Hasn't Labor worked out its position in the case of Mamdouh Habib's innocence? Or is it deliberately sending out mixed signals? Perhaps it's a bit of both. But what's disturbing is that the main line coming from the newly installed federal Labor leader Kim Beazley is that we shouldn't be wasting our time worrying about Habib.
After all, he went to Afghanistan, didn't he? And as he hasn't explained why he was there, he must be a terrorist! Never mind that the US military command at Guantanamo Bay couldn't find a single charge to lay on him — even after three years of detention and torture.
This is presumably why Labor refused to agree to Habib's offer to appear before a Senate committee to explain what he was doing before he was detained in Pakistan in October 2001. "I'm not in the business of making this bloke a hero", Beazley said. "He shouldn't have opportunity to give evidence to a Senate committee."
But why not? Wasn't his reputation impugned by ASIO and Australian Federal Police officials before a Senate estimates committee? And why shouldn't Habib have the right to clear his name? Even the clrk of Senate, Harry Evans, is prepared to offer Habib a chance to respond before the Senate to the accusations made against him.
Thankfully, not all Labor MPs agree with Beazley's approach.
On February 18, the Senate estimates committee decided to allow Habib to present a written response to the ASIO and AFP chiefs' accusatuions against him.
Socialist Alliance national co-convenor Lisa Macdonald told Green Left Weekly that Beazley's dirty campaign was "designed to perpetrate fear and doubt among sections of the Australian public more prone to buy the government's line on the so-called war on terror".
She observed that under Beazley's last term as Labor leader, the ALP adopted the same racist and scaremongering approach as the Howard government. "Remember the Tampa incident, when the government ran a hysterical, and racist, campaign against asylum seekers in the lead-up to the 2001 election campaign? It was later found to be lying, and the same will happen again in Mamdouh Habib's case. Hasn't Labor learned anything since then?"
From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.
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