a non-trivial problem to be yet another real safeguard.

  47. michael.burgess
    February 16th, 2005 at 16:48 | #47

    PML and DD here is the link to the Nuclear Threat Initative website (http://www.nti.org/). It has numerous articles and links to articles dealing in great detail with the nuclear threat, including the slow progress being made in providing adequate security for nuclear material and the ease with which a gun type device could be made. It is clear from the evidence presented that the probability of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon – if they make a serious effort – is somewhat greater than that of Australia qualifying for the Soccer world cup – and I am very optimistic about the possibility of the latter.

  48. Dave Ricardo
    February 16th, 2005 at 17:12 | #48

    “Australia qualifying for the Soccer world cup”

    Hey, Michael, do you know which country beat Australia in the final match of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup?

  49. Michael Burgess
    February 16th, 2005 at 19:50 | #49

    I suspect it was Israel again

  50. Dave Ricardo
    February 16th, 2005 at 20:05 | #50

    Correct!!

    Speaking of Israel, have you seen this letter in today’s Age?

    The blast in Beirut benefits singularly one party in the Middle-East region: Israel, which is not beyond perpetrating despicable violence to promote the idea of linking Syria with sponsoring terror in Lebanon so that an invasion of the former becomes a fait-accompli. But little do Israel and its sponsor, the US, know that Syria and Lebanon are tied to each other historically, culturally, politically, financially and socially from time immemorial – and no foreign pressure can alter this.
    Paul Maroun, Camberwell

    Comments, please.

  51. Michael Burgess
    February 16th, 2005 at 21:45 | #51

    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.

  52. Jill Rush
    February 16th, 2005 at 22:20 | #52

    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?

  53. observa
    February 17th, 2005 at 07:58 | #53

    “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?

  54. michael.burgess
    February 17th, 2005 at 10:08 | #54

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

  55. Dave Ricardo
    February 17th, 2005 at 10:18 | #55

    “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.

  56. observa
    February 17th, 2005 at 10:58 | #56

    “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.

  57. michael.burgess
    February 17th, 2005 at 11:52 | #57

    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.

  58. Dave Ricardo
    February 17th, 2005 at 12:02 | #58

    “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?

  59. February 17th, 2005 at 14:03 | #59

    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.

  60. February 17th, 2005 at 15:51 | #60

    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.

  61. Andrew Reynolds
    February 18th, 2005 at 17:54 | #61

    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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