LAST December 17 in Sydney, officers representing the federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland signed a secret deal with former terror suspect Mamdouh Habib.
It featured an undisclosed compensation payout in return for Habib dropping his long-running civil suit claiming commonwealth complicity in his 2001 arrest, rendition, detention and torture in Pakistan, Egypt and Guantanamo Bay.
The secrecy clause preventing details of the deal being made public prolonged a decade-long cover-up of exactly what the Australian government and its officers knew about Habib's CIA rendition to Egypt, where he was held in barbarous conditions and tortured for seven months, before being transferred to Cuba. Since Habib returned to Australia in January 2005, successive governments and the security agencies have denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, this ugly episode.
The commonwealth has used every legal device at its disposal to keep the sordid details under wraps, routinely frustrating media and legal efforts to get to the truth, in the name of national security.
In 2007 a judge in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal lashed out at ASIO's repeated refusal to release information on Habib, asking: "Why should we take your word for it when again and again we find things that are said to be the subject of national security concerns turn out not to be? I mean it looks like an easy way out for ASIO: when in doubt, just say 'national security'."
The hush-hush settlement seemed set to stamp the Habib case closed for good. But with the ink on it hardly dry, startling claims have emerged about Australia's connivance in the brutal maltreatment of one of its citizens.
The new testimony is in the form of witness statements obtained by Habib and tendered to commonwealth lawyers - but not until now made public - which apparently precipitated the December deal.
These accounts have not been tested in court but, if true, they provide damning evidence of Australia's collusion, and expose as lies the repeated insistence that Australia had no knowledge of or involvement in Habib's ordeal.
A decade after the event, it is now possible to piece together the sorry story of Australia's treatment of Habib, based on court testimony, witness statements, government documents released from court files and under freedom of information, and insider accounts. It is a disturbing tale.
Habib was arrested in Pakistan days after the September 11 attacks on the US. He has always maintained he was there to look at relocating his family, while Australian investigators claim he had been in an al-Qa'ida training camp, which Habib still denies.
Either way, he was of keen interest to the authorities, particularly the CIA, because of his acquaintance with the militants who carried out the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993.
Australian officials visited Habib, along with FBI and CIA agents, three times while he was detained in Islamabad in late October 2001.
A few days later he was handed over to the Americans, handcuffed, shackled, hooded, with his mouth and eyes taped and a bag over his head, and flown to Bagram air base in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Egypt. [Ron: What possible FRIGGEN reason can there be for treating any human being in this way?!]
For the next seven months there he was subjected to relentless interrogation, beatings, electric shocks, water torture, sexual assault, cigarette burns and more.
For years, the Australian authorities denied any knowledge of Habib's detention in Egypt.
It was only in 2008 that the Australian Federal Police revealed that his pending transfer had been raised by US officials in Pakistan before the event, and then discussed in Canberra among officers from the AFP, ASIO, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the attorney-general's and prime minister's departments, who "agreed that the Australian government could not agree to the transfer of Mr Habib to Egypt", evidence to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee in May 2008 shows.
"Plausible deniability" was thus achieved,while Habib's transfer went ahead anyway. US terrorism investigators have said it is inconceivable the rendition would have proceeded without Australia knowing, and intelligence insiders say those involved in Habib's case were in no doubt as to where he was being sent. Habib has always maintained Australian officials were present during his transfer to, and detention in, Cairo.
For their part, the government and security agencies have steadfastly denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, his time in Egypt, even insisting they were never sure he was there at all.[Ron: Sooo, tell me, what possible FRIGGEN use are "government and security agencies" IF THEY REALLY DON'T KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING to Australians in the custody of Australia's so-called allies?! WHY do we put up with this lying shit dished up year after year, decade after decade, by government servants and agents PAID with Australians' taxes?!]
Both ASIO and the DFAT have stated they had no contact with Habib in Egypt. [Ron: IF Mamdouh Habib was such a BIG national security threat what excuse does ASIO give for not being involved in his interrogation OR EVEN KNOWING WHERE HE WAS?!] But the untested witness statements obtained for Habib's civil suit, and now reported exclusively in The Weekend Australian, tell a different story.
One statement, by a former Egyptian military intelligence officer who worked at the Cairo prison where terror suspects were held, says Australian officials were present when Habib arrived and throughout his detention.
"During Habib's presence some of the Australian officials attended many times . . . The same official who attended the first time used to come with them," the statement says. "Habib was tortured a lot and all the time, as the foreign intelligence wanted quick and fast information."
The officer, whose name does not appear in the translation of his statement seen by The Weekend Australian, said he was prepared to testify in court, if he was given protection.
Another statement was obtained from a fellow detainee of Habib's in Egypt and later Guantanamo Bay, Pakistani-Saudi national Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni. Madni was captured by the CIA in Jakarta in January 2002 and rendered to Egypt and later Guantanamo Bay, accused of being a member of al-Qa'ida. He was finally released in August 2009 and reunited with his family in Lahore, Pakistan.
Madni describes spending three months in a 6 by 8 foot (1.8m by 2.4m) underground cell, and being tortured by similar methods to those described by Habib.
He recounts, "I could hear Mamdouh Habib screaming in pain during his interrogation", and recalls being told by prison staff that the Australian was very sick and possibly dying.
Madni also claims Australian officials were there.
"Egyptian, Australian, Israeli (Mossad) and US intelligence agencies were involved in my interrogations . . . The Egyptian interrogator told me that the Australian intelligence organisation wanted to ask me questions about Mamdouh Habib . . . An officer . . . asked me questions like 'How did you know or where did you meet Mamdouh Habib?"'
These disturbing allegations will presumably be central to a fresh inquiry ordered this week by the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, the watchdog that oversees our intelligence and security agencies.
Julia Gillard requested the inquiry, apparently after the settlement was reached, and after Habib wrote to the Prime Minister telling her he had witnesses who could confirm the presence of Australian officials in Egypt.
The Prime Minister's office confirms Gillard has asked the Inspector-General to inquire into "the actions of relevant Australian agencies" in relation to Habib's arrest and detention overseas. A spokesperson tells Focus: "A number of serious allegations have been made in relation to this matter and it is appropriate for the Prime Minister to request that they be properly examined. The IGIS Act requires inquiries to be conducted in private." But the spokesperson did not say if the results will be released.