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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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June 1, 2004

It is good to see that the Australian Senate is doing its job of using estimates to keep the dissembling defence bureaucrats on their toes. Go the Senate.

The Defence Department statement that, "No Defence personnel were aware of the allegations of abuse or serious mistreatment [at Abu Ghraib prison] before the public report of the US investigation in January 2004", looks very shaky. It was an attempt to defuse the situation. Yet they knew since bureaucrats brief upwards. And they--the Defence Department and the military--- knew several months before that. But they sat quiet. Very quiet.

As human beings they cannot have agreed with what they were told about what was going on at Abu Ghraib prison. Were not the military in Iraq to defend human rights. By not coming clean they were complicit.

The body language of General Cosgrove, Chief of the Defence Force, was very uncomfortable on the television clip I saw on The 7.30 Report. Cosgrove made it clear that it was the Minister who was calling the shots on this. Is the Defence Department going to be the fallguy for the Howard government politicians again?

The politicians are saying they knew nothing, yet again. There is anxiety all round in the inner circles of government. Will Defence be able to keep the firewall up? Or will they crumble. Those in the PM's office must be having an real anxious time with Senate estimates. Those prison photos do not play well in the electorate.

The Defence boys are also uncomfortable because they now defending an intervention that is turning out to be quite different from what thought they were supposed to be doing. Have a look at Juan Cole's good essay on the Shi'ite insurgency in Irag. He concludes:

"In pursuing al-Sadr and the army of the Mahdi, the U.S. military has fought in close proximity to the most sacred shrines of Shiite Islam, desecrating holy cemeteries and destroying at least one historic mosque. This desecration, coming on top of the siege of Fallujah and the revelations of prison torture, has made the United States increasingly unpopular in the Shi'ite south, which before March had been relatively quiet. Whatever victory the United States finally achieves against al-Sadr will almost certainly be a Pyrrhic one. At best, the Americans and their allies will face an ongoing low-grade Shiite insurgency. At worst, they will be hated by a majority of the Shiites in the south and demands for an immediate U.S. withdrawal will proliferate."

It is difficult to see how the Americans can prevent the situation from becoming a national liberation struggle against a foreign occupying power. At the moment they appear to be doing everything to ensure that the situation becomes an insurgency against occupation, rather than a stable, independent, pluralistic Iraq.

What is not wanted by the US is an independent, Shi'ite dominated Iraq that would perhaps refuse permanent military bases to the US, but would still be friendly to the U.S, then fine.

Surely the US aim is not to keep Iraq subservient to the U.S? Make Iraq a weak state, that would follow U.S. orders on foreign policy, help the U.S. militarily, and leave oil under control of U.S. companies? Surely not?

So Defence must be increasingly uncomfortable with what is happening in Iraq as well with the horrors of the prison photos.

Ric Smith, the head of the Defence Department, faces another day of grilling at Senate estimates by Senator Faulkner. How long can Smith and Cosgrove hold the impossible line for a government in crisis?

Defence knew. Around lunch time today the defence chiefs finally acknowledged that six Australian military officers were aware of serious abuse allegations at Abu Ghraib prison as early as October last year. And they would have briefed upwards.


Don't you just love these rituals of accountability. More power to the Senate I say.

And the Howard Government politicians? Why, they knew nothing, of course. Defence neglected to inform them yet again.

More over at Backpages, at Southerly Buster and Road to Surfdom.

A question: So why did Defence sit quiet about the torture in Abu Ghraib? Because they were told to?

May 2
Miclelle Grattan has a good article on this in The Age. She says that it is clear that the timing of the grovelling retraction of Smith and Cosgrove was on political orders. But the tactical thinking behind the initial denial and the retraction was obscure. The result was to further discredit a pair already impaled on their swords.

May 3
Day 3 of the Senate questioning. Both the Foreign Affairs and Attorney-General's departments acknowledge that they also received copies of "situation reports" filed by Australians serving at coalition headquarters in Iraq. So they also knew what was happening in Abu Ghraib prison. They too stayed quiet.

May 6
Margo Kingston on the new system. She says:

"Here's how the new system works. A minister lies or misleads to score a point. His public servants do not advise him of the error. If the lie is discovered, the minister says he won't resign because his public service didn't tell him. The head of his department takes the rap and gets a gold star. Public servants down the pecking order quickly learn that unwelcome information is to be bottom-drawered."

That means the watchdog media can no longer just report what the ministers say as fact any more. Everything the ministers say must be reported as a claim unless they can state what their evidence is and have confirmed the facts with the public service.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:42 AM | | Comments (3)


'So why did Defence sit quiet about the torture in Abu Graib? Because they were told to?'

Well the answer could simply lie with the age old trait of humans, belonginging to a particular group, tribe, clique or claque, not to desire being tarred with the same brush as one of their miscreant own. So they sweep the dirt under the carpet as unimportant in the big scheme of things. Typical examples of this are an ATSIC blind to its shortcomings in the Pitlands, etc with petrol sniffers and the Church and Education sectors with their treatment of paedophilia within their ranks. That's why we need the consatant scrutiny of outsiders.

Could well be rather than the return of Tampa.

If so, then then their tactics leave a lot to be desired.

On Friday they were saying no one knew of the 'serious mistreatment'(note the language) of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prior to January when the US began to investigate. On Monday they were saying they knew back in November.

And it is only serious mistreatment.It is not even inhumane let alone torture.

Why quietly slip it all under the carpet when they were not responsible and not involved? Why only give ground under intense forensic questioning?

They've impaled themselves. On your interpretation defence and military look incompetent, having something to hide, and unwilling to acknowledge the seriousness of what happened.

When you're dealing with some pesky alligators, you may need some outside reminding that you were there for the noble cause of reinstating the Marshes, among others.