|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
ADF chain of command - accountability v subservience
by Tony Kevin
In the recent thread Defending Canberra: Who you gonna call?, I noted some serious points (made by Michael Lines, Stuart McCarthy and Stuart Lord) that merit further, broader, discussion on the general theme of the ADF's over-responsiveness to political direction.
The day of intrusive, aggressive ADF Blackhawk helicopter surveillance over Canberra, while all our state premiers were meeting here with the PM to discuss the need for harsher counter-terrorism laws , and the way in which some correspondents are now representing those flights as having been a quite normal and unremarkable part of the ADF training and exercising schedule, is symptomatic of the 'constructed' reality in which we now all live in Australia - and this includes the men and women of the ADF, which as Michael Lines rightly says, is a legitimate and integral part of the Australian community. No argument there.
My argument is - and I have developed aspects of it more fully in a range of speeches and essays on my own website, I only shorthand the main lines of it here - that John Howard has learned how to manipulate and control to his own political ends the most important of our traditionally independent and self-policing public institutions - the ADF, the AFP, the intelligence agencies, the senior national security Commonwealth departments and agencies. They will all, through obedience to their own chains of command, combine in helping Howard to generate and sustain the version of reality that he wishes to put before Australians. They will all help him to exclude from public knowledge or consideration inconvenient facts that do not fit this preferred reality.
Thus, to give a simple but telling current example , we are now mourning a new round of deaths of innocent Australians and Balinese Indonesians at the hands of what were most probably JI terrorists, and the consequent likely destruction of the livelihoods and hopes of the beautiful and vulnerable people of Bali, without anyone daring to ask the obvious question in public - whether this renewed terrorism might not have something to do with Australia's continuing enthusiastic participation over the past four years in the efficient US killing machine's operations against Muslim populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Keelty will not ask it. O'Sullivan will not ask it. Varghese will not ask it. Shergold will not ask it. Most of our mainstream media will not ask it. We have all been persuaded or coerced to believe Howard's nonsense, that these terrorists "hate us because of our values", or that they are trying to harm Australian-Indonesian relations or to bring down the Indonesian government, when the truth is that they hate us because of what our military forces are doing to people in Muslim countries.
Our coalition's forces routinely kill hundreds of people every week in Iraq , barely registering that they are doing so. They have never bothered to estimate Iraqi casualties - they just don't matter to this coalition. Robert Fisk the other day estimated 200,000 - more conservative and very reliable estimates say 100,000 - deaths in Iraq from war-related causes since the US invasion of Iraq began. Robert Hill was boasting a few days ago that our SAS forces had killed "dozens" of Afghanis in its first major engagements in the latest phase of our ADF involvement in Afghanistan. We are told they were all Taliban, so that's supposed to be OK.
The list of examples of questionable ADF conduct over the past four years is very telling. Let me just flesh out the list a little to remind readers of what the substance is. All of these instances are serious cases where the ADF command structure or senior ADF figures in positions of authority and presumed accountability, set aside their own service rules and codes of conduct, and their service loyalties, in their anxiety to give the PM what he wanted of them, or what they may have guessed he wanted of them. And of course, this is how authoritarian unaccountable power structures operate - the subordinates interpret what the leader wants done and they do it, without asking him to specify exactly what he wants done - because they know he does not want to know the detail of what was done or how it was done.
In the case of the suspected illegal entry vessel Palapa in August 2001, Coastwatch, a federal border protection agency headed by a senior Navy Admiral and heavily influenced by ADF operational culture, left over 400 people unrescued on this obviously crippled drifting boat, whose engine had failed just 60 miles from Christmas Island, for 24 hours before issuing a rescue message to nearby shipping - the MV Tampa. During this time, all those people nearly drowned in a severe overnight storm. A Coastwatch plane had twice inspected them the previous day and reported to base their obvious frantic distress signals. Coastwatch did not institute any rescue action from Christmas Island the nearest landfall, though it had the resources to do so. It understood from Canberra that it was not to do so - despite this being an obvious and serious violation of Australia's laws of rescue of persons in distress at sea. No subsequent inquiry.
In the case of SIEV 4, Olong, the "children overboard" boat, intercepted by HMAS Adelaide on 6-8 October 2001, there is a whole 3 -day history of ADF violations of the legal and ethical duty of rescue at sea, all set out in Dark Victory and from a different perspective in Chapter 6 of my book A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X. The then CDF Chris Barrie barely protested at what the ADF was being ordered by Max Moore-Wilton and by Jane Halton's committee in the Prime Minister's Department to do. Yes, he finally demurred at the criminal proposal to tow the crippled Olong hundreds of miles to Cocos Island while still keeping its 230-odd people on board their unseaworthy boat . But he allowed the unseaworthy boat to ordered north and abandoned, with a defective jury-repaired steering gear and a donated bushwalker's compass.. He allowed Adelaide, once it had rescued a failed and becalmed Olong from that situation, to be ordered to tow it in a circular "racetrack" pattern just outside Christmas Island for 22 hours while Halton's committee pondered on what to do with the passengers. He allowed Commander Banks to be ordered not to rescue the people on Olong till their boat sank and they were in the water. All of this clearly violated maritime rescue law. Yet the ADF held no inquiry.
In the case of SIEV 5 and SIEV 7, two boats towed back in October 2001 by ADF vessels using deceitful subterfuges from Ashmore Reef to Indonesia, and then abandoned at the edge of Indonesian territorial waters, there were dreadful incidents of violence and intimidation, all seen on ABC Four Corners program To Deter and Deny. Three men disappeared, presumed dead, on SIEV 7. The fullest accounts are in Dark Victory, pages 215-220 and 243-249. No inquiry.
In the case of SIEV 10. with at least 60 people (maybe up to 100 initially ) on board, at least two women drowned in the sea - bodies recovered by ADF - after a fire broke out on the boat shortly after it came under the guard of HMAS Wollongong at Ashmore Reef. The AFP later entered an open finding on how the fire had broken out .It is clear from Dark Victory pages 266-271 that there are questions about the urgency and efficiency of Wollongong's rescue action, once it was clear that the fire on SIEV 10 was out of control and that its passengers were ordered by the boarding party from Wollongong to jump in the water. We don't know how many others may have died whose bodies were not recovered. No inquiry.
The story of the sinking of SIEV X, drowning 353 people, and of the subsequent Australian government cover-up of what Australian agencies might have known and did or failed to do , is told in my book. It is an obvious lie that the Senate exonerated the ADF conduct in the case of SIEV X . The full Hansard shows that it did not do so. Repeated Senate calls for a full powers judicial inquiry into the sinking remain ignored.
Thus, the whole history of ADF interception or failure to go to the help of civilians in SIEV boats in the Operation Relex phase in 2001 is replete with violations of the maritime law concerning safety of life at sea. There has never been any ADF investigation of these matters. The book has been closed by the ADF, in the knowledge or expectation that the government wants it closed.
In Iraq in March 2003, the ADF concealed for as long as it could the government-ordered SAS secret initiation of large-scale invasive military action inside Iraq, that began 30 hours before the expiry of a 48-hour declared ultimatum to Saddam to surrender power. This was an obvious violation of the international laws of war, and of the ADF's duty to inform the Australian people when we are at war. . Later, under pressure, Defence admitted that this had been done, under orders of the National Security Committee of Cabinet. But how did the ADF Command ever allow itself to obey such manifestly illegal and dishonourable orders? No inquiry.
In the US forces' destruction of the city of Fallujah in October - November 2004, an obvious major war crime against 250,000 Iraqi civilians in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, Hill has admitted that a senior ADF officer took part in the US headquarters planning of the operation, and that ADF personnel on secondment to US forces took part in the military fighting. No inquiry.
In the case of the attempted concealment from Red Cross investigators of US forces' torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, Defence and senior ADF witnesses tried to conceal from the Australian Senate that an Australian ADF officer took part in the attempted cover-up of evidence. Later, the ADF and Defence tried to conceal from the Senate the fact that Australian weapons inspectors had interrogated Iraqis whom they knew had been mistreated in Abu Ghraib. When Rod Barton courageously blew the whistle on this, no one in the ADF corroborated his testimony. The Senate could not take the matter further.
Merv Jenkins, a Duntroon-trained officer, suicided under unbearable political pressure after he fell foul of the desired government spin on what was happening in East Timor in June 2000, when he when he was just doing his proper job of intelligence liaison with the Americans in Washington. The ADF command chain had not defended him.
Colonel Lance Collins was driven out of the ADF after he blew the whistle on JIO's wrongful denial of military intelligence that his ADF troops needed to know in the early days of the INTERFET operation in East Timor. The ADF chain of command abandoned him when he resolutely pursued truth and justice in this matter. And his legal counsel, Colonel Martin Toohey, was similarly hounded. (To learn more about this case, read Collins' new book, co-authored with Warren Reed).
RAAF maintenance personnel ordered to clean the insides of aircraft fuel tanks without proper protective equipment, and who had their health destroyed as a result, were never fairly compensated afterwards. No doubt the government wanted to save money - money it is prepared to waste in huge amounts on things it wants to spend money on, like terrorism propaganda. The ADF command did not stand up for the men.
The recommendations of a Senate inquiry into failures in the military justice system were ignored. The Howard Government clearly prefers the status quo, it is easier to control this system than opening up these matters to the uncertainties of civilian judicial process. The ADF command acquiesced.
All of these examples - and this is not a complete list - show an ADF military chain of command that is now routinely subservient to its political master John Howard and unwilling to take any stand in defence of its own laws, codes of conduct, or personnel.
The situation is very worrying and it is foolishly sticking one's head in the sand to claim that the ADF as an institution is not in serious trouble now.
The Wehrmacht was an honourable military force too, yet it let Hitler's regime take it to places where it very much did not want to go.
Like all of our national security instruments of government, the ADF is now habitually succumbing to the ruthless exercise of power by the Howard Government. It is hard now to see where the ADF command would draw the line, if asked to do things they knew were unlawful and wrong. Step by step, they have been schooled in unquestioning obedience to political power.
And so when , just by coincidence it is now claimed, those aggressive and intrusive helicopter surveillance flights went on all day over Canberra , on the very day when that crucial national security premiers' meeting was taking place, excuse me if I doubt that this was just a coincidence of timing. I doubt there was not some governmental discussion with ADF at political or political minder level, perhaps informal, of the desirability of doing something like this on this day. But we're unlikely ever to know about that.
When the ADF is willing - as it proved to be - to try to mislead the public on when it commenced Australian military operations on Iraqi soil, reconstructing a public history on something as small as the process of securing approvals for mounting a day of helicopter surveillance flights over Canberra would be just a doddle.
Maybe that event wasn't particularly significant - but it was symptomatic of these bigger ADF failings, and it was right there in my city and over my home. So it affected me, and I wrote about it because I wanted to share those concerns.
Sometimes it's the little things close to home that have the biggest impact - like the cruel insult to war widow Kylie Russell during the Bush visit, as told in Margo's book: Not Happy, John! The ADF command should not have let that happen either, but they did.
And if anyone doubts the reality or extent of the power John Howard now exercises over our country - including over our ADF chain of command - I recommend a careful reading of all of last Friday's AFR Magazine's annual survey, "Inside Power" . A discussion of the implications of that survey is worth a future Webdiary essay in itself.