27 February 2004

Retiring full-time is dead: Costello

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said discrimination laws should be changed if they stopped employers advertising specifically for older workers.

Asked on Melbourne radio if the Government would change the law, Mr Howard said: 'I think we can go too far with this sort of very rigid obsession with discrimination . . . if, in fact, we actually as a society want to encourage older people to stay, and if the law is standing in the way, well the law should be altered.'

Mr Howard's spokesman said later there was no evidence that existing laws stood in the way of older people being employed, 'but if evidence was produced which showed it did stand in the way, then we would consider changing it'.

The federal election is likely in October/November. That means we have 9 months of drivel from the Man of Steel where he promises to repeal discriminatory laws that do not exist. You get a sexed-up soundbite from the Man of Steel's own lips and later some unknown spokescreature mutters the correction. I wonder which item will make the news?

In the same interview the Man of Steel said of the Redfern riot:

The solution very much lies in treating everybody equally and as part of the mainstream as far as law enforcement is concerend.

Evidently he has not been told about the continuing arrests since the Redfern riot.

John Howard is not a stupid man. Are we really expected to believe he did not first check if such laws exist or if the rioters are being prosecuted? Or are we expected to believe his staff knew and failed to advise him?

Blix, Butler 'bugged'

The British or US intelligence services monitored former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's mobile phone whenever he was in Iraq, sources have told the ABC.

A key Australian official at the heart of attempts to locate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Richard Butler, has also told the ABC that he was bugged while carrying out delicate international negotiations with the Iraqis.

The revelations come after former British cabinet minister Clare Short said the British intelligence service had spied on United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan as the United States and Britain tried to win UN support for invading Iraq.

Andrew Fowler from the ABC's Investigative Unit says sources have told him that Australia's Office of National Assessments has read transcripts of Dr Blix's phone conversations in Iraq.

'That's what I'm told, specifically each time he entered Iraq his phone was targeted and recorded and the transcripts were then made available to the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK and also New Zealand,' Mr Fowler said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister John Howard refused to comment on the claims. Mr Howard's spokesman says the Government does not confirm nor deny matters relating to intelligence.

The Foreign Minister will not say whether Australia had secret intelligence information on United Nations officials before the war in Iraq.

Alexander Downer says no government minister should ever discuss such operational matters.

It's a reasonable principle that no minister should comment on intelligence matters under normal circumstances. It is not a normal circumstance when a government cites intelligence to justify a war and that intelligence is then proved wrong.

If the Australian government had access to such transcripts then it knew a great deal more about Blix' inspections than it has admitted before now. Among other things it knew that:

  • Blix was not being given full access to CIA WMD information
  • Blix was being given full access to Iraqi facilities and sites
  • Blix was not finding WMDs where the US and UK said there were WMDs to be found

It is untrue that no minister has been prepared to comment on 'operational matters'. When ADF Brigadier-General Steve Meekin commented on the mythical aluminium tubes Senator Hill was quick to disavow the comment, even though Kay later told Panorama the tubes claim was based on 'straws of evidence' reported the tubes were not for nuclear purposes. Evidently there's a subsection in the rule against comment that excepts material that supports the government's position from the general rule.

There comes a point at which ministerial responsibility cannot cower and splutter any longer behind refusing to comment.

Duplicity, evasions - but no answers

The aborted case against Katharine Gun, and Clare Short's allegations, simply underline the inadequacy of the Butler Commission. Let us recall the calamitous interaction between the intelligence services and the British government on Iraq. There was Scott Ritter's account of M16's Operation Mass Appeal in the 1990s, designed to 'shake up public opinion' against Iraq, using dubious intelligence material. There were the dodgy dossiers, using a plagiarised 10-year-old thesis, and forged evidence on alleged uranium purchases. There was the alleged failure to tell the prime minister that the doubtful 45 minutes claim related only to battlefield munitions, and the subsequent failure to find the allegedly ubiquitous WMD.

What a catalogue of failure. Blair's response to this situation, and to the evidence of Gun and Short, is wholly unsatisfactory. His imputations against the two women's integrity is woefully inadequate. Until we have a full, public and independent inquiry into the case for going to war against Iraq, there will remain a dark cloud over the prime minister. When that cloud breaks, the umbrella of the intelligence service will be of no protection to him.

Peter Kilfoyle is Labour MP for Liverpool Walton and a former defence minister

The Guardian has also posted the explanation sic by the UK Director of Public prosecutions:

The evidential deficiency related to the prosecution's inability, within the current statutory framework, to disprove the defence of necessity to be raised on the particular facts of this case.

I am unsure what that means. Naturally the blogosphere is fat filling up with realpolitik explanations about how governments spy and governments bug. What that does not explain is why the US and Uk used their unlawful bugging operation to torpedo any chance of a compromise UN resolution that might have impeded their drive to war.

I am sure what the UN is saying about this boys' own adventure:

Asked whether the practice of bugging the Secretary-General was regarded as illegal, the spokesman replied affirmatively, citing the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN, the 1947 "Headquarters Agreement" between the UN and the United States, and the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

In particular, he referred to Article 2 of the 1946 treaty, which states that, "The premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable. The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial or legislative action.

The UN cannot play its role if parties cannot talk to the secretary-general without fearing what they say will be reported to others. Blair is welcome to move for abolition of the UN if that is what he believes in. If he believes in the organisation at all (and he claims to) then he should obey the laws that establish its privileges and immunities.

If the US and British governments bugged (say) the US Democratic national committee or a member of the UK opposition in order to get on with the war would anyone call that justified? How is Watergate on the Hudson different?

Why we're left singing for our super

Costello's budgets have shown that despite massive revenue flowing from high economic growth and record Government revenue to GDP levels, the budget surpluses, largely, cannot be preserved. After new spending, the surplus is invariably left running on empty. Even now it only stands at about half a per cent of GDP after 12 consecutive years of economic growth.

In national savings terms, these surpluses would have been much safer paid as tax cuts preserved in individual super accounts to age 55. Instead they have been whittled away on the cabinet table by spending ministers, especially around election time.

It doesn't matter which way you cut the super equation, 9 per cent is not enough. Even so, it is a miracle for Australia that the 9 per cent is in place. At the time, the employer bodies opposed it, as did the Liberal opposition. Other large industrial countries have nothing like it.

The pity for Australia is that the political system is focused only on ways to get at the money rather than finding ways to add to it.

A further 6 per cent of compulsory savings would not only dramatically improve retirement incomes, it would also substantially lift national savings, for capital formation and for dealing with the current account deficit.

Both political parties should be making a start on the 6 per cent. And making it as early as possible.

I could not believe Costello's speech. The guy has a tin ear when it comes to politics. Fiddling at the margins of the superannuation systen and then telling people they might have to work forever just does not strike me as brilliant policy or brilliant politics.

As Ross Gittins wrote about the Costello speech:

This is gesture politics. It's about creating a general impression that you're getting on with fixing the big economic issues when, in truth, you've run out of puff and run out of nerve.

Iraqi Cleric Calls for Vote by Year's End

In a statement issued by his office in Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani demanded 'clear guarantees, such as a Security Council resolution,' to fix a date so 'there is no more postponement and prolonging.'

It was al-Sistani's first public comment on elections since U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ruled out a vote by June 30, the date the United States plans to return sovereignty to Iraqis.

Al-Sistani said that although the United Nations decided an election was not feasible before then, its suggestion that the vote could be held by year's end 'is of great significance.'

Washington also has argued that elections could not be held before the transfer of power because of the absence of electoral laws and voter rolls.

Doesn't al-Sistani know that these days no one can now doubt the word of America?

Spy case casts fresh doubt on war legality

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a former deputy head of the legal team at the FO, has confirmed publicly for the first time that she resigned last year because she was unhappy with the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith's legal advice to the government on the legality of the Iraq war.

He argued that the series of consecutive UN resolutions provided a legal basis for the military action. But Ms Wilmshurst told the Guardian: 'Some agreed with the legal advice of the attorney general. I did not.' She refused to discuss the details of the advice.

She left on the eve of the war after 30 years on the FO's legal team, and deputy legal adviser since 1997. She is now at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, specialising in the legality of military intervention.

Yesterday James Welch, a solicitor for the civil rights group Liberty and Ms Gun's lawyer, said the final decision to abandon the case was taken after they had warned the prosecution that they would demand the disclosure of the attorney general's advice on the legality of the war.

'Our case was that any advice the government received on the legality of war was relevant to Katharine's case and we were prepared to go before a judge and argue for it to be disclosed,' he said.

Why cannot the legal advice be published? the Blair government tells us the war was legal. Publishing an attorney-general's opinion that confirms the war was legal cannot possibly hurt Blair. There cannot now be any security problems with the opinion. It is, after all, not as though something in Lord Goldsmith's opinion will tip off the Saddam tyranny about the coalition's military operations.

The only logical explanation is that there is something in the opinion embarrassing to Blair. A rough guess is that the opinion turns on the 45 minute question which is now known to be inaccurate.

While compassionate social democrats are meditating on releasing the report, they might consider releasing also when Blair claims he knew the 45 minutes related only to battlefield CBW and not to WMDs capable of being used outside Iraq.

What we need is the opnion and when Blair knew the 45 minute claim was wrong. What we'll get is passionate speeches with lots of flashing eyes and zero substance.

Tenet Says Dangers to U.S. Are at Least as Great as a Year Ago

George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence, said Tuesday that the world was at least as 'fraught with dangers for American interests' as it was a year ago, despite the toppling of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq and successes in dismantling the leadership of Al Qaeda.

Most worrying, Mr. Tenet said, the radical anti-American sentiments and destructive expertise used by Al Qaeda have spread to other Sunni Muslim extremists who are behind a 'next wave' of terrorism that will endure 'for the foreseeable future with or without Al Qaeda in the picture.'

'People who say that this is exaggerated don't look at the same world that I look at,' Mr. Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee as he presented a stark annual report on the threats that face the United States around the world. The broader terrorist threat, he said, 'is not going away any time soon.'

I seem to remmber Howard Dean saying something quite similar and getting pilloried for it.

Short: UK spied on Kofi Annan

Downing Street refused to comment on the allegation, but insisted that the UK's intelligence services always acted within the law.

A spokesman said: 'We never comment on intelligence matters. Our intelligence and security agencies act in accordance with national and international law at all times.'

Asked whether British agencies had been involved in spying activities against Mr Annan, Ms Short - who quit the cabinet in protest over the Iraq war - said: 'I know, I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations.

'Indeed, I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war, thinking: 'Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this, and people will see what he and I are saying'.'

Ms Short was asked whether she believed that British spies had been instructed to carry out operations within the UN on personnel such as Mr Annan. 'Yes, absolutely,' she replied.


26 February 2004

It's the Electoral System, Stupid!

One solution is the voting method which has come to be known as Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV. Used to elect the president of Ireland, a variety of office-holders in Australia and approved by San Francisco voters for city-wide use there, Instant Runoff Voting deftly deals with multiple candidates and ensures that the winner of an election is supported by a majority of voters. It works like this: instead of voting for just one candidate, voters instead rank the candidates in order of preference. Their first choice candidate is number one, the second choice number two and so on. If any candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, that candidate has won and the election is over. If, however, no candidate receives an absolute majority of first choice votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated from the race and the ballots are counted again. This 'second' round of voting, or runoff, is conducted automatically. In the second round, the ballots cast for the eliminated candidate are scanned for their second choice votes and are awarded to the remaining candidates. This process of eliminating the last place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.

I suspect the republic is going to become a live issue over the next year or so. Latham and Costello are both republicans and the republic is tailor-made for either of them to cut a cotnrast with the Man of Steel.

The convention model rejected in 1999 provided for an appointed president.

I voted no and hated doing it, but the convention model was just too flawed.

Every poll since Keating first raised the issue has supported an elected president. One of the graver sillinesses of the convention model is that no-one seems to have thought about the obvious outcome - a president elected by preferential voting. The complex mechanics of how to ensure the president gets a majority of votes casually ignored a hundred years of Australian voting history.

Why intelligence was not the reason we followed America to war

I think the best we can say is that the Government did not sufficiently weigh the diplomatic, military and political risks of America's proposal to invade Iraq before providing a de facto commitment. The challenges of building diplomatic support for an unprecedented exercise of military power were underestimated.

And little thought was given to the aftermath in Iraq beyond a Micawberesque assumption that the US would make it work somehow.

And what of the first policy judgement: that we needed to support the invasion to protect our alliance with the US? This is a respectable argument. It sometimes makes sense to go to war to support an ally, if you expect them to support you when your turn comes. It would have been unwise to say no to Washington about Iraq. But we did not need to rush to say yes either.

In March and April 2002, when our views were first sounded, Australia would have done better to start asking questions: what are the long-term objectives in Iraq? How are they going to be achieved? How will diplomatic support be built? How long will the occupation of Iraq have to last?

It now seems clear that there were no good answers to these questions in Washington in early 2002, or even early last year.

Asking them might have not only helped Australia make a better informed decision in Iraq: it might also have helped America.

Hugh White is director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. These are his personal views.

Read the whole thing, especially where he discusses the role of intelligence and suggests no intelligence would have dissuaded the Howard government from joining the war.

Cubillo v Commonwealth

1 The applicants, Mrs Lorna Cubillo and Mr Peter Gunner, are said to be members of "the Stolen Generation". Neither the evidence in this trial, nor the reasons for judgment, deny the existence of "the Stolen Generation". Numerous writings tell tragically of a distressing past. But this trial has focussed primarily on the personal histories of two people: Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner. They have claimed that they, as young children, were forcibly removed from their families by employees of the Commonwealth Government.

This is being batted round Ozplogistan at the moment. Tugboat Potemkin began by arguing an Andrew Bolt article misquoted the Federal Court. Then The Road to Surfdom linked it. Comes now Tim Blair to say that if Gummo had searched properly he would have found the precise words cited by Andrew Bolt.

What nobody cites is that O'Loughlin J affirms existence of the Stolen Generations in the Northern Territory at Paragraph 1 of His Honour's statement of reasons. It should not have been hard to find. His Honour later finds that the particular facts of Cubillo v Commonwealth do not relate to the Stolen Generations.

Perhaps Gummo should search better. And perhaps a case that affirms the Stolen Generations, while holding particular plaintiffs were not part of it, should not be cited as evidence that the Stolen Generations did not happen.

Perhaps everyone should read the Gummo/Blair quote from Para 1162 in its full context:

...that evidence does not support a finding that there was any policy of removal of part Aboriginal children such as that alleged by the applicants: and if, contrary to that finding, there was such a policy, the evidence in these proceedings would not justify a finding that it was ever implemented as a matter of course in respect of these applicants.

[UK Opposition's Michael] Howard endorses gay partnerships

But the Tories are not only after the pink vote, they are also trying to appeal to those who have come to regard them (in the words of their former party chairwoman, Theresa May) as the "nasty party". Party strategists have concluded that being seen as homophobic does not only alienate gay voters it also turns off the sort of floating voters it needs to attract to be electable. President Bush, and his strategist Karl Rove, have obviously concluded the opposite. America is, after all, a very different society to Britain. The UK, despite an established church, is almost an atheist society. The US, on the other hand, has a substantial bible belt and a powerful Christian right. Abortion is an enormously divisive issue in America, and almost irrelevant in Britain.

We will know in November whether the two made the right call, but research seems to point otherwise. Number crunching by the Annenberg Public Policy center shows that while Americans are against gay marriage, they are also against amending the constitution to outlaw it. Perhaps the Republicans should have copied their transatlantic cousins.

Perhaps indeed. Apart from 8 months of hell listening to slippery slope arguments designed to divide, not unite, the US, the Bush amendment is going nowhere. In the most spectacular example of public cynicism in a long time the White House hopes badly that their neglected religious supporters don't know that it is going nowhere and that the white House is blowing smoke in their eyes. I had thought of a different place for the White House to blow smoke but decided against it.

Charges dropped against GCHQ translator

After the prosecution offered no evidence, the judge, the Recorder of London Michael Hyam, recorded a formal verdict of not guilty.

Then Ben Emmerson QC, representing Ms Gun, demanded an explanation from the prosecution of why, after such a length of time, they had now decided to drop the charge. Mr Ellison refused to say.

A full trial could have generated unwelcome publicity for the government and GCHQ, where she had worked until she was sacked in June last year. She was charged in November on an unconditional bail.

For her defence, she had planned to seek the disclosure of the full advice from the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, on the legality of the war against Iraq, which could have been potentially damaging and embarrassing for the government.

Why cannot Goldsmith's advice be published? Surely it's a bit late for it to contain anything that would impair national security? And why did the Blair government decide, as compassionate social democrats, that a whistleblower should face 8 months of hell?

[US] Pew Research Center poll results

Negative campaigning and the amount of money in the political process are the enduring concerns of Americans as they think about the election process more generally. Roughly six-in-ten say each of these practices bother them very much (61%, 59%). That is almost identical to measures taken four and eight years ago during the early stages of the previous two presidential campaigns. Somewhat fewer people (44%) say they are very bothered by what politicians say to get elected, and smaller minorities express a great deal of concern about political advertising on television (29%) or the way the news covers the campaigns (13%).

I am not sure this is terrific news for a candidate with a $200 million war chest and a record of negative campaigning.

PDF link via Emerging Democratic Majority

25 February 2004

The New Piracy

The Singaporean maritime authorities, Dominic Armstrong of Aegis and Rear Admiral Eldridge all take the view that the rising tides of piracy and Muslim extremism will soon meet: that a terrorist will become a pirate, seize an oil tanker and steer it at full speed into a refinery or port. Tony Tan, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence, is worried that Singapore is already a prime target for terrorists. 'If the terrorists are not able to attack targets on land, because we have hardened these, or in the air, because we now have air marshals and our airlines are taking precautions, the next alternative,' he says, 'is to attack targets at sea.' They could 'hijack a ship, ram it into a port and cause a great deal of damage'. Is this, I asked, just a possibility or a serious worry? 'We are not looking at it as a possibility. We are looking at it as an event which is likely to happen and we are taking precautions against it.' Tan was involved in the investigation that led to the December 2001 arrests of Singapore Islamists. 'These terrorists,' he says, 'while they may be fanatical, are not irrational.'

On 6 December 1917 the French munitions carrier Mont Blanc collided with the Merchant ship Imo in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The explosion in the Mont Blanc's powder magazines destroyed Halifax harbour and more than three hundred acres of city buildings. Nineteen hundred people died, and another nine thousand sustained serious injuries. Singapore, with a much larger population in a more confined space, would sustain tens of thousands of casualties. Many of the Republic's 17,000 American residents and other foreigners would leave. Merchant ships would not be able to dock for months or years. The Singapore Straits would have to close, interrupting half the world's oil exports. Insurance rates would force shipping companies to take longer and more expensive routes far to the south of the Malacca Straits. Japan's oil supply, 80 per cent of which passes through the Malacca Straits, would be jeopardised, as would China's exports to Asia. If Western consumers refused to pay the greater cost of shipping clothes and trainers stitched in the East, Western corporations would pay less to seamstresses in Indonesia and Malaysia. More poverty would push people to robbery, on land and sea, or awaken them to the Islamist call to redress the balance of power with the secular West.

Military adventures further American business interests. Halliburton becomes an East India Company running portions of Iraq. Bechtel disburses contracts to be paid from Iraqi oil revenues. Third World economies and former state services become the preserves of Securicor, American Medical International and Monsanto. The subjugated watch their masters to see how it is done. The American way of life is dividing people into two 'communities' - those on the inside and those on the outside. Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the city ghettos of the Western world and the frontier badlands of Russia are more restive than ever. So are the oceans. America constructs nuclear shields in space, fortifies its borders and patrols its coasts. The barbarians are at the gates, and shortly they will be at the harbour walls, but they are inside, too - washing the dishes, shoplifting and, occasionally, beating someone to death to pay for a fix. If Washington's war on terror does for Islamic extremism what its war on drugs did for the drug barons, we may all end up praying towards Mecca.

Southerly Buster is officially joining the Singaporean maritime agencies in imagining that this could happen. Locking up the airports while you leave the harbours open is about par for the course.

Russia vs the US: Star wars revisited

When Bush abandoned the ABM Treaty in order to build the NMD system, the general expectation in the West was that Russia would sooner or later develop countermeasures ensuring that the development of NMD would not negatively affect its own nuclear deterrence capabilities. By the same token, when the Bush administration, under its Nuclear Posture Review of 2002, lowered the nuclear threshold and publicly considered developing tactical low-yield nuclear weapons capable of penetrating deep bunkers, Moscow did not overlook the possibility that such bunker-busters might be used against Russia's command and control, notwithstanding public assurances from Washington that they were aimed at destroying the capabilities of the so-called rogue states.

Russia also made clear its new perspectives regarding the use of nuclear weapons. The 2000 version of its national-security concept lowered the nuclear threshold by stating that Russia no longer envisaged the use of nuclear weapons reserved solely for extreme situations. Instead, nuclear weapons may be used in small-scale wars that do not necessarily threaten Russia's existence. That was clearly aimed at leveling the playing field in view of an unswerving and unambiguous advantage that the US military had demonstrated in conventional warfare in the Gulf War of 1991, and military campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo.

To underscore the point that Russia viewed the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty as a potentially serious threat to the deterrence-related credibility of its nuclear weapons, Moscow declared that even if START II (the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) were to be ratified by the duma (parliament), the option of multiple-heading intercontinental ballistic missiles would not be removed completely. In other words, Russia would continue to use multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles if the US deployed an NMD system. However, making significant breakthroughs in ballistic-missile technology that would overwhelm the NMD system to the extent of rendering it strategically meaningless was an option that Moscow badly needed.

Diplomacy is a weird way to do business, but it was invented for a reason. Aw shucks diplomacy, where everyone always believes the US because no-one can doubt the word of the US, has its limitations.

One limitation is that when you develop a defensive weapons system, others tend to develop a new offensive system. The reports of NMD successes have been less than stellar. The technical questions about NMD are fun, as are the technical questions about this new Russian missile. What's not funny at all is a president and an administration so devoid of imagination that they did not see this development coming when they denounced a treaty that was working well in order to pursue a weapons system to end all weapons systems.

Bush turns fire on Democrats

The president said that the Democrats would raise taxes, expand government and fail to lead decisively on national security.

Mr Bush, facing presidential elections in November, had held back despite constant attacks from candidates chasing the Democratic nomination to run against him.

However, he last night levelled his sharpest criticism yet at his rivals. His recalling of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington signalled his willingness to use them for political gain - something aides have long promised that he would not do.

Lowering taxes apparently means reducing the federal income tax, leaving the federal payroll tax alone and forcing the states to raise all taxes. Shrinking the government apparently means the largest deficits and debts in human history. Leading decisively apparently means jumping onto your plane and flying into the distance on 911.

And not making use of 911 apparently means using 911 in the very first campaign speech.

24 February 2004

The Threat of Proliferation: Global Resolve and Australian Action

We will also be working to strengthen key treaties and mechanisms. We will work to have the Additional Protocol become the global safeguards standard, so the IAEA is better equipped to uncover the nuclear cheats. We want a stronger Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran's nuclear program has generated renewed attention to NPT's guarantee of access to peaceful nuclear energy. This guarantee carries with it unacceptable risk.

In our view is NPT parties must look again at this issue. We need to be assured that the NPT's peaceful nuclear energy provisions are not abused to acquire the technical basis for a nuclear weapons program. No rights under the NPT can justify actions that are prejudicial to the Treaty's paramount non-proliferation objectives.

Australia will intensify efforts with other countries to ensure exports of the most sensitive nuclear technologies cannot contribute to weapons programs. One option would be a Code of Conduct for Nuclear Trade and Supply, through which all states could demonstrate commitment to effective national controls on sensitive nuclear exports.

Finally, it is time too for the United Nations Security Council to take a firm stand on proliferation. The Security Council should do more to promote and defend WMD non-proliferation standards. The world needs a mandatory Chapter VII resolution on counter-proliferation. I believe there should be a UN Security Council Resolution on WMD non-proliferation which would require states to criminalise proliferation, enact strict export controls, and secure sensitive materials.

In fairness to the foreign minister, the SMH article reporting this speech gets it wrong in a couple of places. Downer did not explicitly call for the US to have unilateral authority to take enforcement action against proliferators. However, hat he did say rather confirms that Iraq may not have been a 100% terrific idea.

As it happens I think a Chapter VII resolution on proliferation and disarmament would be a very good idea. The chance of it passing the UN security council without explicit language requiring the council's consent to enforcement is about as good as the chance of an ice cream dropped on bitumen in Sydney the last few days surviving for any length of time.

The shakiness of the WMD intelligence, and the willingness of the foreign minister and others to gild the lily, will only ensure that his proliferation ideas get rejected as dangerously close to authorising future pre-emptive wars.

Hear Ahmed Chalabi yesterday:

As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants.

I understand that falling on his sword is unlikely to involve either resigning from the IGC or withdrawing from the US$400 million he and associated companies are making from the occupation.

The UN is unlikely to want itself to be Chalabied a second time.

Hunters urged to shoot only dark-nosed lions

Researchers have developed a rule of thumb that they hope could save lion populations from declining at the hands of trophy-hunters. They are urging hunters to kill only males with dark noses.

A lion's nose is speckled with dark pigment, and these freckles become more pronounced as the lion ages, explains Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul, who led the study.

Removing only the old males whose noses are at least 50% dappled with pigment would minimize the disruption to lion prides, his team found1. This gives cubs a better chance of survival.

Packer's team used data from 40 years of observations of lions in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, where hunting is banned. They created a computer model that simulates the consequences of different hunting strategies.

If a young male is killed, his pride stands a good chance of being taken over by a rival, who will kill the cubs to encourage females to devote themselves to raising new ones sired by him. If a pride changes hands too often, fewer cubs make it to adulthood and lion numbers slump.

You just know someone's going to say it, so it may as well be me.

Don't shoot until you see the whites off their muzzles!

23 February 2004

Accord on U.S. troops must wait, leaders say

Iraq's interim leaders said Sunday that they could not negotiate a formal agreement with the U.S. military on maintaining troops in Iraq and that the task must await the next sovereign Iraqi government.

The delay could put the Americans in the position of negotiating an agreement with leaders they did not appoint on such sensitive issues as when the use of force would be allowed.

It also means that another feature of the agreement of Nov. 15, which set out the steps to sovereignty, will not occur on schedule. Other things falling by the wayside are the approval of an interim constitution, which was supposed to occur by next Saturday, and the now abandoned plan to hold caucuses to pick a transitional assembly.

But the Americans have clung to the final date of handing power to a new Iraqi administration: June 30.

The November accord is now a one-legged tripod. What is sacred about the 30 June date? The White House needs to come up with a better explanation of the sanctity of 30 June than denying it's related to the US electoral calendar.

Transferring sovereignty to an unelected government that is unlikely to gain either international recognition or the capacity to make agreements is absurd. especially while the US maintains a monopoly of force within the territory of the said unelected government.

Border Protection (Validation And Enforcement Powers) Act 2001 S6

Action to which this Part applies taken to be lawful

All action to which this Part applies is taken for all purposes to have been lawful when it occurred.

S5 defines action under the act as action by a Commonwealth officer in relation to the Tampa, the Aceng or any other refugee boat during the validation period.

S4 sets up a validaiton period from 27 August 2001 to the act's commencement on 21 September 2001.

The act does not seem to deal with tax law, but it is retrospective. Evidently it's not just war crimes where the Man of Steel advocates retrospectivity.

Military justice system a self-inflicted casualty in terror war

It would be difficult to quantify to what extent the government used profiling to target Yee, and then, out of desperation and lack of evidence, targeted him on punishable adultery charges.

What is clear is that the impact of the treatment of Yee on potential Arab and Muslim translators in the military is likely to be devastating. It is a result the US can ill afford. It is also not new. It has been reported that the aggressive, and ultimately minimal, espionage prosecution of scientist Wen Ho Lee in 1996 caused a dramatic decline in Asian-American scientists willing to serve the US.

In addition, the Yee case is a glimpse into the government's heavy handed detentions at Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court will decide this year whether the administration's indefinite detention of hundreds of men there, only alleged to be terrorists or combatants, is a legitimate use of power. Until then, Guantanamo Bay exists in a legal never-neverland. Charges against Yee, and other Muslims at Guantanamo, have all fallen short. The problem with Guantanamo is not espionage or infiltration; it's Guantanamo.

Whatever Yee may have done wrong in the military's eyes pales in comparison with what the case has done to denigrate the military court system.

The military court should take its next opportunity not only to salvage Yee's shattered reputation, but to salvage the reputation of military justice itself.

Bear in mind, while you think about the Yee case, that he has access to procedures unavailable to the Guant�namo detainees. The Bush administration never admits it is wrong, never ever. Their espionage case against Yee collapsed months ago, so they brought adultery charges instead. IS that a terrific qualification for a group that wants to establish itself as a secret judicial system without traditional safeguards? And everything will b okay because we can trust George Bush?

What was our prime minister smoking when he decided the military commissions would or could deliver fairness?


Blogmatrix died. Blogstreet is alive and kicking. You'll need to update your RSS subscriptions.

Opinion | Jay Bookman

In addition to standards, we reputable journalists are fully cognizant of the obligations and duties placed upon a free press as one of the pillars of democratic government. As we have proved, we know that we have a patriotic duty to treat the president of the United States with total deference bordering on reverence, an obligation that includes overlooking any exaggerations or mistakes that our leader might have made in the performance of his job, even if those mistakes end up taking us into unnecessary war.

As recent events have begun to demonstrate, however, our patriotic duty changes the moment that a president slips in popularity, at which point he becomes fair game, and we are obligated under the First Amendment to attack him for even the slightest, most innocent of errors, like a pack of heartless hyenas taking down a crippled zebra.

Others may look at that pattern of behavior and claim that we simply kowtow to power but attack weakness. Such talk is truly heartbreaking, because it means that we have failed in communicating the true dignity of our role.

We understand that three seconds of a bared breast pose a threat to the foundations of society; that our renowned investigative abilities are best used tracing the activities of a National Guard lieutenant 30 years ago; that reporters embedded in the White House are obligated by law to print anonymous claims without checking to see if they are true; that we must print even a leak that threatens the life and career of an undercover CIA operative.

Doesn't this guy understand that everything changed on 911?

Push to revive world trade talks

Now, the challenge is for the Cairns Group and G-20 to move closer to maximise the pressure on the EU and US. Reports from Brazil quote Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues as saying that he wants 'the two groups to converge' at the Costa Rica meeting, which Brazil will attend.

A senior Australian official says the 17-member Cairns Group - Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, The Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay - will also be looking at how to bring the two groups closer.

'I think the time has come where the combination of the Cairns Group and the G-20 perspectives coming into play in a complementary and parallel way is going to be very important,' the official says.

Australia wants to play a bridging role, but 'everybody has to make a significant contribution (to cutting trade barriers)'.

The challenge is enormous. The US, EU and Japan continue to spend about $US311billion ($404billion) a year on subsidies that drive down world prices and block market access for poor countries.

There are three main areas of dispute:

Tariffs and quotas, which limit free market access by setting strict amounts of a product that can be imported, to protect domestic industry.

Domestic support schemes that give farmers subsidies or guaranteed prices to produce their goods. Without this aid, the farmers would not be able to compete with cheaper imports, and the subsidies encourage them to oversupply the market, thus driving down prices for everyone.

Export subsidies, which may or may not be combined with domestic supports. These allow countries to undercut their competitors on the world market by offering special payments or interest-free loans.

Because developing nations' economies tend to be agriculture-based, major cuts to these subsidies could help lift 144 million people out of poverty, the World Bank argues.

One wonders what kind of bridge to the G-20 we can be after our recent signature of a US preferential trade agreement where we accepted the continuation of agricultural subsidies, tariffs and quotas.

U.S. withheld data from arms teams

The CIA has acknowledged not providing the United Nations with information about 21 of the 105 sites in Iraq suspected of housing illicit weapons.

The information was revealed in a Jan. 20 letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and contradicts statements made before the war by top Bush administration officials. Stanley Moskowitz, the agency's director of congressional affairs, sent the note.

CIA Director George Tenet and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the UN arms inspectors were briefed on all sites considered 'high value and moderate value.'

The contradiction is significant because congressional opponents of the war were arguing a year ago that the UN teams should be given time to complete their search before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The White House, bolstered by Tenet, insisted that it was fully cooperating with the inspectors and was providing them with the best information possible.

Levin said Friday that he thought Tenet had misled Congress, a situation he described as 'totally unacceptable.'

Hohum. Can these be the same people who denounced the UN inspectors as ineffective? Withholding that data was a breach of Resolution 1441. Can these be the same people who cite breaches of Un resolutions as a casus belli? Will there be serious consequences?

22 February 2004

Howard rules out retrospective terrorism laws

Mr Howard said while tax laws were sometimes changed retrospectively to close loopholes, it was not fair to backdate criminal laws.

'It's fundamentally wrong to make a criminal law retrospective,' he told ABC Television.

I'm still looking for documentary evidence of Howard's vote on the War Crimes Amendment Bill 1987 which backdated criminal laws.

Mr Howard accused Opposition Leader Mark Latham of flip-flopping on the issue of making the laws retrospective.

Mr Howard said Mr Latham last Friday appeared to call for the laws to be made retrospective, but by Saturday had appeared to back down after concerns were expressed by Labor frontbencher Robert McClelland.

'I don't quite know where he [Mr Latham] stands on this issue but I can tell you where we stand,' Mr Howard said.

We've yet to hear of any definite flipflop, although we know Howard has previously voted in favour of retrospective criminal laws.

'And that is that those people will not be brought back to Australia, unless of course they ... tried in the United States and acquitted.'

Why is Howard taking such a different line from Britain, not only on the policy, but also on the standard of fairness to applied in the military commissions George Bush created by retrospective executive order?

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said it would be difficult to prosecute someone successfully under a retrospective law.

'The courts have always strictly construed legislation that is retrospective in creating criminal offences and it's highly problematic whether the courts would allow your legislation to survive,' Mr Ruddock told the Nine network.

These difficulties did not trouble him in 1988 when he spoke in favour of (and presumably voted for) the War Crimes bill. Nor do they appear in Polyukovich'a case.

David Hicks' Australian lawyer Stephen Hopper accused Mr Ruddock of hypocrisy, saying his client was likely to be charged under a retrospective American law.

Mr Hopper said US President George Bush did not sign an executive order creating a military commission to try terrorist cases until after Hicks was detained.

'Mr Ruddock can't have it both ways,' Mr Hopper said.

He can't say retrospective laws are inappropriate here but it's all right for America to use retrospective laws to try these people in military commissions.'


At every stage of this process the Howard government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards the truth. They said the commissions were fair. Major Mori said they are not and showed in detail why. They said lawyers always attack the integrity of the court. That is untrue. They said retrospective criminal laws are always unfair. They supported retrospective war crimes laws in 1988.

The problem is not inadequate laws, it's an inadequate government that neglects the nuts and bolts of fighting terror in favour of wrapping themselves in the flag. If they'd activated the treachery sections of the Crimes Act Hicks could have been prosecuted. A second example is that after demanding the laws as a matter of urgency the government then took 7 months to list any terrorist organisations under those laws.

Lastly, it's a weird and feeble definition of fairness that finds the Bush military commissions acceptable but an ordinary trial under Australian law unacceptable and unfair.