Australia's Guantanamo?

November 24, 2006

"A visit by US officials has raised fears on Christmas Island that an immigration detention centre could be turned into a Guantanamo-style prison", the November 17 Melbourne Age reported.

Christmas Island is 2400 kilometres from Perth, 360km from Jakarta and nearly 2000km from Darwin. The federal government is spending $240 million on the new detention centre.

"A group of about six [US defence officials] arrived by American plane and left on a commercial flight a week later ... they took photos, and prepared a report for their masters in Washington", Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson told the Age.

"The guys who came here were part of the military machine, one of them gave me a card which said he was based in Virginia and that is where the CIA is. They were looking at a Guantanamo style prison."

Thomson said the US officials had studied Christmas Island's port, airport and hospital. "They said that they were here to make a report because they don't want to be caught flat footed in the event US assets are engaged in a humanitarian mission."

Thomson said most of the island's inhabitants were opposed to the detention centre. "We don't want a prison on Christmas Island at all, we don't want a prison for refugees anywhere."

The detention centre includes possible solitary confinement cells, Thomson said.

A defence department spokesperson said the visiting US officials were a military survey team, not CIA officers as Thomson suggested.

In a November 16 media release, refugee-rights activist Pamela Curr stated that the detention centre will have electrified fences and microwave probes (movement detectors) similar to those at South Australia's Baxter immigration detention centre, but also hundreds of different camera systems, posted under eaves, on roofs and in every room.

It will have CCTV linked to a remote-control room in Canberra.

She said there would be cameras and microphones in every room, wall mounted behind heavy metal grilles. The doors to the rooms will be electronically opened and closed.

"Microwave probes will surround every building as well as the layers of perimeter fences encircling the centre. Access by car goes through airlock systems and electric doors, and between the multi-layered fence system there will be checkpoints for human guards on patrol and outdoor security cubicles for them to sit, sited at short intervals all around the perimeter of the centre.

"Each of these security cubicles is to be wired with duress buttons and microwave probes."

Curr said: "Those of us who have witnessed the disintegration of the human spirit in Baxter can only shudder at the impact this will have on whom ever is selected for incarceration in this place. Baxter is weeks away from closure bringing to an end the isolated detention camps of Curtin, Port Hedland, Woomera and now Baxter.

"We will not forget the 'management units', isolation cells, punishment regimes, water canon, capsicum spray, baton charges, bashings and brutality unleashed in these places without scrutiny under [former immigration minister Philip] Ruddock. We must not let this government and the supine opposition build this even worse gulag out in the Indian Ocean far from scrutiny, beyond the reach of law and justice."

Curr question why this new prison was being built. "Only 153 people have arrived by boat to Australia or an offshore island since December 2001. Yet, here we have a government with a contingency plan of an 800-bed prison on the off chance that someone may come.

"Considering that they have no contingency plan for our future water supplies, our starving public hospitals and health system and our disintegrating public schools and universities not to mention desperate skills shortage, it does not make sense.

"We do not know for whom this hellhole is being built but we do know that whoever is incarcerated there will suffer in body and spirit. They will be deprived of their human rights and will have no access to Australian legal rights.

"The recently signed Indonesia-Australia security treaty is very worrying. Will West Papuans be interred in this gulag?

"We know that the people left on Nauru were eventually removed because they became so sick and depressed that their very survival could not be assured.

"In this place human beings will be under intense electronic surveillance and God knows what else. Refugee advocates and lawyers will have no access unless the government allows it. Christmas Island is a distant and expensive plane trip from Australia. There are no lawyers on the island."

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