Mamdouh Habib is to be released from Guantanamo Bay prison, according to the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.
Mr Habib was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001, accused of aiding the al-Qaeda terrorist network. He was moved to Guantanamo Bay in May 2002, where he has been held since without charge.
- Listen to Ruddock’s Announcement (2m)
- Listen to Habib’s Lawyer, Stephen Hopper (22s)
This is the text of a joint release by the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.
STATEMENT ON MAMDOUH HABIB
Since Mr Mamdouh Habib was detained in May 2002, the Australian Government has consistently urged the United States either to bring charges against him or to release him. The Government has repeatedly impressed on the United States our desire to see his case dealt with expeditiously and fairly.
The United States considers Mr Habib to be an enemy combatant who has been detained in accordance with the laws of war.
However, the United States Government has now advised that it does not intend to bring charges against Mr Habib. In these circumstances the Government has requested Mr Habib’s repatriation to Australia. The United States has agreed to our request.
We have requested the United States authorities to inform Mr Habib of their decision not to prosecute him and of the agreement to repatriate him to Australia. Australian Government officials have informed his family. The timing and logistics of Mr. Habib’s return to Australia remain under discussion.
It remains the strong view of the United States that, based on information available to it, Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks on or before 11 September 2001. Mr Habib has acknowledged he spent time in Afghanistan, and others there at that time claim he trained with al-Qa’ida.
The specific criminal terrorism offences of being a member of, training with, funding or associating with a terrorist organisation such as al-Qa’ida did not exist under Australian law at the time of Mr Habib’s alleged activities. For this reason, on the evidence and advice currently available to the Government, it does not appear likely that Mr Habib can be prosecuted for his alleged activities under those Australian laws.
It should be noted that following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the government enacted comprehensive counter-terrorism legislation. That legislation created a new offence of terrorism and a range of related offences. It also made it an offence to be a member of, to train with, or to provide funds to, a terrorist organisation. Later amendments to this legislation also made it an offence to associate with a person who is a member of a terrorist organisation. These terrorism offences carry substantial penalties of up to life imprisonment. The bulk of these terrorism laws came into effect in early July 2002.
Those terrorism offences are not retrospective and therefore cannot apply to Mr Habib’s alleged activities and associations prior to his capture.
The Government takes Australia’s security seriously. Australia now has comprehensive laws enabling our police and intelligence agencies to deal with security threats. Australian authorities will continue to do everything in their power to ensure that Australian citizens do not engage in, or support terrorism.
Mr Habib remains of interest in a security context because of his former associations and activities. It would be inappropriate for me to elaborate on those issues.
Because of this interest, relevant agencies will undertake appropriate measures. Consistent with long standing practice, the Government does not intend to detail the nature of these measures.