Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Mamdouh Habib remains a person of security co -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Mamdouh Habib remains a person of security concern: Ruddock

Reporter: Heather Ewart

HEATHER EWART: Late this afternoon, I discussed the implications of the case with Attorney-General
Philip Ruddock. Philip Ruddock, have you failed in your duty of care for an Australian citizen

PHILIP RUDDOCK (ATTORNEY-GENERAL): If people commit offences that can lead to charges and they are
being held abroad, we offer consular advice. Now, we don't have a capacity to determine the outcome
of charges; we don't have a capacity, in relation to proceedings that are brought abroad, to
influence those matters, but we do tell people that they should get independent legal advice. We do
assist in ensuring that they get consular access for the purposes of briefing them as to what their
legal entitlements are.

HEATHER EWART: But this man has been detained for three years, with no charges laid in the end. How
fair is that?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I simply make the observation that the United States believes he was an enemy
combatant, and in accordance with the rules of war...

HEATHER EWART: But not enough to lay charges against him?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, but in accordance with the rules of war, enemy combatants are entitled to be
held until the conclusion of hostilities. I mean, that's the principle. The war against terror is a
significant engagement in which we're all involved, and it is not concluded. Now, what we've sought
is, in relation to Australians, that if there is evidence on which charges can be brought, that
those charges should be brought. We wanted them to be brought more quickly than they were. We've
made that clear. We've expressed our anxiety in relation to resolving these matters to the United
States Government, including at the highest level, Prime Minister to President, and that's occurred
before. I've raised it with American authorities - the Attorney-General, White House counsel, as
well as Defense officials. So we were anxious that this matter proceed as quickly as possible, and
when we received advice, which was only very recently, that charges were not going to be pressed,
we sought his return, and that's been acceded to.

HEATHER EWART: Were you surprised by this decision by the United States Government?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, our expectation, when the President announced that he had been considered as
a person for charges to be brought, was that that would proceed. So the advice that we received
initially from American authorities, that they had come to another view, was a surprise to us, yes.

HEATHER EWART: So do you feel that you've been strung along? On what basis are you disappointed
with the United States' handling of this?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, we're disappointed about the length of time that it's taken to get to this
position, and we have sought that expedition, and it didn't occur in the way in which we would have

HEATHER EWART: So exactly what did you expect here?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Our expectation was that if the United States was in a position to charge Habib, it
would have happened very much earlier.

HEATHER EWART: Well, the bottom line here is that three years on, he was not charged. In
retrospect, do you now think that you should have tried much harder to get him out of there?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, the important point, I think, that needs to be understood is that we looked
very closely at information that was known to us as to whether or not he could be charged here in
Australia, and the Americans had always taken the view that if we were in a position to charge him
- and I might say, for that matter, Mr Hicks - that they would have released them to us for the
purposes of pursuing those matters. We looked at our laws in relation to these matters and found
our laws were deficient.

HEATHER EWART: Is there any prospect of charges being laid against him in Australia?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, there is no prospect under Australian law, on the information that is now
before us. But if further information were to become known which suggests that offences have
occurred, then charges will be brought.

HEATHER EWART: So you will keep him under surveillance?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, I've not said that. What I've said is that he remains a person of security
concern and that, in accordance with our law, competent authorities will do what is appropriate in
relation to him, and we don't talk about those matters; it's not helpful to talk about them...

HEATHER EWART: But why not, because in effect you're forcing this man to live in some sort of
twilight zone.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, it's not. It's a situation in which competent authorities have certain lawful
entitlements where they can pursue certain matters. Decisions have to be taken in relation to those
matters. We do not detail those measures, and it's not appropriate to put that sort of information
into the public arena. It only compromises its effectiveness.

HEATHER EWART: But in a democracy like ours, if charges are not laid, isn't a person entitled to
live normally with the presumption of innocence?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, they're entitled to live a normal life, subject to Australian law, and...

HEATHER EWART: Do you see what I mean? What sort of precedent are you setting here?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, no, I'm simply saying that under Australian law, there are certain
authorities that have - with appropriate consents to undertake a range of activities in relation to
any Australians.

HEATHER EWART: Mr Ruddock, were there Australian officials present when Habib was apprehended in

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Now, I don't know - they certainly weren't with him 24 hours a day, but at the time
when they were present, on advice to me, they did not see any torture or any inappropriate

HEATHER EWART: And yet these detailed allegations are laid out in court documents. Are you anxious
to find out more now?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, they're allegations, and they'll be tested. But the point I make is that
those allegations suggest Australian officials who had non-consular access witnessed certain acts
which those people involved say did not happen.

HEATHER EWART: Minister, do you have any regrets about this entire case, and do you understand the
criticisms coming from some legal quarters and elsewhere that this is a shameful episode in our
legal history?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I don't, and I make it very clear that we have a greater obligation to
protect our own people, and there are some people who assert that individuals have a licence to
behave in ways which might put the lives of Australian citizens at risk, and I'm simply saying: we
will use our best endeavours to ensure that that doesn't happen, and I don't feel any shame in
relation to those matters whatsoever. I feel I have an obligation.

HEATHER EWART: Minister, thank you for joining us.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: It's a pleasure.