2 June 2004

Howard's answer 1 June

I did indicate in the House yesterday - and I say this for the purposes of completeness of that answer - that the defence department had in its possession some documents described as working drafts or working papers. I have now been briefed on these papers. I am told by the defence department that the working papers of October-November last year do indeed cover advice previously given to me by the department - that is, that they are largely a discussion of prison conditions and possibilities for improvement or amelioration. However, I have now been told that the documents also canvassed allegations of unacceptable treatment of prisoners. I have been informed by the defence department that these documents were handed over by Major O'Kane to the department on 11 May - although one had been with the department since February - and that their content was considered systematically by the department for the first time over the last few days. They were then drawn to Senator Hill's attention over the weekend and then, as indicated, to my attention.

As the House will know, these matters are still before the Senate estimates committee. However, and this goes very directly to the point asked by the Leader of the Opposition, I have asked Senator Hill, when the Senate meets again - and he is the responsible minister, the Minister for Defence - to make a full statement to the Senate on this issue canvassing both the chronology and the substance of contact between ADF personnel, the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and the ICRC and the extent and timing of communication of the details of such contact to officials of the government in Australia.

Mr Snowdon interjecting-

The SPEAKER -Order! The member for Lingiari is warned.

Mr HOWARD -It remains the case that all statements that I have made on this issue have been based on advice from the Department of Defence: all statements have been based on that advice. Most importantly of all, it should be emphasised again that at no stage did Australia hold prisoners in Iraq. Let me say that again: at no stage did Australia hold prisoners in Iraq. There has been no suggestion of any Australian involvement in prisoner abuse, and any implication to that effect should be totally rejected.

The prime minister's correction does no quite address the real question - Australia's responsibility (or lack of it) for the violation of human rights by the occupation. The following exchange on Monday in the Senate estimates hearing shows how silly the Howard argument is:

Senator FAULKNER�Is the letter that has been provided to you in the material from Major O�Kane his draft or is it effectively a copy of the letter that went in response to the ICRC?

Mr Carmody�It is his draft. It is an unsigned document. It was to be signed obviously by someone more senior.

Senator FAULKNER�Has it got a classification?

Mr Carmody�I do not know.

Senator FAULKNER�Is there any reason why that draft could not be provided to this committee?

Air Cdre S. Harvey�Apart from the obvious reason that it is a reply by an American official to an ICRC report�

Senator FAULKNER�No. It is an Australian draft for an American official.

Gen. Cosgrove�It cannot be determined an Australian draft. It was drafted by an Australian who was working for the Americans, so it is their property. If an American officer who was working in Australian headquarters writing information for use within the Australian government process decided he would give to the congress a copy of an Australian letter, I do not think we would be�

Senator CHRIS EVANS�That is an important point of clarification. I thought it was at coalition headquarters.

Gen. Cosgrove�Yes, but the detaining�

Senator CHRIS EVANS�Are we a member of the coalition? Gen. Cosgrove�This was the detaining power. The detaining power in this case was the United States.

Senator CHRIS EVANS�This is not the US headquarters; this is the coalition headquarters.

Gen. Cosgrove�Yes, but in an official sense it was the United States part of the coalition replying to the ICRC.

Senator FAULKNER�It was not the US military headquarters. This was done for someone in CJTF7, which is the Coalition Joint Task Force�correct?

Gen. Cosgrove�Yes.

Senator FAULKNER�Australia is part of the coalition, isn�t it?

Gen. Cosgrove�Yes.

Senator CHRIS EVANS�Who was the ICRC report addressed to�the coalition?

Senator Hill�The ICRC report was not addressed�the working papers were not addressed.

Senator CHRIS EVANS�As I understand it, they were addressed to the coalition.

Senator FAULKNER�Are you saying, General Cosgrove, that you would have to check with coalition partners before such a draft was made public?

Senator Hill�Can we take that one on notice? I think there are two issues. There is the one General Cosgrove is concerned about, which is the coalition relationships when officers are serving in line positions. The other issue is that the response obviously refers to working papers that the ICRC wishes to keep confidential. If we were to be permitted a reasonable time to consider those questions, I would appreciate it.

Essentially what Hill and Howard are saying is that we belong to the coalition for the purpose of invading Iraq but not for the purpose of occupying Iraq. That argument collapses when you consider that Australia continues to provide troops and officers to the CPA, to CJTF7 and elsewhere in the occupation. All this really means is that the Howard government should have negotiated a role for itself in governing the occupation instead of leaving everything to the discretion of the White House. I just do not see how the failure to establish an Australian political role in the CPA somehow ends our juridical duty to ensure human rights in Iraq while it remains under occupation.

If the Howard government had a splendid and enviable record of defending human rights and co-operating with monitoring by the UN and the Red Cross they might have a case. It is a matter of public record they do not. Indeed the government recently decided not to ratify the Torture Convention's optional protocol for reasons which are essentially just spin about Australian exceptionalism.

The Howard government is trying to carve out an exception to US exceptionalism by which Australia has no responsibility in Iraq except that which favours the political fortunes of one John Howard.

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