5 June 2004

just a thought

I am fast reaching the conclusion that the Senate estimates hearings are themselves quite close to a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Sitting from 9 am to 11 pm with a couple of tea breaks and 2 meals for 4 days running.


Fafblog! the whole worlds only source for Fafblog.

What this country needs is steady leadership in times of change. Not intelligent leadership, not correct leadership, but steady leadership. Steadiness. Resolve. The resolve to keep doing what you are already doing, even if it is hopelessly boneheaded and wrong. In the face of such resolve, the terrorists will be cowed, fleeing into their terrorist hidey-holes, terrified by the tenacity of an opponent so fiercely determined to keep losing to them in the exact same way.

But if we fire incompetant officials, we are not using steady leadership. We are attempting to 'correct' our leadership. We are not staying the course. We are suggesting that there is some better course. Well Giblets for one is quite happy with this course! He knows it quite well and if it happens to veer into that ravine, he will be the first to inform you that his course is getting us to the bottom of the ravine swifter and surer than any other course out there! What's your problem? Are you a ravine-hater? Are you objectively anti-ravine?

Giblets would also like to remind everyone who is gloating over the dismissal of the strong, resolute, and strong Director Tenet that this dismissal is most likely being celebrated by our terrorist enemies. Now that they know that things like terrorist attacks and guerilla bombings and wildly inaccurate prewar intelligence can bring down one of our nation's top terror-fighters, they will now act with more fervor against America, in an attempt to control the selection of our appointed officials. The firing of an inept cabinet official is a firing for terror.

Everybody should read Fafblog. If officials in the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Attorney-General had read Fafblog they might have known about the abuses at Abu Ghraib early enough to stop the Man of Steel telling some spectacular (if politically advantageous) porkies to the parliament and the nation.

4 June 2004

ADF contribution to the Iraqi occupation

There are currently about 860 ADF members deployed for Operation Catalyst: Australian national headquarters of approximately 60 people, headed by the Australian National Commander Brigadier Hutchinson; a naval component with about 180 personnel embarked on the frigate HMAS Stuart, and command and logistic support elements; an Air Force component with about 150 personnel deployed with two RAAF C130 Hercules transport aircraft and about 160 personnel deployed with two RAAF P3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; and an air traffic control detachment and support personnel at Baghdad international airport. That latter group totals about 65 personnel.

In addition, there is a security detachment of approximately 90 Army personnel protecting the Australian representative office in Baghdad and providing force protection for the Iraqi army training team. There are approximately 65 personnel to the coalition military assistance training team to help train and develop the Iraqi coastal defence force and Iraqi army. Approximately 25 personnel are working in the coalition joint task force headquarters. There is a logistics element located in Baghdad and Kuwait, providing support to ADF units and Australian government agencies. A 12-person team is supporting the work of the Iraq survey group. A small number of ADF personnel are working in specialist roles with the coalition provisional authority. A small number of ADF personnel are working in liaison roles with coalition forces.

From the Chief of Defence Force's opening statement to Day 1 of the Senate estimates hearing. Just remember (all together now) that Australia is not an occupying power. We excised ourselves.

As far as our responsibility for prisoners goes, on Day 1 Sen Hill told the committee we have an Arrangement for the Transfer of Prisoners of War, Civilian Internees, and Civilian Detainees between the Forces of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Australia?. The effect of this is that all prisoners captured by the ADF in Iraq are actually captured by someone else, even, as Sen Evans acerbically suggested, by 'a passing American midshipman' when HMAS Stuart captured some prisoners at sea. Then on Day 3 we hear:

Senator Hill -- The convention and the obligations under the convention are as applied to the facts, not to any pre-existing agreement. As I understand it -- and the specialist lawyer will correct me -- you cannot agree away your responsibilities under the convention.

But there is better to come. On Day 4 we learn that there is no agreement, there was an exchange of letters between Australia's CDF and the US armed forces with respect to Afghanistan and that the Defence Department's own legal adviser says:

Dr French -- Indeed, as I mentioned yesterday, the overarching legal norm that is relevant with respect to the taking of prisoners of war in a period of hostilities is the third Geneva convention of 1949. In addition to that, with regard to Australia and the UK, the first additional protocol to the Geneva conventions, the additional protocol of 1977, is applicable and those are clearly the norms that do apply. In order to make quite clear the practical application of those norms where two of the parties -- that is, Australia and the UK -- had a slightly broader set of obligations than the third party -- that is, the US?in relation to the definition and categorisation of prisoners of war, it was appropriate to enter into a memorandum of understanding of less than treaty status to simply clarify the processes. But I must make it clear from the outset that the underpinning legal norms that define the obligations of the relevant countries are indeed the third Geneva convention of 1949 and the first additional protocol. The memorandum of understanding of 23 March 2003 per se did not create any new international legal obligations. It merely created a mechanism whereby those obligations could be implemented in a smooth manner.

Senator FAULKNER -- And it cannot override those obligations, can it?

Dr French -- Certainly not.

Senator FAULKNER -- And they cannot modify those obligations?

Dr French -- No, and the express wording of it does not intend that.

Senator BROWN -- You said yesterday, Dr French, that the custodial power is the power that actually takes the details of the prisoners who have been taken, whereas I was maintaining that it is actually the power that takes the prisoners. I have had the opportunity of looking at the Geneva conventions overnight, and I cannot find reference to the opinion that it is the documenting power. Can you point to that provision under the Geneva convention?

Let us summarise (before applying the Four Steps):

1. There is no agreement making the US the detaining power for Australian prisoners; 2. the agreement claimed by the government applied to Afghanistan, not Iraq; 3. the government's own legal advice is that the agreement (if it existed) could not excise Australia's obligations under the Third Geneva Convention.

Is there anything this government will not say to try and justify US conduct?

Poll predicts huge loss for Indonesia's President Megawati

Our Indonesia correspondent, Tim Palmer, reports the poll, conducted by the Japanese LSI agency across Indonesia, suggests the momentum behind Mr Yudhoyono, known as SBY, continues to grow.

The poll gives Mr Yudhoyono 49.8 per cent of the vote - close to the simple majority needed to sweep the election at the first round.

President Megawati trails by more than 30 per cent and now appears locked in a battle for second place with former general, Wiranto, of the Golkar party.

The poll shows both have about 14 per cent of the vote.

As of today there's one month to the first round voting. The trend to Yudhoyono is beginning to look unstoppable. On these figures Wiranto has gained only 4 points in the last week, while Yudhoyono has gained 8. Mega appears to be history.

The Serious Implications Of President Bush's Hiring A Personal Outside Counsel

It is possible that Bush is consulting Sharp only out of an excess of caution - despite the fact that he knows nothing of the leak, or of any possible coverup of the leak. But that's not likely.

On this subject, I spoke with an experienced former federal prosecutor who works in Washington, specializing in white collar criminal defense (but who does not know Sharp). That attorney told me that he is baffled by Bush's move - unless Bush has knowledge of the leak. 'It would not seem that the President needs to consult personal counsel, thereby preserving the attorney-client privilege, if he has no knowledge about the leak,' he told me.

What advice might Bush get from a private defense counsel? The lawyer I consulted opined that, 'If he does have knowledge about the leak and does not plan to disclose it, the only good legaladvice would be to take the Fifth, rather than lie. The political fallout is a separate issue.'

I raised the issue of whether the President might be able to invoke executive privilege as to this information. But the attorney I consulted - who is well versed in this area of law -- opined that 'Neither 'outing' Plame, nor covering for the perpetrators would seem to fall within the scope of any executive privilege that I am aware of.

I'll just go quietly back to reading the Senate estimates hearings now.

Bush Knew About Leak of CIA Operative's Name

Witnesses told a federal grand jury President George W. Bush knew about, and took no action to stop, the release of a covert CIA operative's name to a journalist in an attempt to discredit her husband, a critic of administration policy in Iraq.

Their damning testimony has prompted Bush to contact an outside lawyer for legal advice because evidence increasingly points to his involvement in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

The move suggests the president anticipates being questioned by prosecutors. Sources say grand jury witnesses have implicated the President and his top advisor, Karl Rove.

I love the smell of a high crime and misdemeanour in the morning. It smells like...

2 June 2004

O'Kane role attracts US legal teams

However, Senate committee evidence from Australian military officers in Canberra this week suggests that Major O'Kane handled the Red Cross complaints more systematically.

In a draft response to the ICRC, Major O'Kane acknowledged receiving two working papers on Red Cross visits to Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper on November 12. Those visits, as the Red Cross later detailed, turned up evidence of abuses that violated the Geneva conventions.

Major O'Kane, according to his reports, then pursued the complaints by going to Abu Ghraib to discuss them with the key figures who are now under scrutiny in the scandal.

His visit occurred at about the time that numerous abuses were being inflicted at Abu Ghraib.

Major O'Kane's account noted: 'Attended the prison to address issues of mistreatment allegations and accuracy of contents of draft reply by US Army MP [military police] and MI [military intelligence].'

Yet Colonel Warren failed to mention Major O'Kane's meetings at Abu Ghraib to the US Senate Armed Services Committee.

A US military legal expert, Professor Scott Silliman, said the draft response to the Red Cross appeared to be cleared by more senior legal officers, possibly even back in the Pentagon, due to its careful wording on applying the Geneva conventions to Abu Ghraib detainees. 'Was that letter, before it was signed, sent to Washington for co-ordination?' Professor Silliman asked. 'It very well could have happened.'

Okay, if a letter went to Washington for signature the firewall between Abu Ghraib and the Pentagon would go up in smoke. I wonder also if the US legal teams are aware of the anoymous ADF colonel who, according to evidence before the Senate estimates committee yesterday:

There is a colonel. His role was as the CPA legal officer between May 2003 and November 2004 and from March 2004 to the present time. He visited Abu Ghraib prison on numerous occasions. He performed liaison functions with the ICRC.

the Man of Steel's rusty memory

Recall the prime minister's words last Thursday:

that I am advised that a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross in October of last year covered general concerns about detainee conditions and treatment.

By Monday that had morphed into a sustained claim by the Defence witnesses before the Senate estimates committee that there was no October report. How, in 3 days, did this document go from something the prime minister could quote with confidence to something that did not exist? Under continued questioning Defence admitted there were ICRC working papers but insisted the working papers were not a report. Someone read those papers and someone told the prime minister there was nor reference to torture. Defence now tells us the working papers do include reference to torture.

The prime minister tells us he was misinformed. This not the first time the prime minister has been misinformed. He was also misinformed about children overboard, the Manildra meeting, the pre-war intelligence, and a number of other things. There is a long history of prime ministerial misinformation and it's high time we got something other than the prime minister blaming the bureaucracy.

Strangely, each and every case of prime ministerial misinformation seems to favour the politics of the prime minister. I am no actuary. I'd love to know the odds of that happening by accident.

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.

1 June 2004

a little light Senate hearing

Senator FAULKNER�[...]Can we get the person who designed and conducted the survey to come to the table, please?

Senator Hill�We are sending for him.

Senator FAULKNER�You are saying the relevant officer is not here?

Senator Hill�The relevant officer should be here, but we are having trouble finding him at the moment. We have sent out a search party.

Senator CHRIS EVANS�A lot of survey groups have difficulty finding stuff these days. It is a fairly
common problem.

Not earthshaking, but I think Sen Evans gets a good line.

Defence chiefs come clean on abuse

Major O'Kane made five visits to Abu Ghraib jail outside Baghdad between last August and January 4, some specifically to investigate concerns about abuse of prisoners. Six other Australian military lawyers were also revealed to have visited the jail, where the worst of the abuses by the US military occurred.

Major O'Kane received two Red Cross working papers in October and November, among other material, detailing allegations of abuse. These were passed on to Defence on May 11, but were not drawn to the attention of Senator Hill or the Prime Minister, resulting in them making false statements.

Defence officials in Canberra were told on December 4 that Major O'Kane went to Abu Ghraib 'in response to concerns raised by the [Red Cross] about conditions at the prison'.

Major O'Kane made more than 10 references to his work with the Red Cross to his Australian military superiors in Iraq in weekly reports but he never expressed concerns that the complaints were serious.

A Defence survey of its officers asked only if they were aware of abuses such as those shown in graphic images revealed by the media in late April. The survey was used to deny any knowledge of 'abuse or serious mistreatment' by Australians.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General Cosgrove, endorsed the removal of a photograph from the Defence website showing Major O'Kane outside Abu Ghraib soon after the abuse scandal went public.

Major O'Kane advised on interrogation techniques last August.

The Secretary to the Department of Defence, Ric Smith, and General Cosgrove were also shown to have made misleading statements about when Australians became aware of the abuses. They issued a statement on Friday night saying no Australians were aware of 'abuse or serious mistreatment' before January.

Senator Hill stressed that no Australians had taken part in torture and said the abuses that Major O'Kane dealt with were not as bad as those uncovered in April. But he admitted that the Red Cross complaints in October and November painted a 'grim picture' of detention practices.

I think I am beginning to understand why Sen Hill refused to produce Major O'Kane before the Senate committee. Hill's admissions also prove the prime minister's answer in the House last week untrue. The O'Kane affair is fast settling into the customary Man of Steel technique of governance.

1. Deny everything. 2. Admit it when it becomes unavoidable. 3. Insist you never got the papers. 4. Blame everything on the troops.

All we are really seeing now is an effort to build a firewall around O'Kane to preserve the plausibility of various government claims. The mendacity of those claims is no longer arguable.

The transcript (large PDF) of the Senate Budget Estimates Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is now online. More later.

Update 2
The Man of Steel has corrected his answer of last week. Text when available.

Update 3
The transcript (large PDF) of Day 2 the Senate Budget Estimates Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is now online. More later.

Bremer threatens to veto Iraqis' choice of president

The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council wants to appoint its current leader, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, who has spoken out against the failure of the occupation, but the US occupation governor, Paul Bremer, is insisting that they choose instead Adnan al-Pachachi, an 81-year-old former diplomat, who has said he believes American troops need to stay in Iraq until the security situation improves.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Bremer warned the council during talks on Sunday not to put the decision to the vote, saying that if it elected Sheikh Yawar, he would veto the decision. Further talks scheduled for yesterday were postponed at America's request until today, meaning that the deadline to name the interim government by the end of May was missed.

As well as Mr Bremer, a special envoy for President Bush, Robert Blackwill, and the United Nations envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, are attending the talks.

The sight of the Americans trying to bully the Governing Council into accepting their choice is threatening to destroy the interim government's credibility in the eyes of Iraqis. The US is already facing widespread accusations that the handover is cosmetic, and designed so that President Bush can claim the occupation is over ahead of the American presidential election in November.

Weren't we told that the US is there to create a democracy, not acquire a veto over the Iraqi presidency? Just as with the choice of Iyad Allawi, the US is imposing its own candidate to defend its own interests. The really bizarre thing is that these blatant diktats will destroy any shred of legitimacy the transitional government might have had. That in turn will exacerbate the security deficit.

It's a silly short-term fix that will ultimately make the occupation even more difficult to maintain. It makes a lie of the five steps in Bush's address a week ago. Only the Bush administration could come up with an Iraq 'solution' that exacerbates the twin security and legitimacy deficits at the same time.

31 May 2004

Nepal parties mull king's offer

Nepal's main political parties have begun talks after King Gyanendra asked them to suggest a candidate for the next prime minister.

Call it disgraceful, but the first time I saw this headline I read 'parties' as a verb and 'mull' as part of a compound noun.

Never mind the truth

Sadly, we are not about to find out. What will in fact happen on June 30 is that a former CIA operative, Iyad Allawi, who was picked by the US with little involvement from the United Nations, will head a puppet regime. This 'sovereign' country will have 138,000 US troops on its soil, not to mention soldiers from Britain and elsewhere, and its 'sovereign' leader will have no control over what they do. 'US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves,' says Colin Powell.

Tony Blair for once disagreed. 'If there is a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government and the final political control remains with the Iraqi government,' he said. But by the next day he was back in his box. 'We are both absolutely agreed that there should be full sovereignty transferred to the Iraqi people, and the multinational force should remain under American command,' he told the Commons.

In so doing he revealed two of the golden rules in this new era of politics by pronouncement. First, so long as you say things boldly and confidently, they do not have to make any sense. Second, whatever announcement you make last negates all announcements you've made before.

Indeed, Blair, of whom Doris Lessing, the novelist, once said: 'He believes in magic. That if you say a thing, it is true,' is the high priest of this dark art.

If you want a local example, then consider the government's refusal to make Major O''Kane available for questioning by the Senate on the content of the October Red Cross report. Apparently if a report falls in the forest and no-one hears, then there was never any report.

Labor to debate same-sex unions

Pressure is mounting on federal Labor before today's shadow cabinet meeting to reject the Federal Government's proposal to ban same-sex couples from marrying and adopting children from overseas.

The Opposition has indicated it will support the Government's moves, announced last week, to amend the Marriage Act to outlaw gay marriages, but will consider its position on adoption.

Opposition shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon said that while Labor would not allow gay people to adopt children from overseas, she believed states should be responsible for adoption. She said the states had strict rules and most opted to not permit gay adoption.

'I think it is a bit inappropriate for the Prime Minister to now be trying to interfere in those decisions at the state and territory level, because at the end of the day it has to be the child's best interests that are considered,' Ms Roxon said.

'I don't think that a blanket ban at the federal level is the way to ensure that any child's best interests are always going to be taken account of.'

Yesterday, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle accused Labor of supporting Prime Minister John Howard and US President George Bush's 'anti-gay agenda'. 'It's the responsibility of all parliamentarians concerned with human rights and the scourge of homophobia to take a firm stand against the Government's attack on same-sex couples,' Senator Nettle said.

The Greens will next month introduce a private member's bill in the Senate to provide equal rights for same-sex couples.

Labor simply must not do this. You do not trade human rights for a temporary campaign advantage or put superannuation ahead of equality. The obvious answer is to refer the bill to a Senate committee and call on the government to at least justify (in detail) what it proposes.

Jailed - for showing dislike of US invaders

General Ryder, the army's provost marshal, reported that some Iraqis had been held for months for nothing more than expressing 'displeasure or ill will' towards the US occupying forces.

The report, drafted in November, said the process for deciding which arrested Iraqis posed security risks justifying imprisonment violated the Pentagon's own policies. It also said the conditions in which they were held sometimes violated the Geneva conventions.

General Ryder's report to Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior American commander in Iraq, was obtained by The New York Times.

Senior military officials also revealed that interrogation experts from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay were sent to Iraq in the second half of last year and played a big role in training US military intelligence teams at Abu Ghraib.

Meanwhile, human rights groups say Iraqi women who were held at Abu Ghraib have complained of rape by US and Iraqi jailers. Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, chief military spokesman for the US-led coalition in Iraq, said the prisons department was 'unaware of any such reports at Abu Ghraib'.

If the contents of the Ryder report are quoted correctly, then most of the recent testimony by Messrs Rumsfeld and Co is now inoperative. The most terrible thing about Abu Ghraib, beyond the torture itself, is the casual way that several thousand people have been held without trial, review, or any real purpose except inertia. In the name of big-F freedom.

We Should Call Torture By Its Proper Name

The same issue of the Times contained an op-ed piece by Adam Hochschild that condemned both the misleading euphemisms of public authorities, and also the consistency of the forms of torture currently reported with those of older torture regimes. Hochschild�s only historical error was to identify sleep deprivation (currently euphemized as �sleep management�) as a technique, �Widely used in the Middle Ages on suspected witches by inquisitors.�(5) Witches were an Early Modern phenomenon, relatively little pursued by inquisitors, but rather by secular officials. Erroneous history does not strengthen modern cases � the tormentum insomniae was indeed a recognized form of judicial torture (the only kind known to medieval and early modern Europe), and it was clearly torture, as the technical term tormentum indicates; early modern legal officials had no need for euphemisms, since torture was for them a legal incident. But Hochschild and Sontag have finally gotten the word out to a wider public: what is happening is unquestionably torture, and it is being done by Americans and probably by their allies in Iraq and elsewhere. What Donald Rumsfeld refused to address as �the torture word� is there nonetheless, and it cannot be disguised by terms like �abuses.�

One reason (aside from the bad publicity) for organizations and states to avoid the word �torture� is that the term has acquired an enormous degree of opprobrium over the past two centuries. When the practice reentered modern political usage in the nineteenth century, as Rejali has pointed out, it did so by stealth, becoming, as William Blackstone long ago pointed out, �an engine of the state, not of law� � and still later an engine of ideology, instrumentalizing the state itself. Torture is never an isolated act by individuals; it is always systemic.

Somehow, it's not a surprise that one of the 'modern' tools used by the Bushlag archipelago turns out to have an ancient provenance in imposing the worship of violence. Blessed are the warmakers?

30 May 2004

torturing the truth about Abu Ghraib

According to the SMH timeline

  • OCTOBER 2003 International Committee of the Red Cross conducts visits to Abu Ghraib jail and Camp Cropper, a detention facility at Baghdad airport. Major O'Kane helps facilitate visits.
  • Red Cross delivers a report on October 30 on abuses at Camp Cropper, citing multiple breaches of Geneva convention, including keeping detainees in cells with no light for 23 hours a day.
  • NOVEMBER O'Kane sees Red Cross letter, dated November 12, 2003, to US commanders, complaining about prison abuses, enclosing the confidential work papers relating to visits to Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib. Report says Red Cross delegates saw prisoners who were made to walk the corridors, handcuffed and naked, some with women's underwear on their head.
  • DECEMBER O'Kane helps draft US military response to Red Cross complaints. Letter sent to Red Cross on December 24, 2003. It says some prisoners protected by Geneva Convention.
  • JANUARY 2004 Photographic evidence of abuses inside Abu Ghraib begin circulating within US military. Authorities announce they are beginning investigation. O'Kane aware of photos but has not viewed them.

Major O'Kane is an ADF legal officer working for the CPA, as part of our non-participation in the occupation.

In question time on 27 May, the parliament heard

Mr RUDD (2.08 p.m.) �My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, when were Australian personnel in Iraq, either civilian or military, first made aware of allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq?

Mr HOWARD, Prime Minister:

[...]I just want to say that that is a pretty contemptible and pathetic attempt by the Sydney Morning Herald to imply some kind of guilt by association. That is what that story is into, and can I say that some of the member for Griffith's questions go dangerously close to doing the same thing. Can I specifically go to the substance of this issue: that I am advised that a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross in October of last year covered general concerns about detainee conditions and treatment. Major O'Kane, as part of his work in the coalition headquarters in Iraq, prepared a draft response to that report. A separate report by the Red Cross, in February of this year - and once again this answer is based on the current advice of the defence department - raised allegations of ill treatment of detainees.[...]

The October report has not yet been released and probably will not be. The February report has been leaked and is available online. However, the February report states:

27. In mid October 2003, the ICRC visited persons deprived of their liberty undergoing interrogation by military intelligence officers in Unit 1A, the "Isolation section" of "Abu Ghraib" Correctional Facility. Most of these persons deprived of their liberty had been arrested in early October. During the visit, ICRC delegates directly witnessed and documented a variety of methods used to secure the cooperation of the persons deprived of their liberty with their interrogator. In particular they witnessed the practice of keeping persons deprived of their liberty completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness, allegedly for several consecutive days. Upon witnessing such cases, the ICRC interrupted its visits and requested an explanation from the authorities. The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was "part of the process". The process appeared to be a give-and-take policy whereby persons deprived of their liberty were "drip-fed" with new items (clothing, bedding, hygiene articles, lit cell, etc) in exchange for their "cooperation". The ICRC also visited other persons deprived of their liberty held in total darkness, others in dimly lit cells who had been allowed to dress following periods during which they had been held naked. Several had been given women's underwear to wear under their jumpsuit (men's underwear was not distributed), which they felt to be humiliating.

The ICRC documented other forms of ill-treatment, usually combined with those described above, including threats, insults, verbal violence, sleep deprivation caused by the playing of loud music or constant light in cells devoid of windows, tight handcuffing with flexi-cuffs causing lesions and wounds around the wrists. Punishment included being made to walk in the corridors handcuffed and naked, or with women's underwear on the head, or being handcuffed either dressed or naked to the bed bars or the cell door. Some persons deprived of their liberty presented physical marks and psychological symptoms, which were compatible with these allegations. The ICRC medical delegate examined persons deprived of their liberty presenting signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behaviour and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms appeared to have been caused by the methods and duration of interrogation. One person held in isolation that the ICRC examined, was unresponsive to verbal and painful stimuli. His heart rate was 120 beats per minute and his respiratory rate 18 per minute. He was diagnosed as suffering from somatoform (mental) disorder, specifically a conversion disorder, most likely due to the ill-treatment he was subjected to during interrogation.

Taguba also documents (although the government cannot have known about this before the Taguba report was published) the illegal efforts of the Abu Ghraib authorities to conceal the worst abuses from the Red Cross delegation that wrote the October report. The October report is available to the government. The prime minister's answer is certainly inconsistent with those parts of the October report which are referred to in the February report. The prime minister has misled the parliament.

For a prime minister to mislead parliament or deny responsibility, especially this prime minister, is nothing new. For me the most disturbing part of the whole incident is that O'Kane participated in drafting a response to the October report

The Prime Minister, John Howard, confirmed on Thursday that Major O'Kane had 'prepared a draft response' to the complaints by the ICRC.

That letter of response said the US Government had decided a certain category of prisoner would not get the protections of the Geneva convention.

In making that decision, the US was relying on a new interpretation of one article in the conventions.

The letter reads in part, 'while the armed conflict continues and where 'absolute military security so requires', security internees will not obtain full GC [Geneva convention] protection as recognised in GCIV/5, although such protection will be afforded as soon as the security situation in Iraq allow it'.

GCIV/5 refers to article 5 of the fourth Geneva convention, a narrow loophole that qualifies the protection of individuals considered an imminent security threat in their own country.

New York human rights lawyer Scott Horton, who analysed the letter, said its interpretation of the Geneva convention was 'completely outrageous'.

It is really quite hard to believe that O'Kane would not have made the government aware that the occupation was taking a view of the Geneva Conventions radically different to anything Australia has ever adopted. I guess it's a small footnote that Rumsfeld testified on 7 May that:

The Geneva Conventions apply to all of the individuals there in one way or another.�They apply to the prisoners of war, and they are written out and they're instructed and the people in the Army train them to that and the people in the Central Command have the responsibility of seeing that, in fact, their conduct is consistent with the Geneva Conventions.�

Evidently he knew as little of CENTCOM's operations as our prime minister.

Newsweek reports:

But military sources acknowledge that an increasing body of evidence indicates his command has not been forthright about when it learned of the abuses or what it did�and failed to do�about them. The Red Cross first warned Joint Task Force-7 of the kind of abuses seen in the prison photos last November, fully two months before Sanchez launched an investigation. The general says he didn't find out about the abuses until January. But two military sources say his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wodjakowski, was present at a meeting in late November to discuss a response to the Red Cross. Also at the meeting was Col. Mark Warren, Sanchez's top legal adviser. In mid-May Warren denied in reply to a NEWSWEEK question that his office had drafted the command's response, which brushed off the Red Cross allegations. But Warren later acknowledged under oath to the Senate Armed Services Committee that his JAG team had drafted the command's response.

That also destroys the prime minister's 27 May claim that the October report contianed nothing about actual abuses.