Just over a week ago, New Matilda published my short-essay on the public reception of last December’s CIA Torture Report amongst Australia’s defence think-tanks. Since then, David Hicks’ Lawyer, Stephen Kenny, has stated that the US Government has “admitted that his conviction was not correct.” While it remains to be seen whether this acknowledgment will result in Hicks’ conviction being quashed, the admission nevertheless raises troubling questions. Should the conviction be quashed, it will throw into stark relief the Howard Government’s acquiescence to, and political complicity with, the rendition, detention, prosecution and torture of an Australian citizen by a foreign nation. Here, it is appropriate to highlight the recent statement by Bill Rowlings of Civil Liberties Australia on David Hicks’s case:
[Phillip] Ruddock is still an MP in the federal parliament. He should be called to account by the parliament for why he jailed an Australian who had committed no crime. He, John Howard and their advisers were told clearly at the time by all sorts of people that material support for terrorism was not a legal charge available to the Pentagon and the US Administration, and that Australia should have no part in jailing someone charged with a non-crime.
And yet, one cannot help but feel pessimistic about the chances that anyone will be actually held accountable for the crimes committed against Mr Hicks. As Cynthia Banham submitted, in one of the four articles published by the Lowy Institute on the report, the revelations highlight our indifference to the treatment of Mr. Hicks and Mamdouh Habib:
The fact is the Australian public and civil society have never cared enough about the likelihood that two Australians were tortured in the war on terror to force the government into holding a full, public inquiry into whether and how that occurred.
Alongside this, there are further issues raised by the report that neither we, nor the defence commentariat, cannot shy away from. For instance, there remain unresolved questions regarding the possibility and probability of ongoing and future abuses by US military and intelligence agencies. Susanne Schmeidl, for example, raised the issue that the report could just be the “tip of the iceberg” and that the CIA might be continuing such practices, albeit modified, by other means. She notes, for example, that whilst the program in its specifics was dismantled, the CIA remains embedded with contractors in Afghanistan, still largely removed from effective oversight and public accountability.
Clearly, the implications of the CIA Torture Report and the troubling questions that they suggest are not confined to the extent and kind of military intelligence support that Australia provides the US during joint-operations and outside them. It suggests that not only does bipartisan support for the US-alliance run so deeply that the Australian political elite is content to allow Australian citizens to be falsely imprisoned and, subsequently tortured, by a foreign government, but that we as the Australian public either support such political complicity or are simply indifferent to its perpetration.