MARK DAVIS: Philip Ruddock thanks for your time.
PHILIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Pleasure.
MARK DAVIS: When did you and the Government become aware that Mamdouh Habib had been sent to Egypt for interrogation?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I’m not in a position to say when I or members of the Government may have known. What we are told is that he was sent in around October 2001 and, at that time, Australian law enforcement officers had had some contact with him, but consular access in Pakistan had been denied.
MARK DAVIS: Sorry, I don’t quite understand. You say you’re not in a position to say? Could I just ask you when did the Government become aware that he was in Egypt?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, if you’re asking me when Australian law enforcement officers were informed that he was no longer available in Pakistan or Australian consular officials, I dare say it was probably shortly after 2001. I mean he was not in our care or custody. He was in the custody of others.
MARK DAVIS: Clearly this man didn’t have any capacity to seek the assistance of his government or a lawyer or anybody else. It is a critical question. Was the Australian Government aware that he was in the custody of either American or Egyptian intelligence officers and had been sent to Egypt? This is not a tourist who has just lost his way.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, we were aware that he was detained in Pakistan. We sought access to him. Law enforcement officers had access to him for questioning. Consular officers were denied that access. We then weren’t in a position to get access to him and our enquiries led to nought. So far as Egypt is concerned, Egypt hasn’t confirmed to us that he was held there.
MARK DAVIS: You’ve got Australian officials visiting him in custody in Pakistan and suddenly he’s no longer in custody. Surely those Australian officials inquired as to where he was?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: It’s important to understand there are people who fulfil different roles. The department of Foreign Affairs was denied access…
MARK DAVIS: By whom?
PHILIP RUDDOCK:..to Mr Habib by Pakistani authorities at all times. We were seeking access – that is quite clear. Police had had access to him under, presumably, arrangements they have with policing authorities in Pakistan to question people.
MARK DAVIS: Are you disturbed that he can completely go off the radar? Are you disturbed that an Australian citizen can be sent either at the request of the Americans or at the instigation of the Pakistanis to Egypt of all places to be interrogated in a country well known for its inhumane treatment of prisoners?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I’d make this point about Mr Habib in particular, that if Egypt expressed interest in him as an Egyptian national, he being a dual national, they would have the same entitlements if they sought to exercise them that we would. But so far as Australian consular officials are concerned, they used their best efforts to get access to people at all times but they are in other jurisdictions where the decisions as to what access they will be given, are taken by others and I’m not prepared to blame Australian foreign affairs officials for their inability…
MARK DAVIS: I don’t think anyone is blaming Australian Foreign Affairs officials, but I think people might fairly point the finger of blame at the Australian Government when an Australian citizen can be arrested, sent to a third country with no access to lawyers, no access to his government, and we don’t know why he’s there or, indeed, when he was there or what the Australian Government did to express their concern?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: What you do know is we sought, at all times, consular access to him. That’s the point I’m making.
MARK DAVIS: From your investigations – if not at the time, subsequently, on whose authority was he sent to Egypt? Was it at the request of American officials?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I noticed your program is going to make certain assertions in relation to that. I am unable to say by whose authority he was removed, if he was removed. I simply make the point that it has been claimed he was in Egypt. He is an Egyptian…
MARK DAVIS: Why wouldn’t you know that? Why wouldn’t you know that by now? Why wouldn’t your Department have made inquiries as to how an Australian citizen ends up secretly in an Egyptian jail?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, you know what you’re told. I’m simply saying that in relation to these matters, Egypt has not acknowledged at any time, as I am advised, that Mr Habib was in Egypt.
MARK DAVIS: Have the Americans advised that he was in Egypt?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I mean we have made inquiries in relation to those matters. We know now he is in American custody in Guantanamo Bay. We see assertions about the way in which other issues are dealt with, but I’m not in a position to account for or detail the way in which America handled the individual detainees. I’m not in a position to do that. I mean, it may be appropriate for me to ask, but I’ve not seen fit to ask at this point in time.
MARK DAVIS: Well, these allegations of torture – and rather extreme torture – aren’t new. What does it take for you to see fit to make inquiry of at least a cursory nature?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, again, I mean, these are not matters about which we can make inquiries. We can ask, but they’re not matters about which we can make inquiries. What we have asked for and been assured is that in relation to not only Mr Habib’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay, but also his treatment at all times that he was in American custody or care or control, that those matters be the subject of investigation and we’ve been assured that they will be but we have had no reports at this stage on the nature of those investigations, who is undertaking the inquiries or the results of them. But that is what we have sought and we believe it was appropriate that we should seek to have those inquiries undertaken.
MARK DAVIS: Well, is it ever the case where a victim in a secret prison makes claims that he’s been tortured. Is there ever a case of getting independent confirmation of that? Shouldn’t you take a victim’s statement extremely seriously and have you done so?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: You see, where I think these matters might be relevant – that was certainly in the course of your program raised by his Australian representative – is if somebody is abused, they have an entitlement to bring actions as any Australian might in Australia under the law of the country in which they’re being held.
MARK DAVIS: When? When? He’s being held without charge, indefinitely, no access to legal counsel.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Those who believe they have the evidence seek to do that, but in the context of any trial – and there will be a trial of Mr Hicks and we believe charges will be laid in due course against Mr Habib – the question about whether any evidence was raised in a situation in which it is alleged torture occurred, then the weight that is put to that evidence is a matter that will be considered by the relevant tribunal. That’s where these issues become germane in relation to any potential charges that are brought.
MARK DAVIS: If he has been treated, as alleged, what value would you, as a lawyer, place upon the worth of any statements or confessions that he or others in his circumstances should be given, what weight would they carry?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, the weight varies depending upon the nature of the tribunal that deals with these issues. In the context of our courts, the material isn’t entertained. But obviously if it is obtained under duress, the quality of it in terms of being evidence is severely diminished.
MARK DAVIS: Mr Ruddock, thanks again for your time.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: It’s a pleasure.