Letters archive 2010

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2010.


Monday, 22 November 2010
Letter to Crikey.com
(published Tuesday, 23 November 2010) 

Re. "Elite Oz soldiers in covert operations for top-secret base” (yesterday, Item 1). As the independent, non-partisan, national public-interest watchdog for defence and wider national security issues, can we point out that the article by Antony Lowenstein in yesterday's Crikey suffered two substantial and serious flaws that surely should have been challenged and corrected during the Crikey editorial process. Or else the whole article should have been spiked as crap, not journalism, or even as reasonable comment in public debate. 

First, the article was merely a mixture of undergraduate-level urban rumours, historical myth (especially about the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War) and left-wing conspiracy theory, flavoured by numerous factual mistakes, misrepresentations and misunderstandings about our defence force, its compliance with international law and, indeed, the way Australia actually works as a democracy ruled by law. Even the two Australian sources cited, such as an equally fact-free, six-year old, long-discredited Brian Toohey article in the Australian Financial Review, and a more recent but also unbalanced and quite factually erroneous article by Sally Neighbour in The Monthly, provided no actual basis for the specific and general claims made. Journalists quoting other mistaken journalists is not substantiation. 

Second, everyone is free to write such tripe but it was plainly very irresponsible of Crikey to publish it. Our soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan fighting a UN-endorsed war at the lawful direction of our elected government, and on our behalf. It is unfair at best for any Australian to make their job harder or more dangerous by writing or publishing biased nonsense that can be so easily misused in Al Qa’eda propaganda. There is no excuse to betray the men and women of our defence force by such stupid, thoughtless and irresponsible claims. If you disagree with the war in Afghanistan, argue with our government (using facts), not endanger our troops (by wild claims). 

Let us also be clear here about what Crikey has boldly stated. “Crikey understands Australia has been engaged in such behaviour [alleged killings contrary to the Laws of Armed Conflict] in the past decade in the Middle East, leaving Canberra and its officials open to potential charges of war crimes and prosecution in an international criminal court”. 

Previous Ministers for Defence and the current Chief of Defence Force have pointed out on several previous occasions ? when journalists have made incorrect claims about supposed “assassinations” ? that the ADF, including its Special Forces, have not and do not ever assassinate anybody. They do not even deliberately kill anyone, except in battle, and where authorised by Australian rules-of-engagement grounded in the Laws of Armed Conflict and the ethics of a professional defence force made up of honourable fellow Australians. Similar denials have been made by Ministers responsible for ASIS. No journalist, or polemicist, has ever been able to back up such a claim with a single substantiated fact. Furthermore, as in this case, every journalist’s sole defence when challenged to prove such claims has been merely to cite older unsubstantiated claims by other unprofessional journalists or ideologues. 

Then there is the determined lack of balance that permeated the article. The numerous denials by the Ministers and CDF are not even mentioned. No military or intelligence historian was cited either. The only two academic experts consulted, a defence finance expert and a lawyer who does not specialise in LOAC, naturally commented on a hypothetical basis only (and I suspect were not quoted accurately anyway). Both unsurprisingly made only the qualified observation that, if true, such acts would be illegal. Neither, however, offered any confirmation of the wild claims made or that they considered such claims might or could be true. Moreover, neither the ADA as the relevant public-interest watchdog, or the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers as the relevant professional body, were asked for an opinion. Antony has consulted us before so the omission this time is puzzling if one assumes he approached the topic objectively. 

And just in case someone claims that the ADA is somehow biased, may I point out our extensive record of condemning the use of torture, rendition and assassination in the UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism (usually referred to incorrectly by polemicists of either extreme as the supposed “war on terror”). 

Sunday, 14 November 2010
Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
(published in part Tuesday, 16 November 2010) 

Waleed Aly’s review of David Hicks’ book (“A prisoner of the search”, The Age, A2, November 13, p.19), deftly tackled its major flaw, the treachery question, and noted that objective readers seeking explanations will be disappointed. 

As with most of his apologists, Hicks avoids discussing tackling that if any Australian now did what he has admitted doing in 2000-01 they could rightly be prosecuted under our updated treachery and counter-terrorism laws. 

Too-long delayed amendments in 2002 finally closed the loopholes that allowed Wilfred Burchett, and fifty years later David Hicks, to escape prosecution for assisting an enemy we lawfully sent our defence force to fight in UN-endorsed operations on our behalf. 

And with even more of the usual monotonous dishonesty, the book also fails to distinguish the undoubted legitimacy of Hicks's his internment as a belligerent captured in the Afghanistan War from the natural legal controversy over his later, quite separate, criminal trial, conviction and prison sentence by a US Military Commission for terrorist offences. 

The sooner Australians learn first-hand what a dill Hicks is the better ? as is proved every time a microphone is thrust in front of Mamdouh Habib. 

Thursday, 11 November 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Monday, 15 November 2010) 

The Australia Defence Association welcomes John Warhurst (“Along came Jones with big power to be heard”, November 11, p.19) joining our criticism of broadcaster Alan Jones over his outrageous and cowardly attacks on the Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade. As a necessarily non-partisan public-interest watchdog organisation, we also agree with Warhurst's John’s criticism of Jones for his right-wing bias and less than professional attention to detail more generally. 

But Jones is a commercial broadcaster and advertising by others, not our taxes, support his vituperation and bias. His audience is also sectional by choice. Even allowing for John Warhurst’s own left-wing predilections, it is therefore difficult to reconcile the inconsistency of his criticism of Jones with his denials of ideological bias in some parts of the ABC as merely “allegations”. 

By any truly apolitical measure, the ABC as an institution owned by taxpayers of all political allegiances can be less than careful in preserving the non-partisan stance necessary for a publicly-funded broadcaster and required by its Charter. Where many critics of ABC bias go wrong, however, is in regarding the whole ABC as an amorphous mass of “pinkos”.  

In fact, the marked left-wing bias is largely concentrated in current affairs television and in a lack of sufficient diversity and balanced approaches among radio national talk-show hosts, especially in morning programs. ABC television and radio news, radio current affairs, News-24, and local radio across the country are generally free of political bias.  

Moreover, the advent of the balanced News-24 has highlighted the often suffocating left-wing bias of programs such as the 7:30 Report, Lateline and Q&A – the audiences of which cannot and should not be sectional by their own, the presenter’s or the ABC’s choice. 

Friday, 05 November 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

Any debate on civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003 lacks context if it excludes the very high probability that mass bloodshed among Iraqis was inevitable no matter when or how the Saddam Hussein regime finally fell. This was very obvious to those of us who worked in Iraq during the regime (in my case with the UN). 

Whether the 2003 US-led intervention was the main cause of the bloodshed, or even a primary accelerant, will be a task for historians in more dispassionate times. As will be assessing whether the presence of international forces ended up ameliorating the bloodshed or exacerbating it. 

What is known now is that the vast majority of Iraqis have been killed by other Iraqis.

Thursday, 04 November 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Saturday, 06 November 2010) 

Debates about war are often naturally emotional but this does not mean they need be emotive - or at least emotive or ideological to the extent facts and context can be discounted or ignored. 

Jochen Zeil (letters, November 4) incorrectly claimed that the “West” somehow established the Taliban and al Qa’eda as resistance movements against the Russians (actually Soviets). But the Taliban arose organically in late 1994, some five years after the Soviets left and the US and other Western powers had, short-sightedly, withdrawn support from the Mujahidin resistance instead of refocusing aid on rebuilding Afghan civil society. 

From 1995 the Taliban were heavily backed by the Pakistani intelligence services due to fears that the enduring chaos in Afghanistan would spread to Pakistan’s tribal territories or worse, backed up by longstanding but flawed theories about Pakistan needing strategic depth against India by dominating Afghanistan. They still are to varying extents. 

Similarly, following his service fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and evolution of his Islamist ideology, Osama Bin Laden founded al Qa’eda independently and aimed it first at his own (US-aligned) Saudi government. 

Wednesday, 03 November 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Monday, 08 November 2010) 

Irfan Yusuf’s opinion article (“artful dodger does himself no favours on David Hicks”, November 3, p.19) itself employs several artful dodges of facts inconvenient to its argument. 

First, if David Hicks or any other Australian committed the same acts now as Hicks has admitted doing in 2000-01, they could rightly be prosecuted under our updated treachery and counter-terrorism laws. Amendments in 2002 finally closed the loopholes that allowed Wilfred Burchett, and fifty years later David Hicks, to escape prosecution for assisting an enemy we lawfully sent our defence force to fight in UN-endorsed operations on our behalf. 

Second, Hicks’ question to John Howard on ABC's [television program] Q&A ? misread as it was by Hicks ? was an artful dodge by its author (obviously not Hicks). As far too many do, the question omitted to distinguish the undoubted legitimacy of his detention as a belligerent captured in the Afghanistan War from the obviously controversial legitimacy of his later, quite separate, criminal trial, conviction and prison sentence by US Military Commission for terrorist offences. 

The US Supreme Court has reconfirmed the legitimacy of interning captured belligerents in several decisions directly, and indirectly by its (correct) application of the general protections of Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions to Hicks and the others so detained (even though they do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention). This is also why the ADA has long noted that Mamdouh Habib was improperly detained at Guantanamo Bay because, unlike Hicks, he was arrested by Pakistan, not captured fighting in a war. 

Third, the ADA has always defended Hicks’ right to argue his case in public but, on moral grounds at least, not to be financially rewarded for it. As well as the democratic principle involved, we have long argued that the sooner Australians learn first-hand what a dill Hicks is the better ? as is proved every time a microphone is thrust in front of Habib. 

Finally, every review of Hicks’ book so far has criticised all that it avoids saying, especially when Hicks still refuses to be interviewed or otherwise explain himself. It seems odd that Irfan Yusuf is so silent about all this less than artful dodging. 

Tuesday, 02 November 2010
Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
(not published) 

Dan Oakes (“Australia’s helping hand to warlord condemned”, November 2, p.2) typifies the problems Australia has in debating Afghanistan war issues objectively – and not just for its slanted headline. Asking only Bruce Haigh and Amin Saikal for their views yet again might tenderly massage the ideological stance of many “Age” readers but it does not inform them adequately or air the principles involved more broadly. 

The Australia Defence Association is confident that checks and balances were applied appropriately in bringing six Afghan police auxiliaries (not militiamen per se) to Australia to participate in an ADF exercise testing our diggers before their deployment to Afghanistan. 

Contrary to the opinions and background of Haigh and Saikal, the decision was based on up-to-date experience about the situation in Oruzgan province and integrated Afghan-ISAF efforts to rebuild civil society there. We should applaud such initiatives, not subjectively describe or condemn them. 

Moreover, in any war judicious and nuanced choices often have to be made when fighting common enemies for the common good. In World War II we allied ourselves with one murderous dictator, Stalin, in order to defeat another one, Hitler.  

Finally, in both principle and long-proven practice, any carefully controlled exposure of foreign security force personnel to Australian society and to our defence force, as organisms ruled by law, is always likely to have benefits far outweighing disadvantages for the foreign society they police or defend on their return.  

Monday, 01 November 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published) 

Your November 1st editorial on defence funding and equipment procurement admirably addressed problems caused by political pork-barrelling and bureaucracy but misattributed or ignored other causes and their historical background. 

First, it echoed recent claims about supposedly insufficient parliamentary scrutiny of the Department of Defence without noting that, whatever the sufficiency or not, Defence has long been scrutinised more than any other department. 

Second, it regurgitated recent armchair strategic theorising, rather than note actual operational, economic and scientific analyses, about the submarines and warships we need and the best way to build and sustain them over their 30-year or more lives. 

Third, it did not acknowledge that the program of real investment increases promised in the 2000 and 2009 Defence White Papers (but under-delivered) is still needed to cancel out the massive sustained neglect of our defence force throughout the last three decades of the 20th Century under governments of both political persuasions. Moreover, as a percentage of both GDP and the federal budget, defence funding has not increased over recent decades and even remains at lower percentages than in the 1980s and early 1990s. It only seems higher because the economy is stronger. 

The bottom line is not that we spend too much on defence but that we still do not invest enough or with sufficient long-term, apolitical vision. Especially in comparison to much greater national spending in each case on social security, health and education; spending which also continues to rise exponentially in comparison to defence (the only major government responsibility solely funded federally). 

Monday, 01 November 2010
Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
(not published) 

Your November 1st editorial on the participation of six Afghan police auxiliaries in an ADF operational readiness evaluation (ORE) exercise at the Cultana Training Area in SA was riddled with factual, conceptual and practical misunderstandings. 

First, the Afghans are formally members of the Oruzgan Police Provincial Response Force, not (or not just) a private militia. This distinction needs to be reinforced not diluted, and not least to the Afghans involved and those back home. 

Second, no “Special Forces base where the dark arts are taught” was involved conceptually, geographically or with regard to the type and nature of the exercise. 

Third, the ORE was collective training for our defence force, not individual training (schooling) for the Afghans. 

Fourth, their participation in the exercise was mainly to benefit our diggers undergoing realistic testing before deploying to Afghanistan. 

Finally, as the ADF’s long experience of educating and training Indonesian and Filipino soldiers in Australia has shown – and with appropriate commonsense safeguards - exposure to Australian society and how the military of a democracy ruled by law does work is of considerable benefit to authoritarian countries in the cultural re-engineering needed to transform their security forces into ones knowing and implementing how they should work. Indeed the national democratisation of Indonesia and the Philippines has been largely led and partly sustained by military officers trained and educated overseas in Australia and other liberal democracies. 

Friday, 29 October 2010
Letter to the Courier Mail (Brisbane)
(not published) 

You can generally depend on Terry Sweetman (“Late confession raises questions about way Australia goes to war”, October 29, p.48) to bark up the wrong tree when trying to discuss a defence issue. 

Terry suggests a grand conspiracy theory for none of Australia’s wars having involved declarations of war since 1941 (actually 1944). He should instead read the 1945 UN Charter which outlawed such declarations. 

Then there is Terry’s odd belief that because 60 (actually around 50) per cent of those opinion polled oppose the Afghanistan War they must all be informed and correct. Trust Terry to ignore the simplistic, context-free questions asked to gain such high results.  

He should instead read recent Hansards that detail many thoughtful speeches by MPs from all mainstream parties debating the war. He could then compare them with the large percentage of uninformed and/or ideological opinions on the war offered up on blog sites, talkback radio and letters to the editor (about two thirds of them by our estimation). 

Terry could also compare this blog-standard nonsense to the detailed understandings of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan. This might help him grasp their growing frustration at silly articles like his — and the dangerous situation for any democracy at war when our troops fighting it become markedly more informed than much of the population at home.

Friday, 22 October 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Wednesday, 27 October 2010) 

Few would hate war more than a soldier because few know more about it first-hand or professionally. 

David Stephens’ suggestion (Letters, October 22) that defence force commanders somehow want to stay in Afghanistan for the supposed training value is as offensive as it is ignorant. 

With a small, professional, defence force, not the mass armies of previous wars, a very small part of the national family now fights our country’s battles. And, just from Afghanistan, they have suffered 21 dead, 152 wounded, 9 widows, 2 grieving fiancés and 19 children now without Dad. 

Indeed, much of our country’s combat burden is borne by a very small part of the ADF, including the Special Forces now showing signs of strain with some personnel having done seven tours of Afghanistan, plus Iraq and East Timor. 

But is the general community now so out of touch with the defence force that protects them that ludicrous and insensitive notions about enduring all this for training can be believed - or thought worth publishing? 

Sunday, 17 October 2010
Letter to the West Australian (Perth)
(not published) 

The headline of Paul Murray’s article “War criminals or just doing their duty?” (“West Australian”, October 16, p.32) epitomises the mostly uninformed, inaccurate and sensationalist media coverage of the charges against three commandos. 

The charges indisputably involve a battlefield accident, not a war crime. This defamation of the men concerned shows, at best, careless or callous indifference to them, their unit, our defence force and the cause for which they fight on our behalf. 

Such articles, based on popular misconceptions and assumptions yet to be tested in court, also confuse the general public and needlessly anger many war veterans. Especially where anyone forgets about the laws of war and associated accountabilities that have always applied to our soldiers in combat. 

Too many Australians are also unnecessarily fearful because poor media reporting has not explained that the known circumstances of this particular battlefield accident are so highly unusual, and specific, that are they most unlikely to apply to combat generally. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
(not published) 

Your editorial defending the principle and process whereby three soldiers have been charged over a battlefield accident in Afghanistan is a refreshing change from the position of your sister paper in Sydney which (wrongly) editorialised on 30 August that such charges could or should never be laid – and then declined to publish the ADA’s objections to that position [below]. 

Wednesday, 06 October 2010
Letter to the Australian Financial Review
(published Thursday, 07 October 2010) 

Recent letters, editorials and opinion comment on the charging of two Australian soldiers and an officer over a battlefield accident in Afghanistan seem based on mistaken assumptions as to the circumstances, operational context and laws applying.  

Fears that such charges might now mean a lawyer crouching beside every digger are also generally unfounded. The publicly-known circumstances of this accident, and the resultant charges, are quite specific to this incident. Any added application to wider combat seems minimal to nil because all diggers every digger, in every war Australia has fought, have has had limits imposed on their use of lethal force in combat (chiefly by the Laws of Armed Conflict based on the Hague and Geneva Conventions). 

That this was a battlefield accident is undisputed by all except Taliban propaganda but, at the very least, four non-combatant children and a youth protected by the 4th Geneva Convention were accidentally killed by the Australian Defence Force in February 2009. 

The investigation and accountability processes of a defence force deployed by a democracy ruled by law necessarily kicked in. Otherwise we are no different to the Taliban, the SS or the Japanese in World War II. 

Key facts as to how the accident occurred, and whether reckless or negligent failure to comply with rules-of-engagement or other command orders contributed, will now be tested in court not on letters pages, blogs or talkback radio. 

Otherwise, as for previous wars, media sensationalists the sensationalist wing of our media, and political extremists, will make scurrilous allegations about supposed ADF war crimes or atrocities for ever. 

Fortunately for those charged, they will at least be tried by court martial where their guilt or innocence and any punishment, including any mitigating circumstances, will be decided by professional peers who understand the operational difficulties and moral nuances of combat. Unlike in the new Military Court of Australia as set out in the seriously flawed bill before Parliament.  

In the MCA, serious offences that would mean a jury trial for any Australian civilian would be heard by a Federal Court judge sitting alone, with no jury or court martial board, and with no requirement for the judge to have experience of military service or war beyond a vaguely defined “knowledge of the ADF”. 

Controversy about the charged commandos further emphasises the conceptual flaws and civil liberties outrages posed by the imposition of the MCA on our nation’s defence force by out-of-touch politicians, arrogant civilian lawyers and a previously apathetic populace. 

Saturday, 25 September 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Tuesday, 28 September 2010) 

David Barbeler, “Memorial held over site of ship’s grave” (September 25, p.2), is to be congratulated for at least identifying the submarine that sank the “Centaur”, off Brisbane in May 1943, as Japanese. Unlike, for example, Queensland premier Anna Bligh whose recent press releases notoriously attribute  the sinking only to “a submarine”.  

Failure to identify the submarine, and omission of any mention that the sinking of a plainly marked hospital ship was a deliberate war crime, is dishonourable historically, disgraceful morally and counter-productive strategically.  

Worldwide public remembrance of war crimes should never allow fundamental details to be airbrushed away by political correctness, inappropriate fears about commercial consequences, or undeserved sensitivity for contemporary diplomatic niceties. Particularly as most Japanese today know little if anything of Japanese aggression and atrocities throughout Asia in the 1910-45 period because their school and university history books do not tell the truth.  

We should not condone such revisionism, dishonour our own war veterans or forget their hard-won strategic lessons. By continuing to remember and proclaim the truth about such atrocities in context we also avoid the slippery slope to wider denials and increased risk of future war crimes through loss of deterrent moral force internationally.  

Most importantly we need to avoid the lazy mistake of assuming this is just an historical issue. As current China-Japan territorial tensions over distant islands again show,  a perennial cause of strategic instability in East and North Asia is Japan’s continued unwillingness to admit wartime aggression and atrocities - in stark contrast to Germany and its reintegration into modern Europe through truly facing its Nazi past and demonstrating genuine contrition.   

True friends of modern Japan are not those who help the Japanese government and people to continue denying responsibility for major wartime aggression, widespread atrocities and their contemporary consequences.  

Wednesday, 08 September 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Tuesday, 21 September 2010) 

As part of a UN-endorsed operation, Australia - not just our defence force - is fighting a difficult war in Afghanistan. Every Australian therefore has a citizenship responsibility to debate Australia’s participation responsibly. Not least so our diggers are not unduly endangered, the enemy not irresponsibly assisted, nor the UN Charter-based international system otherwise undermined.  

Rather than calling for advocating censorship, as Rick Patten (Letters, September 07) misunderstands, the ADA is calling only for debate to be informed and responsible. 

This includes letters to the editor, so our objection to David Lewis’s letter was therefore threefold. Every supposed fact he quoted was unarguably incorrect (not just a difference of opinion). His argument would also not be regarded as objective, by either informed opponents of the war or any reasonable or neutral observer generally. The letter was so biased and irresponsible it risks being used by the enemy for misinformation, propaganda and subversion.  

Critics of this and other ADA stances need to try addressing our logic, rather than just hurl abuse and avoid the nub of our arguments through straw men, red herrings and emotive irrelevancies. 

Saturday, 04 September 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published) 

Angela Shanahan (“Catholic padres frozen out in Afghanistan”, Weekend Australian, September 4-5, p.7) unfortunately misunderstands the nature, needs and practice of chaplaincy support to our diggers in modern war. 

This is a great pity as, contrary to growing secularism overall, both our defence force and the broader Australian community have once again re-learned in Afghanistan ? as we do in every war ? the importance of our military chaplains across a range of spiritual, operational, morale, institutional-ritual and national-honouring needs and responsibilities. 

But Afghanistan battlefields are not mass-casualty, concentrated ones where unit-based chaplains are generally present at the point of death like they were in the world wars. The nature of the fighting, dispersed over large areas in often quite small groups, means that chaplains can rarely be there for deaths in combat although they invariably are if the severely wounded die later in a coalition medical facility.   

Moreover, in a 43-country, inter-operable coalition force spiritual and medical care is not just nationality based. ADF personnel necessarily have some access to chaplains of all denominations from many countries ? just as they do for surgeons and nurses. 

Even more importantly, as in every war, every chaplain cares for the spiritual needs of all their diggers, not just those of any one denomination. 

As there are only five full-time Roman Catholic chaplains in the whole Army, permanently stationing one at Tarin Kowt, even if this was possible, would quickly burn them out spiritually and physically. It would also unbalance rotations and inequitably match chaplains to the denominational balance of the force, thereby unfairly and improperly disadvantaging the diggers of some other denomination. 

Finally, the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to the forces have not been responsible for posting chaplains since the day-to-day leadership of chaplains passed to each denomination's principal chaplain, in each Service, in the 1980s (replacing diocesan bishops from both major denominations being two-hatted as Chaplain-Generals in the Army Reserve). Each major denomination now has a mix of full-time and reservist principal chaplains organising chaplaincy in the Navy, Army and Air Force. They do a great job in very difficult circumstances. 

Wednesday, 01 September 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Friday, 03 September 2010)  

The Canberra Times surely has a responsibility to informed public debate not to publish emotive and illogical letters such as that by David Lewis (September 01), with every sentence being based on a factual mistake and/or misquote, misunderstanding or emotive rant.  

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is not somehow “illegal” but endorsed by several UN Security Council resolutions.  

The incident that he criticises occurred in February not November 2009. Four, not nine, children were killed. Six, not nine, were killed overall and, however tragically, all the children were killed accidentally not “massacred”.  

Civilian casualties from ISAF (not “NATO”) actions have steeply declined not “steadily gotten worse and worse” ? and UN figures record that more than two thirds of civilian deaths in the war have been perpetrated  by the Taliban and its Islamist allies. Most of these Taliban-caused deaths have involved deliberate or reckless breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL). Virtually none of the ISAF ones have and none deliberately. 

Australian troops have not committed “shameful atrocities”, nor have “NATO” [ISAF] and Australian forces been involved in numberless civilian massacres”, nor do ISAF forces operate with an “obvious free-fire mentality”, as would surely be known by any objective and informed observer. 

Finally, as well as getting the name of the Australia Defence Association (and my position) wrong, Mr Lewis carelessly or maliciously misquotes me as somehow saying “our troops (like the rest of NATO) are just an armed rabble”. The point made was the opposite. As the defence force of a liberal democracy ruled by law, the ADF complies with IHL and expects to be and is held properly accountable for doing so. Unlike the Taliban who are indeed an unaccountable, lawless armed rabble in moral and legal terms.  

Mr Lewis’ letter was based, at best, solely on factually incorrect beliefs and misunderstandings that informed and objective citizens would not reasonably reach or argue. His views add only to public prejudice and ignorance, and recklessly help misinformation, propaganda and subversion by an enemy at war with the international community.  

Such letters do not merit publication in a responsible newspaper.   

PS. Given the wartime context, religious overtones to the war and the writer being a clergyman, the factually and conceptually incorrect, and needlessly inflammatory, term “Islamic extremism” (actually Islamist extremism) in the letter by Vincent Zankin should also not have been published. 

Monday, 30 August 2010
Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
(not published) 

Your 30 August editorial is inconsistent with both Australia’s proud war record and our continuing responsibilities under international law.  

No matter the difficulties, and no matter what our enemies (Nazi Germany, Japan, North Korea, China, North Vietnam, Taliban, etc) have done or might do instead, Australia always fights it’s wars while respecting the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Every previous and current digger knows that their application of force is not, and cannot ever be, unlimited in operational, moral or legal terms. 

Moreover, the suspicion by some that the court martial of alleged offenders might risk soldiers exonerating soldiers is absurd in historical, ethical, judicial and professional terms. Not least because our counterpart national responsibility to our diggers is to ensure that if charged with breaches of LOAC they get a fair trial, including a jury of their professional peers.  

In the vexed and nuanced situations involved in fighting wars fellow soldiers in a court martial are far more qualified to assess guilt, innocence and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances than a civilian court divorced from such realities, experiences and knowledge could ever be or be expected to be. 

Saturday, 14 August 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Saturday, 21 August 2010) 

Philip Dorling (“Leaks: Love ‘em or loathe ‘em”, August 14, p.27) claims that “no substantive case has been made that the WikiLeaks disclosures have materially harmed US or Australian military operations or security, or put Afghans … at any greater risk from the Taliban ”.  

Putting aside the illogical qualifier “any” to still emerging facts, and the probable detriment for Australian troops in Afghanistan, Dorling's Philip’s whole approach is based on the syllogistic proposition that this is somehow merely a free-speech issue.  

But the media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, and human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have strongly condemned WikiLeaks for needlessly risking Afghan lives. Moreover, Australian law surely applies to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, no matter what US, or indeed wider international action, might be taken to curb his (reckless at best) breaches of international humanitarian law. 

Ironically, Dorling's Philip’s ahistoric description of the notorious Wilfred Burchett as a "journalist" when comparing him to Assange also misses the key point involved. Burchett was a willing communist activist for the North Koreans who, among many other treacherous acts, betrayed Australian prisoners-of-war in Korea while masquerading as a journalist who merely “reported from the other side”. 

Burchett escaped his day in court only because of a loophole in archaic Australian treachery laws caused by the 1945 UN Charter’s abolition of the declarations of war that such laws depended on. Fortunately, under our reformed wartime treachery laws especially the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002 – Julian Assange would appear to have a case to answer,  legally as well as morally, for assisting by “any means whatsoever another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force”.  

As Burchett mythology shows, we should let a court determine the facts this time rather than, as with Burchett’s treachery, ignore fair play and dishonor our reciprocal citizenship obligations to the diggers we lawfully send to fight Australia’s wars. 

Friday, 13 August 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published)  

Consideration of prosecuting Julian Assange under Australia’s wartime treachery laws (the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002) should not depend on, or even need, a request from the US.  

As an Australian who has needlessly endangered fellow Australian troops, Australian law applies to Assange independently of possible US actions or indeed wider action for Assange’s reckless breaches of international humanitarian law. 

All Australians owe a moral and legal responsibility to the troops we send to fight our wars not to endanger or otherwise betray them – even if some of us might disagree with the lawful government decision to send them or oppose the war involved. No other position is fair or tenable in a parliamentary democracy ruled by law and based on reciprocal obligations among its citizens. 

Particularly when there are many alternative avenues available for responsible dissent about any war that do not endanger our troops or their lawful mission as part of a UN-endorsed force. 

Not when there are alternatives to irresponsibly bolstering enemy propaganda, repression of  dissent among anti-Taliban Afghans and any enemy’s will to fight. 

And not where dissent recklessly and inhumanely undermines the universal acceptance of international law (and the responsibilities of Australia and every Australian to uphold it). 

Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Letter to the Business Spectator
(published Wednesday, 11 August 2010) 

Robert's Gottliebsen's article (The grunt needed for Defence, August 11) is certainly provocative, but his purported cure would worsen, not cure, the disease. The next Minister for Defence has much more to do than just sort out the problem of the Joint Strike Fighter. They must fix the Department of Defence's bureaucracy for a start. 

As for the JSF, this is a particular problem that the Australia Defence Association and others have been pointing out for over six years. Unfortunately, the solutions are not easy and not isolated from wider strategic and corporate problems. Considerable detail on such matters can be found at www.ada.asn.au. 

Anyone who follows defence issues would also know that Malcolm Turnbull has not shown much interest in such matters, and indeed has made some glib public comments that indicate seriously insufficient reading and research concerning defence issues. Kevin Rudd would not make and ideal Defence Minister either. He does not have the personality and willingness to delegate to handle the portfolio – and the precedent of John Gorton in 1971 bodes ill for making a sacked PM the Minister for Defence. 

Finally, the F-22 [Raptor] is widely acknowledged in the ADF as part of the solution to the cost, technical and strategic failings of the JSF. Robert's comment about supposed ADF "brass", or "military bureaucracy", being the problem would be laughable if not so tragic. As with most Department of Defence problems, the civilian bureaucracy is much more the cause of Defence's problems than the military.  

Reforming Defence has to start somewhere and the ADA has always advocated beginning with improved ministerial supervision – in quality, numbers and structure. We can think of several parliamentarians on both sides of politics who would make much better Ministers for Defence than Turnbull or Rudd. 

Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Monday, 16 August 2010) 

All wars and arguments about them are morally complex. But your August 10 editorial on the Taliban’s murder of ten international civilian medical-aid workers perhaps exemplifies the problems when double standards emerge, however inadvertently, in arguments about the war in Afghanistan. 

Just compare your comparatively “wet-lettuce” criticism of a genuine and deliberate atrocity by the Taliban to the often subjective, and sometimes even pompous, uproar that erupts on your letters pages should the ISAF combat with the Taliban inadvertently (but still legally) result in Afghan civilian casualties. 

Moreover, while broadly condemnatory, the editorial omitted that these murders were unequivocally yet another deliberate and serious breach of international humanitarian law by the Taliban and its Islamist allies. And that this latest Taliban atrocity again clearly typifies the moral, legal and humanitarian chasm between ISAF goals and activities and those of the Taliban. A chasm of principle and practice so often over-simplified, obfuscated or denied by many of those opposing Australia’s contribution to a UN-endorsed force. 

Surely even critics of ISAF can see the invalidity of bigoted Taliban claims that the aid workers were “preaching Christianity” or “carrying a bible” (both irrelevant under the Fourth Geneva Convention). Or the invalid (and incorrect anyway) Taliban excuse that they were being protected by ISAF and this somehow justified their capture and then murder as unarmed prisoners and non-combatants. Or the bogus and irrelevant Taliban excuse that the murders were by “robbers”, and not the Taliban, even though the Taliban consider this acceptable anyway. 

In debating Afghanistan we all need to hold fast to the principle that international humanitarian law is universal.  

There is no opt-out clause for those motivated by religious bigotry. Nor indeed for any apologists motivated by ideology or other prejudices. There is no nuance either. Non-combatants are non-combatants, barbarism is barbarism, cowardice is cowardice and hypocrisy is hypocrisy. 

This is why our diggers are doing so much good on the ground in Afghanistan, despite the failings of the Karzai government and despite their efforts being little understood in Australia, particularly by those who seem to choose not to understand. 

Monday, 09 August 2010
Letter to the Brisbane Courier Mail
(not published)  

Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, today announced a “thanksgiving and remembrance service” on 24 September  to commemorate the May 1943 sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship, Centaur, off Brisbane. 

However the press release twice attributes the sinking to only “a submarine”. It is as if World War II never happened or the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law generally and the contemporary Asia-Pacific strategic balance are somehow unimportant. 

The failure to identify the submarine as a Japanese one, and to omit any mention that the sinking of a plainly marked hospital ship was a deliberate war crime, is historical inaccuracy, moral cowardice and strategic stupidity. Worldwide public remembrance of war crimes should never allow fundamental details to be airbrushed away by political correctness or inappropriate fears about commercial consequences. 

Moreover, most Japanese today unfortunately have a very poor knowledge of Japanese aggression and atrocities throughout Asia in the 1910-45 period because Japanese school and university history books do not tell the truth. But we condone such revisionism, dishonour our own war veterans and forget their hard-won lessons, if we do not have the courage to continue remembering and proclaiming the truth about such atrocities in context - and thereby avoid the slippery slope to wider denials and increased risk of future war crimes through loss of deterrent moral force internationally.  

Finally, this is not just an historical issue because the strategic instability Japanese [historical] revisionism causes affects us all today and in our shared strategic future across the Asia-Pacific. A major cause of strategic instability in East and North Asia is Japan’s continued unwillingness to admit their wartime aggression and atrocities - in stark contrast to Germany and its reintegration into modern Europe through truly facing its Nazi past and demonstrating genuine contrition.  

True friends of modern Japan are not those who help the Japanese government and people to continue denying responsibility for major wartime aggression, widespread atrocities and their contemporary consequences.  

Friday, 06 August 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

Steve Ellis and Basil Johnson (Letters, August 6) surely ignore, conflate or confuse separate moral dilemmas about responsibly protesting any war, and in this case:

  • whether WikiLeaks should have leaked the material or were there not better alternative protests;

  • even if the end somehow justified the means, why at the very least was WikiLeaks so cavalier about not screening out details likely to kill people (and needlessly endanger our troops); and

  • to who is WikiLeaks accountable and what gives them a supposed right to decide who lives and who dies in the Afghanistan War?

Steve’s justification for the leaks is based solely on democratic government being threatened if a governments lies. But who should judge if it is lying and how? 

Is not democracy also threatened when unaccountable, often ideologically-driven, groups or individuals selectively ignore facts, and Australian or international humanitarian law, and act irresponsibly through the moral or intellectual vanity that they are somehow better humans or alone know “the truth”. 

This is why misplaced analogies of WikiLeaks to Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers are so invalid.  

No matter your views on whether Ellsberg was justified or not, he was responsible in his method and bravely accountable for his actions. Moreover, the Pentagon Papers risked no lives directly, being an intellectually coherent study of how the Vietnam War had developed, not raw data about its current progress which - as we have seen in recent weeks - is too prone to biased analyses, misunderstandings or selective interpretation. 

Moreover, emotive and incorrect terminology about “invading” Afghanistan and our presence being a “military occupation” ignore that ISAF has always operated, accountably, under a robust UN mandate and with the overall support of most Afghans. 

Finally, contrary to Steve’s bizarre claim that worrying about the consistent application of international humanitarian law is “the predictable perspective of the professional military lobbyist”, the ADA believes that such law – and Australia’s treachery statutes – remain necessary to preserve international and national good citizenship respectively, the rule-of-law, and the necessary moral distinctions between our goals and efforts and the Islamist barbarism that rejects such laws and distinctions. 

Thursday, 05 August 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

John Coochey (Letters, August 5) asks what avenues of anti-war protest are available when some voters might feel misled by governments? 

Any answer must surely be based on the principle Australia and every Australian, not just our defence force, is at war because the government we all elect has lawfully made this grave decision. 

Commonsense surely then means that any protest at this decision should be based on real research, rather than partisan sloganeering, and directed only at the government not our troops. And rather than thoughtless or ideological posturing, all protest acts should not endanger or otherwise betray our diggers – even unintentionally or recklessly. 

Unlike the arrogant, selfish, deliberate, unfair, immoral and probably illegal treachery of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange (and the ethical bankruptcy of his apologists). 

This is why we, and other democracies, have and need laws to deter and punish treachery when our fellow citizens forget or ignore their citizenship responsibilities and let us and our troops down. Luckily, because of that Australian commonsense, we rarely need to use them. 

Monday, 02 August 2010
Letter to Crikey.com (in answer to a claim about an earlier ADA letter below)
(published Wednesday, 04 August 2010) 

By totally ignoring the much more successful 2008 book on military-media relations edited by UNSW professors Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey [The Military, the Media and Information Warfare],  Kevin Foster (Crikey, comments, Friday 23 July) artfully avoids even mentioning the biases that largely invalidated the utility of the book edited by him the same year on the same topic (as was noted in its Sydney Morning Herald review). 

Moreover, Kevin’s claim that he “had trouble sourcing work that supported the ADF’s media policy”, falsely implied that the chapter he sought from by me was somehow in this vein. But this too ignores the Australia Defence Association’s long record of publicly criticising Department of Defence media policy since various Ministers began tightening this improperly in the 1990s. 

Indeed it was because my draft chapter addressed fault on both sides that it so clashed with Kevin’s simplistic view that journalists are always right and the military always wrong. Moreover, he knows that the ADA criticised Defence at the seminar, for declining to participate, because this was a self-fulfilling reaction that merely reinforced beliefs about the department. 

Kevin also incorrectly claims that he censored out my chapter of the seminar proceedings only because I somehow “refused any proposed edits”. But I accepted many of them and only withdrew the chapter from publication after Kevin refused to discuss his more unscholarly objections. As an experienced editor of academic and professional conference proceedings, I was simply astonished by his disrespect for the common courtesies of academic debate and the proper neutral role of a proceedings editor. 

As a professed journalism academic Kevin was oddly most unwilling even to consider my thesis that journalism as a profession was at least partly responsible for the breakdown between the professions of arms and journalism, and perhaps more liable due to declining standards in media coverage of military matters. He also refused even to consider whether the problem was because journalism, both as a profession and in the daily practice of far too many media organs, has apparently ceased to set, respect and police professional standards seriously as a profession properly should. 

As a final example of ideology rejecting normal academic discourse, Kevin blankly refused to discuss the effect of cultural clashes between the necessarily non-partisan institutional culture of our military (whatever the private views of ADF personnel individually), and the growing unprofessional politicisation of reporting and comment by many reporters, columnists and media organs. Ignoring centuries of democratic constitutional development and the rise of teaching and nursing union militancy respectively, Kevin oddly claimed that the military as a profession were (and needed to be) no more politically neutral than teachers or nurses.  

Only at this sad stage did I stop persevering with academic argument against ideology. 

Friday, 30 July 2010
Letter to Crikey.com (answering comments on an ADA opinion article published by Crikey on 29 July 2010)
(published Monday, 02 August 2010) 

Harry Goldsmith (Crikey, comments, Friday 30 July) confuses four separate moral issues about the WikiLeaks saga:

  • whether the material should have been leaked;
  • whether WikiLeaks has sufficient knowledge to understand the material and safely make such decisions;
  • whether it should have been leaked in the reckless way it was (insufficiently vetted to protect Afghans on our side from harm, etc); and
  • to who is WikiLeaks accountable?

Harry also misunderstands that our moral and practical objections mainly concern the last three issues. This is why his Ellsberg analogy is invalid as, no matter your views on Ellsberg’s justification, he was responsible in his method and bravely accountable for his actions. 

In a nutshell, no matter how much you might disagree with the UN-endorsed ISAF effort in Afghanistan, this gives no right to actions unfettered by responsibility or respect for international humanitarian law (IHL). All Australians also have a citizenship obligation not to add unduly to the dangers our diggers face there (on behalf of all Australians). This aspect of debate about the Afghanistan War is not a freedom of speech issue but one of fairness, human decency, reciprocal obligations and the universality of IHL. 

Harry also ostensibly professes concern as to whether his words are subversive or treacherous. Whilst uninformed, illogical and polemical, they obviously fall within legitimate dissent and are therefore not as he fears (or perhaps seeks in would-be “political martyrdom”).  

But such views would, for example, be rightly criminal if they led Harry, intentionally, to help the Taliban kill or wound an Australian digger. It also goes well beyond justifiable dissent if an Australian is so absorbed in their own views that they neglect (or are indifferent about) their responsibilities as a citizen – and take insufficient care whether their actions, and in some cases even words, result in killing or seriously threatening the lives of Australian diggers lawfully deployed in a war by our elected government on behalf of all of us.   

This is why the ADA advocates further reform to Australia’s treachery laws to deter and prohibit reckless, and not just intentional, assistance to the enemy. Again this would not affect normal, intelligent and responsible dissent. 

Finally, Harry repeats the myth that the US somehow created the Taliban. It was instead created by Pakistan in late 1994 (as part of its strategic rivalry with India), five years after the US had stopped supporting various Mujahideen groups who forced the Soviets out (1989) and overthrew Najibullah’s communist regime (1990). The Taliban overthrew the Mujahideen regime in 1996. 

Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published) 

Even though the vast bulk of material recently released by Wikileaks would not be new in nature to those who keep up with the Afghanistan War (or fighting wars generally), this latest material goes well beyond justifiable whistleblowing such as the recent helicopter gun-camera film [from Iraq] showing probable breaches of the laws of armed conflict.  

Put bluntly, Wikileaks is not authorised in international or Australian law, nor equipped morally or operationally, to judge whether open publication of such material risks the safety, security, morale and legitimate objectives of Australian and allied troops fighting in a UN-endorsed military operation. Particularly when there are many alternative avenues available for legitimate dissent that do not endanger our troops and/or irresponsibly bolster enemy propaganda. 

Moreover, as an Australian citizen, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange may also be guilty of a serious criminal offence by assisting an enemy the ADF is fighting on behalf of all Australians, especially if the assistance was intentional. Whatever his motives, his actions again highlight the need to further amend our treachery laws to also prohibit reckless assistance to such an enemy. 

Finally, both Wikileaks’ actions and declarations, and much subsequent media coverage, lacks moral, legal and historical contexts..

ISAF’s battlefield mistakes are the result of typical wartime tragedy, accidents and at times incompetence or personal failure, not deliberate or institutional policy. Moreover, ISAF transgressions are generally investigated and punished and we should expect no less. 

What Wikileaks and its apologists ignore are the clear legal and moral differences between the actions of rule-of-law democracies applying international humanitarian law in UN-endorsed warfighting (however imperfectly at times), and the deliberate rejection of such law by the Taliban and its Islamist allies – including them treating ISAF’s difficult adherence to this law as merely a vulnerability to be (illegally) exploited. 

Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

The republished “Guardian” opinion article (“The dark underside of NATO”, Times2, July 27, p.4), opened with two factual mistakes in its first sentence, was based on several mistaken assumptions, implied a false moral equivalence between the UN-endorsed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban, and then ignored the governing legal and moral contexts including the Taliban’s regular and deliberate atrocities..

Taliban and Al Qa’eda belligerents captured in the Afghanistan War are not somehow held “without trial”. They are detained under the Geneva Conventions and this is monitored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the designated inspecting power. 

They are not subject to “extrajudicial killings” either. Killing enemy belligerents in a war, even without warning, is not a judicial act but lawful combat (if the Hague and Geneva Conventions are complied with). 

In contrast, the Taliban and its Islamist allies largely reject IHL in letter and spirit. They routinely torture and murder prisoners, not treat them in accordance with IHL and detain them under supervision by the ICRC. Non-combatants are routinely targeted and killed by the Taliban without compunction and often indiscriminately. 

Even worse, they treat ISAF’s difficult adherence to IHL as merely a vulnerability to be (illegally) exploited.  

Whatever the battlefield mistakes of ISAF forces, they are the result of accidents, wartime tragedy and at times incompetence or personal failure, not deliberate policy. Moreover, ISAF transgressions are investigated and punished. 

Wars are always nasty and morally confusing. But this never justifies failing to distinguish the legal and moral differences between the actions of democracies applying IHL in UN-endorsed warfighting (however imperfectly at times), and the deliberate pursuit of barbarism and rejection of IHL by the Taliban and its Islamist allies.  

All wars are contests of ideas, morals and ultimately will. Responsible criticism of ISAF in Afghanistan is both legitimate and necessary. 

But sloppy and biased articles like the “Guardian” one disgracefully undermine IHL, immorally bolster enemy propaganda, irresponsibly weaken support for ISAF in Afghanistan and here at home, and make the difficult job of our troops even harder. 

Monday, 26 July 2010
Letter to Crikey.com
(published Wednesday, 28 July 2010 ? see also our letter of 02 August above)  

Even for the editor of a leftish literary magazine such as Overland, it was surprising to see Jeff Sparrow (“Should politicians attend military funerals”, Crikey, 23 July, Item 4) recommend the flawed book edited by Kevin Foster on the troubled relationship between our military and our media.  

Among journalists and the military the best recent Australian book on military-media relations is instead widely judged to be “The Military, the Media and Information Warfare” (being the proceedings of the two-day September 2008 Army History Conference), edited by UNSW professors Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey. This appropriately inclusive book features proper scholarly debate by a diverse range of Australian, British, American and German academics and journalists – the latter including famous US war correspondent, Joseph Galloway, and an excellent chapter by SBS TV’s Karen Middleton.  

The Foster effort, in sharp contrast, was meant to be the full proceedings of a sparsely attended one-day November 2008 Monash University symposium but ended up only including the contributions that Foster agrees with. Even its review in the Sydney Morning Herald (hardly a bastion of conservative views) emphasised that the book was biased and unbalanced.  

In disclosure, the chapter Foster commissioned from me based on my symposium presentation was one of those censored out in a most unprofessional and un-academic manner.  

Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

The general tenor of your July 21 editorial – that Australia’s security and intelligence agencies have somehow grown too big, that this is unnecessary, and that they have insufficient accountability – was ideological not logical. 

US comparisons were touted without any acknowledgement of differences in scale, threat or constitutional structure. Followed, sadly again, by the incorrect and tired journalistic cliché that ASIO and its sister organisations are somehow “spy agencies”. 

The claim that ASIO staff numbers have tripled since 2001 omitted mentioning that this was from an historically low base as staffing had foolishly been slashed by half in the 1990s (ostensibly due to the end of the Cold War). 

But the nub of the editorial, implying an imbalance between our security-intelligence effort and the actual threat, simply resorted to a cheap rhetorical trick rather than argue any measured assessment based on facts.  

No mention that since 2001 over 100 Australians have been murdered by Islamist terrorists in New York, Bali and Jakarta. Nor mention that 38 Australian residents professing Islamist beliefs have or are being tried for terrorist offences, with 24 convictions or guilty pleas so far and many of them serving long sentences. 

No recognition that there are Islamist terrorists today who want to kill Australians – thwarted chiefly thus far by pro-active, community-based, security-intelligence and police work. Nor recognition that the perpetual challenge in countering such terrorism is that the terrorists, no matter how capable or not, only have to get lucky once whereas the security and intelligence agencies have to be vigilant, effective and lucky all the time in order to protect us. 

Finally, as a public-interest watchdog covering the national security agencies, the ADA has considerable confidence in the balance struck between the obvious needs for operational security on the one hand, and delegated public accountability on the other ? through ministerial, statutory and all-party parliamentary committee oversight backed up through independent review by a dedicated Inspector-General. Not to mention the informal internal restraints of professionalism and commonsense among agency staff and the external one of budgetary jealousy in the wider bureaucracy. 

Monday, 19 July 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

Steve Kenny (“Hicks did not commit any crime”, CT, July 19, p.2), a former lawyer for David Hicks, claims Hicks “did not commit any crime” and “should have his name cleared”. 

But such claims again ignore three pertinent and undoubted facts. 

First, as a result of the loophole in archaic Australian law that prevented David Hicks having his day in an Australian court, under our updated treachery laws anyone now serving with an enemy the ADF is fighting necessarily commits a serious offence. This is as it should be and is only fair to the men and women of our defence force we send to fight wars on our behalf. 

Second, as in any war, Hicks’ 2001-06 detention was as a belligerent captured in war, not for a crime. This was and remains lawful under the Geneva Conventions – as was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in the June 2006 Hamdan ruling - and is not disputed by any serious international lawyer.  

Third, whether Hicks’ later separate criminal trial, conviction and sentence by US Military Commission was justified in international law or not remains understandably controversial. But it does not change the factual and moral situations that if Hicks was to commit the same acts today as he has freely admitted doing in 2000-01 he would commit an offence against Australian law.  

Even ignoring Hicks’ own admissions and boasts about voluntarily joining terrorist training camps, in moral terms that preclude any slipping through loopholes in archaic treachery laws David Hicks can, and should, never have his name cleared of any terrorism links.  

Thursday, 15 July 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published)  

Discussion about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Tamil asylum claimants has been overly influenced by short-term Australian perspectives on what was a very long and nasty civil war, subjective claims (at best) from LTTE sympathisers in the Tamil diaspora and other apologists, and the often inept and at times equally subjective statements by Sri Lankan diplomats. 

Plus continuing LTTE intimidation of moderate voices in Australia’s Tamil and Sinhala communities – which alone should surely see it proscribed in Australia as a terrorist organisation whether the war in Sri Lanka has ended or not. 

We should therefore welcome Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe’s analyses of the situation in Sri Lanka and its Australian linkages – not least because they are based on academic-standard, in-country, research, including in particular detailed first-hand interviews with moderate Tamil community leaders, academics and other observers no longer suppressed or attacked by the LTTE. 

Moreover, in terms of Tamil asylum claimants, defining and identifying just who was an LTTE combatant, or why (as some were forcibly conscripted), can be difficult but cannot be ignored. 

Sifting through the sea of LTTE and Sinhala chauvinist propaganda needs to use three time-proven legal sieves, especially when confronted with sloganeering such as “one man’s terrorist is (somehow) just another man’s freedom fighter”. 

First, LTTE personnel, as combatants, are not eligible for refugee status and cannot lawfully claim or be granted asylum in Australia under the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

Second, it is indisputable that the Sri Lankan military have not always respected the laws of armed conflict (LOAC) appropriately but they are subject to national and international accountability processes, however imperfectly.  

So must the LTTE and its personnel and supporters be held accountable.  

If you start a war, fight it by policies and methods that deliberately contravene not only LOAC but also wider international humanitarian law – and then finally lose the war you start and prosecute by illegal methods – there are and must be moral, legal and practical consequences for the perpetrators. Otherwise no war criminal could ever be tried, and war itself cannot be deterred or its effects ameliorated.  

Third, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as the inspecting power under the Geneva Conventions, is generally satisfied with the post-war detention and national rehabilitation measures being undertaken by the Sri Lankan government (and the UNHCR agrees). 

Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Thursday, 15 July 2010) 

The Australia Defence Association thanks Nicholas Stuart (“Labor betting the middle way leads to re-election”, July 13, p.11) for acknowledging our longstanding reputation for political and institutional impartiality. And for acknowledging the efforts we make as a public-interest watchdog group to help public debate on defence and wider national security issues be informed rather than the opposite. 

It may, however, be somewhat disconcerting for some to have Stuart Nic describe our commentary on the departure of Senator John Faulkner as Minister for Defence as "an accurate assessment".  

This will no doubt intensely worry certain polemicists among your readership who are prone to react with humourless letters-to-the-editor alleging bizarre conspiracy theories and offering plain abuse every time the ADA criticises one of Stuart's Nic's columns in the paper. Has Stuart Nic paused sufficiently to think about the risks his praise of the ADA might cause to the psychological health of this small, but seemingly determined, band who so often suffer ideological apoplexy when the ADA is forced to confront one of their pet prejudices or subjective beliefs? 

Thursday, 24 June 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Monday, 28 June 2010) 

David Williams (Letters, June 22) stated he was “gobsmacked” by the ADA opinion article on poor public debate about Australia’s wars published on June 18. Alessandro Antonello (letters, same day) claimed to “cringe” at my [opinion article] point that it was insensitive and inappropriate to debate our Afghanistan commitment simplistically when the families of our casualties were enduring their initial grief. 

No doubt many readers genuinely cringed at Mr Antonello’s insensitivity (at best) or were in turn gobsmacked by Mr Williams’ numerous misunderstandings and factual errors. 

The sad irony is that both letters only prove my contention that debate on how we initiate, fight and end our wars is usually not objective and informed – and that this situation greatly hampers our strategic and moral decision-making as a society. And Contrary to the claims of both writers, I did not somehow suggest that having more wars to improve societal or political experience of war was desirable or that debate on our wars should be shut down or confined only to the knowledgeable.  

Furthermore, Mr Antonello’s belief that uninformed contributions to public debate are useful or necessary for “modern democracy” is surely bizarre.  

Finally, Mr Antonello’s comparison with health or agricultural policy matters is invalid. Our parliaments, communities and families have many members with experience in these occupations so the background level of public knowledge and the consequent quality of public debate is much higher than it is for our societal experience of war and debates on this subject. 

This situation is as it is and denial or ideological rants do not solve the resultant problems. To improve public debate on whether and how we should fight our wars we first need to appreciate and admit the extent of the problems caused by generally uninformed and too often irresponsible debate so far. 

Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published despite advice from The Canberra Times that our reply to an unwarranted attack on the ADA would be published on Friday, 18 June 2010)  

In a banner-headlined, five-column, 628-word letter,  Glenn Jones (June 16), was generously permitted to pose rambling questions to the Australia Defence Association, especially concerning the application of international humanitarian law (IHL) in general, and the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in particular, to the vexed circumstances of David Hicks. 

All the matters he raised are, of course, discussed and answered in detail on the ADA website. Some study of them and their links, and not his resort solely to Wikipedia, might have prevented Mr Jones from so many factual errors and from mistakenly accusing the ADA of positions and motivations that are the very opposite of the truth. 

Now as an independent, non-partisan, community-based watchdog the ADA generally runs some 6-18 months ahead of wider national debate in our particular field of public-interest oversight. As with our fellow public-interest watchdogs some find independent objectivity confronting, particularly where it challenges comfortable prejudices. 

In the early 2000s we were discussing Australian ramifications of the UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism, Guantanamo Bay and David Hicks ? and criticising practices such as rendition and torture ? when few were interested either way unless through ideology or knee-jerk anti-Americanism. 

We were the first to point out that, as with previous Australian prisoners-of-war, detention under LOAC as a belligerent captured in a war has quite a different legal basis in IHL to that suggested, or discounted, by the US for their separate criminal trials by US military commission. And that LOAC detention is not and never has been a civil law or habeas corpus matter. 

We consistently noted that Mamdouh Habib was not captured in a war as such and could not be lawfully detained by the US under LOAC. 

Because of our belief that IHL is and must be universal we support the US Supreme Court’s June 2006 Hamdan ruling that, although those detained at Guantanamo Bay do not generally qualify as prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention because their methods of belligerency (such as indiscriminate terrorist attacks) contravene IHL, they are protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions. By relying only on Wikipedia Mr Jones got this wrong too. 

By 2005 Major Michael Mori, the USMC officer appointed to defend David Hicks before a US military commission, had described the 8600-word discussion on the ADA website as the most comprehensive summary in Australia of Hicks’ situation (although he perhaps disagreed with some of it). A former (Labor) federal attorney-general went out of his way to congratulate the ADA on the refreshing objectivity of the analysis. 

The Summer 2006/07 issue of our journal was again the first to argue practically for Hicks’ release from belligerent detention on LOAC parole. In the Spring 2007 issue, Associate Professor Greg Rose argued for updating IHL and LOAC to cope with new problems from modern wars, including a fifth Geneva Convention to cover captured belligerents [such as Hicks] who do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status.  

Throughout this period we advised Major Mori (and other responsible members of the Hicks camp) that pressuring the Howard Government for action was not actually being helped by the wider anti-government stridency of many of Hicks' left-wing supporters. This advice (also proffered by others) influenced the reorganisation and reorientation of Hicks’s legal defence efforts, not least because our impartial perspective was acknowledged.  

Later that year, my chapter in “Law and Liberty in the War on Terror” (UNSW Law School) again reiterated the ADA’s absolute opposition to torture and maltreatment of detainees on moral and practical grounds, and because of the dangerous precedents this posed to Australian military personnel captured in war.  

It is therefore disappointing to see the “Canberra Times” publish Mr Jones’ subjective and false claims about the ADA’s work as a public-interest watchdog for defence and national security issues. 

Wednesday, 08 June 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Monday, 14 June 2010)  

Bernard Davis (Letters, June 8) claims long-overdue reform of our treachery laws is somehow “draconian”, “un-Australian”, “one inch from a police state” and “two inches from a military dictatorship”. 

This tirade ignores Australian history and how laws based on mutual obligations work in a liberal democracy. If we lawfully send our defence force to fight wars on our national behalf, it is surely a crime for any Australian to then betray and endanger our defence force by actively assisting the enemy. 

And such acts were always unlawful until the UN Charter in 1945 prohibited the “declarations of war” that our previous treachery laws were archaically based on. 

For 57 years, especially from Menzies in Korea to Hawke in the first Gulf War, every Australian government let down the ADF badly by not updating the law and closing the loophole. 

The restoration of every citizen’s obligation not to (intentionally) assist an enemy Australia is fighting threatens no exercise of legitimate peaceful dissent from the decision to go to war (just as it did not before 1945). 

There is now, of course, a good argument that reckless assistance should also be unlawful if it involves an act. 

Friday, 28 May 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Monday, 07 June 2010)  

In what again seems to skate closely to an apologia for Islamist terrorism, and among other polemical claims too numerous to refute, Irfan Yusuf (“Rising trend of fearmongering on refugees and passports”, May 28, p13)  incorrectly claims that David Hicks was “unlawfully detained by the United States” in an “illegal prison camp”. 

Under the Geneva Conventions, as a Taliban combatant captured by the opposite side in a war he chose to fight in, David Hicks was not detained illegally for a single minute - at least, perhaps, until his later separate criminal trial and prison sentence by US Military Commission. 

Moreover, and somewhat ironically, he was only detained by the US for so long because the war continued, and our then inadequate treachery laws meant he could not be released on prisoner-of-war-type parole for criminal trial in Australia (as the US was willing to do). 

Fortunately this longstanding and disgraceful legal loophole has been closed so a future Wilfred Burchett or David Hicks can have his their day in court. 

Rightly, since the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world now commits treason if he or she (among other things): 

  • intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;
  • intentionally assists, by ‘any means whatsoever’, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or
  • forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

In a liberal democracy ruled by law we owe no less to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force we send to fight Australia’s wars on our behalf. 

Irfan Yusuf should be prepared to acknowledge this. 

Friday, 28 May 2010
Letter to the Australian Financial Review
(published Monday, 31 May 2010) 

James Eyers’ (“Victory on military court battlefield”, May 28) omitted discussing several key difficulties with implementing the proposed Military Court of Australia (MCA). 

First, the purist constitutional desire to make it a fully Chapter III court system risks creating or exacerbating problems with regard to the court’s practicality and equity during defence force operations in the field, especially overseas where all our wars have been and are likely to be. 

Second, the problem of deploying a Chapter III federal court overseas (even ignoring the comity complications) is not merely a “logistical” matter as Eyers believes, but it is a fundamental issue of the MCA being able to provide fair trials for wartime offences by truly encountering first hand, and understanding in context, the situation and background to an offence and any exceptional or mitigating circumstances. 

Third, as with present current courts martial, MCA judicial officers will need a real understanding of both wider military matters and war (not just military law), particularly as it is proposed they sit in judgement alone. This poses real difficulties in a purely Chapter III court model.  

Only two federal court judges, for example, have any general military experience and even then only as peacetime reservists. Only three more have experience as reservist military lawyers (which is not the same thing). In terms of effective deployability, only two of the five are under 60 (and one of them is already the Judge-Advocate General of the defence force as a reservist). Similarly, only two federal magistrates have any military experience and even then only as reservist lawyers.  

Fourth, the abolition of jury trials and apparent near-total abolition of courts martial needlessly removes the tried and tested safeguard of appropriate trial by peers that modern military law has developed since the 1880s. 

Finally, the military discipline of a defence force, and its adherence to an integrated system of disciplinary and criminal law when deployed overseas, is constitutionally and lawfully a function of command and must remain so in the defence force of a liberal democracy subject to Australian and international law. 

ADF commanders also remain legally and morally responsible to those under their command for such subordinates receiving fair trials if charged with disciplinary offences - and criminal offences when serving overseas.  

Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times (in reply to one of the flawed points in an opinion article on defence matters by Nic Stuart)
(published, again unfortunately without it's conclusion (see letter of 14 May below), on Monday, 24 May 2010) 

Nic Stuart (“This is as good as it gets”, May 18, p.9) tries to discuss ADF senior rank numbers in total isolation from the rampant bureaucratisation, de-professionalisation and policy process politicisation in the Department of Defence that largely causes them.  

Since the 1974 reorganisation of the defence group of departments into one entity there have always been more SES officials than star-ranked ADF officers, even including reservists and UN secondments in the latter. 

The 1998 Defence Reform Plan [DRP] duly directed a 30 per cent cut in both. Only the ADF complied. SES and executive positions kept increasing relentlessly. 

The DRP specifically recommended that Defence needed only four not five deputy-secretary equivalents. By 2010 these have tripled to 14 [16 by 2012]. 

ADF three-stars also increased by a third from four to six, but no serious observer has questioned the modern need for, and the definite improvements resulting from, having senior enough professionals as chiefs of joint operations and capability development respectively. 

Further down there are orders of magnitude more EL1s and EL2s than their purported ADF equivalents across the entire ADF. Indeed there are significantly more EL1s and 2s in Canberra than their quoted ADF regular and reservist equivalents everywhere. 

Yes, there are too many senior officers in the ADF, but most are still rightly employed in professionally planning or controlling the defence of a sparsely-populated country occupying a continental-sized land mass and with significant international responsibilities for 10 per cent of the Earth’s surface. 

But curbing numbers of ADF senior ranks is only a small part of a far more important reform - reversing and then preventing a reoccurrence of the excessive and continually burgeoning size, complexity and loss of true purpose of the Department of Defence. 

Unlike all the reactive and failed periodic reviews of the department since 1974, we need a truly first-principles and expert review of how our national defence should be best organised (and resourced) under civil ministerial control not civilian bureaucracy. 

Friday, 14 May 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Tuesday, 18 May 2010) 

In a notable use of syllogistic argument, Albert White (Letters, May 12) cites only the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef to claim our counter-terrorism laws are somehow unjust, unworkable and unnecessary.  

Mr White conveniently ignores the 17 recent convictions for serious terrorist offences that have resulted from these laws - following decisions in fair trials by juries made up of fellow Australians in better possession of the facts, circumstances and nuances involved than Mr White’s apparent ideological stance. 

Mr White might try reading the relevant trial summations and conviction comments by the presiding judges before making further alarmist claims that only pander to the terrorist propaganda that the laws are somehow directed at all Muslims, rather than targeted specifically against a tiny extremist minority of Islamists seeking to recruit or hide within our mainstream Islamic communities. 

He should also note that the only terrorist conviction overturned on appeal was one due to a legal technicality about the admissibility of certain evidence obtained overseas, not the known and indeed freely admitted guilt of the accused. 

Moreover, even in Dr Haneef’s case over-zealous concerns about civil liberties ironically worked against him. 

Based on the experience of other Western jurisdictions with much longer authorised investigative detention periods, it is probable that Dr Haneef would have been released from arrest quicker if the complex police investigation had not had to be so hurried (and bungled) because he could only be detained for such a short investigative period before charges had to be preferred.  

Those Australians not murdered by Islamist and other terrorists deterred, thwarted or convicted by our new counter-terrorism laws no doubt disagree with Mr White’s odd belief that our counter-terrorism legislation is not a justified and prudent response to a present and continuing threat to our democratic system. 

Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Thursday, 29 April 2010)  

Anzac Day belongs to all Australians and should not be a politicised or indeed a military occasion. 

Moreover, despite claims that Anzac commemorations risk becoming militaristic, the ADF’s enduring lack of social and political influence in Australian society proves the absence of militarism. 

This minimal influence is shown by general under-investment in our common defence, small defence force with perpetual difficulties in regular and reservist recruiting, popular opposition to military conscription in peacetime, lively debates among military historians and the striking lack of a “warrior culture” in the ADF.  

Instead, most Australians have long and rightly seen Anzac Day only as public honouring of veterans and their families for preserving our freedom to argue – and for acknowledging the sacrifices those veterans and families made and often continue to make. 

Formed ADF units should therefore not march on Anzac Day unless recently returned as a unit from active service overseas (excepting bands and perhaps, every decade or so, when commemorating some significant milestone anniversary of that unit in battle). 

Veterans serving in the ADF should surely march, voluntarily, in uniform or not as they choose, with the appropriate unit, ship or other association. 

Similarly, dawn services are genuine bottom-up community occasions and need no “official party”. 

Finally, in terms of balancing collective memory, informed analysis and current national governance, our real problem is that for the rest other 364 days of the year most Australians do not think enough, if at all, about applying the costs and lessons of past conflicts to how we can best defend Australia now and in the future. 

The too frequent and sustained neglect of our defence by governments of both political persuasions, and the armchair-heavy pontifications on defence matters by academic theorists and newspaper columnists, rely greatly on this phenomenon. 

Monday, 26 April 2010
Letter to the Brisbane Courier-Mail
(not published) 

Ian McPhedran (“Exit plan vital”, April 26, p.2) rightly noted the Defence Minister’s comments that more information needs to be released about what our troops are actually doing at home and overseas. 

The Australia Defence Association has long argued for this but McPhedran’s article ignored the two elephants in the room by blaming only the military’s occasional misuse of operational security caveats. 

He ignored the greater effect of hyper-centralised ministerial political control over even the most minor, uncontroversial and unclassified Defence media release – rather than defence force commanders at all levels simply being allowed to brief the public and the media directly on what their forces are actually doing (as generally occurred until the mid 1990s). 

Mr McPhedran also ignored the greatest difficulty - consistently poor media coverage of Australian defence issues - which is far too often by generalist reporters rather than, as used to occur, by specialist journalists with personal experience and real understanding of military professionalism and war. 

Contrast defence reporting, for example, with economics, health and business coverage mainly done by journalists career-dedicated to, and professionally qualified in, such subjects. 

Only by fixing all three problems can we really rebuild mutual trust between the military, the media and the public and ensure our diggers are not unduly endangered by amateurish reporting and/or the thoughtless public debate it often causes. 

Friday, 23 April 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

Anzac Day continues to belong to all Australians through natural growth culturally. It should not be a politicised or indeed a military occasion. 

Moreover, too much academic debate about what “Anzac” means and why gravitates to political extremes, not Anzac’s intellectual or cultural centre nationally. 

These opposing extremes have most recently re-emerged in the book of often polemical essays edited by Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake, and in the conspiracy theory articles in “Quadrant” by Mervyn Bendle. 

Most Australians, on the other hand, have long and rightly seen Anzac Day as publically honouring veterans and their families – and for acknowledging the sacrifices they made and often continue to make.  

This is why formed ADF units should avoid marching on Anzac Day unless recently returned as a unit from active service overseas (excepting bands and perhaps, every decade or so, when commemorating some significant milestone anniversary of that unit in battle). 

Finally, in terms of balancing collective memory, informed analysis and current national governance, it is a pity that for the other 364 days of the year the broad centre of Australians do not think enough, if at all, about applying the costs and lessons of past conflicts to how we can best defend Australia now and in the future.  

The too frequent and sustained neglect of our defence by governments of both political persuasions, and the flawed force structure and strategy pontifications of armchair academic theorists, rely greatly on this phenomenon. 

Thursday, 15 April 2010
Letter to the Australian Financial Review
(published Friday, 16 April 2010) 

Like many in the refugee debate, Klaas Woldring ("Boat people are genuine", Letters, April 14) confuses symptoms with causes by ignoring the practical history, strategic intention and realistic humanitarian spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

The Convention was designed to protect refugees in neighbouring countries temporarily, so they could safely and quickly go home, by forcing those countries to solve the causes of the refugee flow in the first place. 

It was not intended to encourage the misery of permanent refugee camps in a region or the strategic instability and moral hypocrisy of extra-regional refugee flows. 

But most countries have never signed the Convention and are now counter-productively rewarded for passing the moral buck to those who do, chiefly in North America, Europe and Australasia. Other signatories (Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc) pay lip service to the Convention, or worse, create refugees.  

This effective rewarding of non or pseudo-signatories causes endemic strategic instability internationally as well as institutionalising misery communally and individually. 

Well-meaning but short-sighted reinterpretations of “persecution” in many signatory countries do not help. Based on World War II experiences the Convention rightly defines a refugee as someone facing a well-founded fear of (political or racial) persecution by governments. 

But “persecution” has come to be so widely defined by some as to include any form of social unpleasantness by anyone, even if non-government sponsored, unorganised, fleeting, just part of the everyday cultural frictions found in most multi-racial or multi-cultural societies or not a “well-founded” belief in other ways. Such loose definitions undermine the Convention. They also make it harder for genuine refugees to gain asylum in competition with floods of spurious claimants just seeking a socio-economically better life in Western countries. 

Moreover, war itself or the aftermath of losing a war does not automatically constitute “persecution” or justify asylum. 

In the case of Sri Lanka’s Tamils, for example – and despite real and claimed failings by the Sri Lankan authorities – having to undergo legitimate post-war screening and other security measures after losing a war you start and fight by methods that contravene international humanitarian law does not necessarily constitute “persecution” or indeed merit asylum. 

Friday, 16 April 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published) 

The Department of Defence bungles mentioned by John Coochey (letters, April 16) have long been highlighted by the Australia Defence Association. 

Often the Association is the first to point such bungles out, describe their history, offer explanations as to likely causes and recommend reforms. 

It is therefore odd that John seems to blame us as the public-interest guardian messenger rather than support our efforts, especially in increasing ministerial supervision and reintroducing statutory board-type accountability into the department. 

Moreover, his apparent puzzlement about some modernised and planned defence capabilities is even odder. Perhaps wider reading would help. 

As a country with an essentially maritime problem in geo-strategic, economic and defence terms, restoring the ADF’s operational mobility for likely tasks in our region is surely logical. 

Not to mention broader rebuilding and modernising of our defence force after all the neglect, political pork-barrelling and inwards-looking ideological wishful thinking inflicted on it in the 1975-1999 period - before strategic reality again mugged Australia with the East Timor intervention and subsequent operational commitments. 

Monday, 12 April 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published Wednesday, 14 April 2010) 

Jenny Stewart’s article on defence force equipment procurement inefficiencies (“Flawed from the very start”, April 12, p.9) rightly describes it as “a milieu of ferocious bureaucratic complexity” where Defence and the ANAO “are locked in a kind of performance audit dance”. 

This ever-growing prerogative of the harlot, complexity of power without responsibility for outcome, is demonstrated by Defence’s now baker’s dozen of civilian deputy-secretary equivalents. 

This tripling of the four recommended by the 1998 “Defence Reform Program” is despite, or more likely as a result of, the more than a dozen second, third and fourth-principle reviews of departmental processes (every three years or so) since the early 1970s. 

Professor Stewart is also practically and morally correct in noting that the “safety of the men and women who will be operating the equipment is also clearly of the highest importance” (even if it is not so regarded under current arrangements) 

But she does not connect the dots to identify the real culprit, the institutionalised but often intellectually and professionally irreconcilable clash of financial versus operational efficiency.   

The truly reformist answer is no doubt counter-intuitive to two generations of Defence bureaucrats (both civilian and military) and armchair strategic theorists steeped in Tange dynasty nostrums about supposed ADF “gold-plating” of operational requirements. 

It lies in separating, not further integrating, how equipment is best procured from the necessarily military professional judgements as to what types of equipment best execute the government’s strategic policy. 

The recent move by the Rudd Government to dedicate a junior minister to defence science, technology and procurement is a welcome step forward, one which has long been championed by the Australia Defence Association. 

The next reform needed is to reintroduce the type of statutory management board, combining ministers, senior ADF officers and financial experts (but no theorists) that Defence had until 1974 – an era where colossal cost over-runs due to project management reasons alone were virtually unknown. This was because decision-makers were legally accountable, and had to really know and trust each other, and work as a team. 

Instituting a second full-time junior minister dedicated to overseeing day-to-day ADF operations, not just its personnel aspects, should be the next reform. 

Followed for the first time by a truly independent, genuinely expert, first-principles review of Defence's roles and structure, not yet another reshuffling of its ever-burgeoning processes and processors. 

Only then will Ministers for Defence be able to change partners and dance with other than bureaucrats, and auditors, advisory boards and waste in perpetuity. 

Tuesday, 09 March 2010
Letter to the Sydney Morning Herald
(not published)

For decades the Australia Defence Association has been Australia’s biggest and most consistent critic of Department of Defence failings.  

It is therefore very disappointing to see a worthy three-month investigation by the SMH “investigative Unit” finally reported in such a subjective, sensationalist and often out-of-context fashion as your articles on Defence spending [published on 09 and 10 March]. 

The efforts of the team in researching wasteful spending were unfortunately diluted by emotive inferences about ADF personnel supposedly living high on the hog, incorrect assumptions about the who, why and what behind such spending, and no apparent recognition that the defence force and the Department of Defence are not interchangeable terms. 

It is also a pity that the only two former ADF officers quoted both retired nearly three decades ago and neither held the appointment cited. Modern views would have allowed realistic explanations of context and the bureaucratic, political, commercial and legal processes weighing down on defence force operations. 

Three final points are worth noting. First, Defence employs over 80,000 full and part-time ADF personnel and some 22,000 Public Servants – and has extensive international responsibilities. Big expenses for travel, etc, are inevitable. 

Second, most of the supposed examples of “extravagance” cited or implied refer to mandatory Public Service conditions of service and travel and training policies applied across every federal government department. 

Third, once the context of most payments is known the justification becomes evident to any objective reader. 

Saturday, 27 February 2010
Letter to The Weekend Australian
(not published) 

In their curate’s egg article on defence industry policy (“Iron colonels fight the invisible hand”, Inquirer p.4, 27-28 February), Paul Dibb and Geoff Barker oddly end up suggesting that Capability Development Group (CDG) in the Department of Defence should be headed by a civilian deputy secretary rather than a senior defence force officer. 

This is a very old-fashioned 1980s bureaucratic view. It particularly ignores that the modern, integrated, CDG (replacing separate and sometimes competing branches of Navy, Army and Air Force headquarters) stemmed from the 1998 Defence Reform Programme – as did the logical decision that its professional head needed to be just that, a military professional.  

This reintroduction of military professional judgement – not Dibb’s mythical “iron colonels” – into processes dangerously bereft of appropriate expertise previously has proved to be one of the most effective reforms of Defence since World War II. 

Especially in rebuilding the ADF’s force structure after decades of neglect, streamlining ADF and departmental advice to Government, and money, time, morale and overall departmental credibility saved.  

The CDG’s military officers are obviously much more qualified professionally and morally than public servants to understand the risks to their own lives, and those of the men and women they have command responsibility for, when helping decide what weapons and equipment would best handle combat. 

Military professional expertise, not game-playing by bureaucratic or academic theorists disengaged from frontline needs and responsibilities, should therefore always lead but never replace appropriate professional, financial and business advice to government concerning which weapons or equipment should be chosen to give our defence force a realistic fighting chance.  

Finally, Dibb and Barker also deliberately gloss over that most defence equipment project problems occur during procurement or from Government industry policy requirements, not from the earlier research and operational specification phases undertaken by CDG. 

And they strangely fail to mention that deputy secretary-equivalent numbers in Defence have exploded from 5 to 14 in the last 12 years. 

Even though the production of his precious deputy secretaries now appears to be a priority Defence output Paul Dibb is apparently still not satisfied. 

Friday, 26 February 2010
Letter to the Australian Financial Review
(not published) 

Your Friday 26 February editorial on defence force equipment procurement unfortunately regurgitated some well-outmoded subjective views from the era before modern, integrated, joint-Service and departmental staff processes were implemented. 

In particular, the suggestion that Defence’s Capability Development Group (CDG) should be headed by a deputy secretary rather than a senior defence force officer reflects very old-fashioned and indeed arrogant bureaucratic views from the bygone era when military professional expertise was inappropriately muzzled by over-reaching Defence bureaucrats. 

It also strangely ignores that most equipment problems occur during procurement, now the job of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), not from the research and operational specification phases undertaken by CDG. 

And that the DMO now has four deputy secretary slots, plus a more senior associate secretary as CEO, in place of the one deputy secretary considered able to handle such matters until the late 1990s. 

The creation of the integrated CDG (replacing separate branches of the three Service headquarters) stemmed from the 1998 Defence Reform Programme, as did the logical decision that its professional head needed to be just that, a military professional. 

This reintroduction of military professional judgement, into processes dangerously bereft of appropriate expertise previously, is one of the most effective reforms undertaken in the Department of Defence in the last four or so decades, especially in terms of ADF and departmental efficiency gained and money, time, morale and departmental credibility saved. 

Finally, the editorial peddles the well-disproven myths that modern military officers somehow cannot be trusted to be objective or that every capability proposal is somehow unprofessionally “gold-plated”. 

To the contrary, military officers are obviously much more qualified professionally and morally than public servants to understand the risks to their own lives, and those of the men and women under their command, when weapons and equipment need to be eventually used in combat. 

Military professional expertise, not game-playing by power-seeking bureaucrats and academic theorists, should therefore always lead (but never dominate) advice to government concerning which weapons or equipment should be chosen for our defence force. 

Thursday, 25 February 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published) 

Mark Dodd (“Defence to open up on war info”, Thursday, p.2) rightly noted Defence Minister John Faulkner’s admirable decision to release more information about what our troops are actually doing at home and overseas. The Australia Defence Association has been calling for this for a decade and we welcome the Minister’s promise. 

But the article, and the ministerial speech it is based on, still ignore the two elephants in the room when discussing relations between the military and the media and the flow of Defence information to the public generally. 

First is the hyper-centralised ministerial political control exercised over even the most minor, uncontroversial and unclassified Defence media release, especially since the days of Peter Reith. 

Second is consistently poor coverage of Australian defence issues by our media. 

This is far too often by generalist journalists rather than, as used to occur, by specialist correspondents with personal experience and understanding of military professionalism or war. 

Contrast defence reporting, for example, with economics, health and business matters covered largely by journalists career-dedicated to, and professionally qualified in, such subjects. 

To rebuild mutual trust between the military, the media and the public we should start by abolishing centralised spin of any political or defence bureaucracy variety - and revert to the former practice whereby defence force commanders at all levels (including overseas war zones) are authorised to brief the public and the media directly on what their forces are actually doing. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Letter to Crikey.com (following imposition of a 200-word limit when replying to a 1200-word letter attacking the ADA stance)
(published Wednesday, 24 February 2010) 

Jeff Sparrow, (Crikey, comments, 18 February), emotively brandished more straw men and red herrings than seen in a middle-ages European folk festival. 

Surely any Australian with a conscience and a sense of social responsibility would reasonably think twice before making untrue and – in the complex and nuanced situation of Afghanistan – inflammatory and dangerous claims about the ADF supposedly “assassinating Afghan civilians”, etc. 

Sparrow ignores that Air Chief Marshal Houston, in a press conference with Defence Minister John Faulkner, specifically refuted both the “assassination” and “targeted killing” slurs when the incorrect “Australian” article by Mark Dodd appeared in August 2009. Houston also explained the dangers of such careless and incorrect reporting.  

Sparrow also avoids the commonly accepted distinction between beliefs and actions that are legitimate and reasonable dissent in a democratic society, and intentional or reckless actions that exceed such limits because they infringe the rights of others to a dangerous extent or cause them harm.  

All Australians have a right to argue with our government about Australia’s participation in a war.  

But during any verbal or physical protests against a war all Australians also have a moral and citizenship responsibility not to blame, defame or endanger the troops our government sends to fight it on our behalf.  

Thursday, 18 February 2010
Letter to Crikey.com (concerning a lengthy purported reply to the ADA letter of 16 February 2010 below)
(not published)  

Jeff Sparrow, (Crikey, comments, 18 February 2010), tries to defend his fibs about our defence force that add to the dangers it faces by resort only to more fibs, several red herrings and more straw-man brandishing than a mid-Europe folk festival in the middle-ages. 

First, our explanation refuting his polemical article in Crikey on Monday [15 February] was submitted to Crikey as an article [see previous letter below] not a comment (hence its length and different style). 

Second, this matter is not about Breaker Morant, as Sparrow well knows, so he should stop fluttering this false flag. 

Third, note that Sparrow largely chose not to discuss why his fibs about the ADF somehow “assassinating” Afghan “local leaders” are dangerous for our troops. Or why surely any Australian with a conscience and a sense of social responsibility would reasonably think twice before making such untrue and, in the complex and nuanced situation of Afghanistan, inflammatory and dangerous claims. 

Fourth, there are the further Sparrow fibs and evasions about “targeted killings” although he has now run away from defending the “assassination” slur and his claim that Afghan civilian leaders were so “assassinated”. He quotes [Chief-of-Defence Force] Air Chief Marshal Houston and the Department of Defence website out of context and (to give Sparrow the benefit of the doubt) when he perhaps misunderstands the legal and operational terminology Houston used.  

“Targeting and killing” is not the same as a “targeted killing” and the difference is not arcane. In the sense used by Houston, by targeting he was probably referring to an individual Taliban commander being selected by a staff process involving intelligence, legal and policy inputs and then operational decisions taken in consultation with the Afghan authorities. The Taliban commander so selected is then located and whether he is captured without a shot being fired or during any fighting, or he is killed in battle, this is rightly governed by the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and his own choice to fight or surrender.  

This is not the same as a “targeted killing” – methodology and terminology sometimes used by Israel but never by Australia – involving operational methods of arguable legitimacy depending on the precise circumstances, such as drone strikes outside war zones. “Targeted killing” implies deliberate and premeditated murder outside LOAC and our defence force does not murder anyone.  

Furthermore, as the original ADA article actually pointed out, Houston had specifically denied both the “assassination” and “targeted killing” slurs, in a press conference with [Minister for Defence] John Faulkner, when the incorrect article in the “Australian” by Mark Dodd appeared in August 2009. He also explained the dangers of such incorrect reporting. It is worth noting, that when Dodd was challenged by me as to his source for the claim, he could only quote the previous “Lateline” opinion. Neither media item was able to offer any proof with the obvious implication the claims resulted from sloppy or sensationalist journalism. 

Now Sparrow might believe what he reads or hears in the media uncritically, especially when it suits his own particular prejudices, but citing these two examples of incorrect reporting as his only supposed “proof” in such a circular fashion is not factually or logically valid. Even a few minutes Internet research would have established that they were both mistaken opinions with no factual backing and had both been previously exposed as such. 

Fifth, is it not strange that Sparrow avoids discussing the commonly accepted distinction between beliefs and actions that are legitimate and reasonable dissent in a democratic society, and actions that exceed such limits because they infringe the rights of others to a dangerous extent. After all, it is on such distinctions that individual and collective liberty in a liberal democracy is balanced against our individual and community responsibility to each other not to cause harm. 

In the context of Australia fighting wars, any Australian has the right to argue with the government all they like about our participation in Afghanistan. What they do not have is a right to blame the troops we send to fight that war for the government decision to send them.  

Opponents of this or any war also have no right to defame or endanger our troops in any verbal or physical protest against such a war. To do so is both immoral and unfair, not least because the troops are there only because of the lawful orders of the government we elect to make such decisions on behalf of all of us. And, thankfully for our liberty, because our defence force legally cannot, should not and does not disobey lawful orders. 

Much of the rest of Sparrow’s rant ignores or obfuscates that no Australian law allows any Australian to be imprisoned on the grounds of their political or other beliefs alone. This is as it should be and no-one is arguing otherwise. Sparrow can ignore context and blather on all he likes about people supposedly being in danger of being locked up in their millions for articulating dissenting views but this is simply irresponsible scaremongering and ideological sloganeering. 

But when dissenting beliefs are converted to actions causing harm they can and sometimes are criminalised (as in the outlawing of racist hate speech, unreasonable discrimination, terrorism and, in this case, treachery or treason). As the original ADA article noted, usually this only happens when the intention to act is deliberate but also sometimes when it is the result of perhaps unintended but reckless disregard for the wellbeing of other Australians.  

The ADA considers actions such as reckless fibs and smears about our troops “assassinating” Afghan civilians, or committing other serious LOAC breaches, reflect callous indifference about the wellbeing of Australian troops as fellow citizens. The combat risks they face as a result of democratic and lawful processes involving us all mean we all have a reciprocal responsibility to not add to these dangers, such as by carelessly inflaming opinions in Afghanistan when our troops are helping restore peace there.  

Sparrow’s subsequent attempted defence of his actions surely confirms his arrogant and reckless disregard for our diggers. In our opinion, where justified by the potential seriousness of the consequences, the treachery laws should be amended to criminalise reckless acts. Sparrow and others can bleat all they like about how this would somehow threaten free speech. It would not, as the defences of truth or reasonable steps to determine the truth would excuse or mitigate genuinely-motivated criticism of the government or the Australian Defence Force.  

Finally, the 2002 amendments to the laws covering treachery are “chillingly vague” only to those who choose not to research their legal and constitutional basis – and their numerous antecedents and contemporary examples in comparable democratic jurisdictions.  

They are instead a too-long delayed closing of the legal loophole that allowed Wilfred Burchett and David Hicks to avoid prosecution in Australia for certain of their actions (not just beliefs or words) that assisted or seemed to assist enemies that our defence force and its allies were lawfully fighting in Korea/Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively. Even if you believe one or both of them to be innocent of such actions, such matters should surely be decided in our courts as Australia let its defence force down very badly in the 1945-2002 period by not closing such loopholes in our old treachery laws. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Letter to Crikey.com (in answer to an "opinion" article by Jeff Sparrow)
(published Wednesday, 17 February 2010) 

Re. "War criminal to hero ... a dangerous precedent", Jeff Sparrow (Crikey, Tuesday 16 February, Item 19) used a popular-front agitprop technique, redolent of the Communist Party of Australia in its 1930-1970 heyday period, in tacking on some incorrect claims about current ADF operations in Afghanistan to his supposed conclusion of an historical piece on the execution of Harry “Breaker” Morant in the 1899-1902 Boer War.  

Sparrow wrongly (in both moral and factual terms) claimed:

“… in Afghanistan at the moment Australia has authorised elite counterinsurgent forces to carry out targeted killings, in a strategy modelled upon the notorious Phoenix Program of the Vietnam War. A campaign of assassination of local leaders thought to be loyal to the Taliban contains an obvious potential for human rights abuses, especially since it’s almost impossible for the media to monitor what undercover troops actually do.”

Crikey word-limits prevent further discussion of the false and somewhat arrogant assumption that only “the media” can or should act as a constraint on the operations of our defence force.  

As to the law and the context applying, under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as they are now known ? either with Breaker Morant in the Boer War or now in Afghanistan ? the deliberate and pre-meditated killing of enemy combatants outside the authorised rules-of-engagement (ROE) and subordinate orders-for-opening fire (OFOF) is usually plain murder – as is the same killing of non-combatants. 

But as our Chief-of-Defence-Force has explained on several occasions when similar sensationalist and factually incorrect media reporting has occurred, the ADF does not undertake “targeted killings” or “assassinations” of either enemy combatants or other Afghans. Nor, incidentally, is our Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) in Afghanistan an “undercover” unit.  

The sloppy terminology of Sparrow and others incorrectly and immorally implies that civilian Afghan community leaders have been murdered by the ADF when even the Taliban commanders killed by our troops have been killed legitimately as enemy combatants in conformity to the ROE applying and in open combat with our troops (who openly wear Australian uniforms). 

Moreover, in moral and practical terms as a fellow Australian talking about Australian soldiers, Sparrow and others are guilty of more than sloppy terminology. These incorrect claims in the Australian press undoubtedly assist the Taliban and their apologists by providing propaganda quotes of supposed “evidence” that the ADF is somehow acting illegally rather than in full compliance with LOAC. The danger of such actions in a complex and nuanced counter-insurgency war, and one with broader international implications for Islamist terrorism outside Afghanistan, cannot be under-estimated. 

Whether knowingly or unknowingly Sparrow and other claimants are unfairly adding to the dangers facing the lives of our diggers by, at best, recklessly providing assistance to the enemy they are fighting. Our diggers are fighting in Afghanistan as part of a UN-endorsed international force and consequent to a lawful decision by the democratically-elected Australian government. Any reckless or worse assistance to the enemy our troops are fighting, by any Australian citizen, is an active act of disloyalty and well beyond the exercise of legitimate dissent from the Australian government decision to deploy them. 

Intentional assistance to an enemy our defence force is fighting on behalf of all of us is, of course, rightly punishable under Australian law (since the Burchett loophole was finally closed in 2002). 

Under the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world commits treason if he or she (among other things):

  • intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;

  • intentionally assists, by ‘any means whatsoever’, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or

  • forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

Given continued false claims about supposed ADF “assassinations”, etc, it would now seem high time that this law was tightened to ensure even reckless assistance to an enemy was punishable, as already applies with several terrorist offences.  

Finally, getting back to Sparrow’s ostensible purpose for his article, no serious Australian military historian that I know of believes that Breaker Morant was innocent in the murder of the German missionary Hesse by his co-defendant, Handcock. Both of them contravened the laws of war (as then applied) to the shooting of Boer prisoners after capture although some summary shootings might have been then justifiable for those captured illegally wearing British uniforms (depending on the extent of the items of uniform worn and their motive and actions in doing so). 

There were also deficiencies in how the charges against Morant, Handcock and Witton were preferred and in their court martial and sentencing. Senior British commanders were also at fault, even if only indirectly, and were not punished. 

But several enduring lessons were learnt and have been implemented down to the present day, especially as Australia has fought all its wars as a junior member of an international coalition.  

Although Morant and Handcock were not serving in an Australian unit at the time of the offences, after their execution without the Australian government being consulted legislative and policy steps were taken to prevent a reoccurrence. The executions also contributed to the continuing successful practice from World War I onwards whereby Australian contingents contributed to international coalitions always remain under Australian command, are placed only under the operational control of allied commanders (where applicable), and are never under foreign command. It also perhaps contributed to the Australian policy not to execute a single soldier for cowardice in either World War. 

Monday, 15 February 2010
Letter to the Sydney Morning Herald
(published Wednesday, 17 February 2010) 

With some irony Monday’s Your editorial on defence force – media relations with the defence force exemplifies other causes of the problem you lament ("Muzzling the watchdogs of war", February 15). 

Since the early 1990s there has certainly been excessive and hyper-centralised ministerial political control over the release of any information to the public about what our troops are actually doing at home and overseas. 

The Australia Defence Association has consistently criticised Defence the defence force and the Howard and Rudd Governments for this. 

But your editorial ignored the other main cause of the problem – consistently poor media coverage of Australian defence issues. 

With some notable exceptions this is by generalist journalists (often for short stints) rather than, as used to occur, by specialist correspondents with personal experience and understanding of military professionalism or war. 

Just contrast defence reporting, for example, with economics, health and business matters, where this is covered largely by journalists whose career is dedicated to, and professionally qualified in, such subjects. 

To rebuild mutual trust between the military and the media we should start by abolishing centralised spin and reverting to the former practice whereby ADF commanders at all levels (including overseas war zones) are authorised to brief the public and the media on what their forces are doing free of any party-political or bureaucratic control. 

Sunday, 14 February 2010
Letter to Crikey.com
(published Monday, 15 February 2010)  

Only in “Crikey” could Charles Richardson’s initial ahistoric comparison (Crikey, Thursday 11 February) that Afghanistan was better off under the Soviet Union (or a Soviet-backed puppet government), and Vietnam under the South Vietnamese regime, be criticised only by Guy Rundle (Crikey Friday 12 February) from the even more ahistoric and ideological angle that the South Vietnam parallel was supposedly incorrect. 

Both of your columnists ignore that the Soviet Union’s sponsoring of successive communist coups in Afghanistan from 1978, culminating in a Soviet invasion and brutal occupation 1979-89, killed many hundreds of thousands, destroyed Afghan civil society in detail, caused five million refugees to flee and sent Afghanistan spiralling down to arguably even worse rule by squabbling warlords and then the Taliban (1989-2001) after the Soviets were finally forced out.  

Most of Afghanistan’s continuing problems are the direct result of the immense human, social, economic and infrastructural damage inflicted in the 1978-2001 period – not results of the UN-endorsed international intervention and reconstruction effort since 2002. 

Similarly, whatever the real and perceived ills of South Vietnamese governments, most Vietnamese (formerly South or North) would probably now opt for that type of imperfect but multi-party government if ever given the chance in a free vote to throw off  communist rule in their authoritarian one-party state. 

What next, claims by Rundle that Russians and Cambodians were better off under Stalin and Pol Pot respectively than they would have been under democratic governments? 

Wednesday, 13 January 2010
Letter to Crikey.com
(published Thursday, 14 January 2010) 

In an item redolent with irrelevant gossip from bygone eras, one-sided political claims and a view of Australian history as seen through a particular ideological prism, Jeff Sparrow (“ASIO, not the government, calling the shots on refugees”, Crikey, Item 8, 13 Dec 10), was unable to cite one instance where ASIO assessments of refugees have been improper or incorrect, nor was he able to demonstrate that security screening of refugees is somehow unjustified, illogical or immoral. 

Moreover, those of Sparrow's  Jeff’s ideological bent heartily criticised ASIO for many years for its supposed part in the poor screening of post-World War II refugees and immigrants with fascist or nazi records. 

The bottom line is that some security screening of those entering Australia, whether as refugees, immigrants or visitors, is clearly required. Not least because we all live in a globalised society and economy, we cannot somehow quarantine Australia from the rest of the world by total exclusion of travel, and there are at least some foreigners who seek to enter Australia with ill intent. 

With regard to asylum seeking, Australia remains one of only seven countries between the  Aegean and Arafura sea that are signatories to the 1951 Convention and we are the only first-world liberal democracy (and country of mass settlement) among them. The legal and moral dilemmas of our situation are complex and nuanced. Just what can you do, for example, when a claimant for asylum turns out to be a serious violator of international humanitarian law (IHL) especially when likely to remain so? 

Sparrow's Jeff’s further claim that receiving information from foreign governments is automatically an example of malign influence by such a government is simplistic nonsense. Obviously most of the information on foreigners coming to Australia has to come from somewhere overseas. But equally obviously the views of foreign governments are weighted accordingly depending on their reliability and rule-of-law standards. Information from anywhere in a dictatorship (or compromised democracy such as Sri Lanka) is obviously treated with much more scepticism than information provided legitimately, in accordance with international law and UN processes, by the police force or security intelligence agency of a fellow liberal democracy that respects IHL. 

Finally, the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka again highlights serious problems with applying the 1951 Refugee Convention and its underlying concepts to today’s realities. Both sides in this war disobeyed international humanitarian law but the Tamil Tigers were much guiltier in this regard. Despite the propaganda emanating from Tiger sympathisers among Australia’s Tamil community, the Sri Lankan government is fully entitled (and indeed required) under IHL to screen the population of areas previously controlled, viciously, by the Tigers in order to segregate and detain Tiger combatants and committed supporters of terrorism.  

As long as such screening and detention meets IHL norms it does not qualify as persecution in terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention. With appropriate safeguards, returning committed violators of IHL to Sri Lanka for criminal trial or temporary detention under the Laws of Armed Conflict is not necessarily a breach of the non-refoulement principle governing the treatment of asylum seekers or even refugees. As understandably no other Convention signatory seems willing to accept serious IHL violators, the imperfect but necessary alternative of administratively detaining them indefinitely in Australia, as it stretches into years, ends up being improper and eventually even inhumane. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times (in answer to an opinion article by Nicholas Stuart)
(published Thursday, 14 January 2010) 

Nic Stuart (“Time to shoot down these silly season good news stories", Canberra Times, January 12, p.11) simply writes another one in arguing that the ADF somehow does not now need its only ground-based point air defence unit because wider protection by fighter aircraft can always do all the job. 

It was this type of flawed bureaucratic thinking and narrow ideological approach in the Department of Defence in throughout the 1980s and 1990s that stripped the ADF in detail of many of the readily useable and deployable fighting, logistic, strategic mobility and medical capabilities we have subsequently had to reconstitute – at considerable tactical and strategic risk, expense, effort and time lost – so we could operate successfully in East Timor, the Solomon Islands and further afield since 1999. 

Nic also ignores the battle-tested force structuring principles of strategic and operational redundancy even if only maintained at absolutely minimal levels (in ones not threes) to save money. 

Fighters are not going to be always available everywhere, every time needed,  and should not be risked or misused anyway on tasks best met or supplemented by surface-based point or area air defence capabilities such as the new Hobart class destroyers 

His Moreover, Nic’s odd view that surface-based air defence is outmoded is not shared by our principal allies, comparable allies such as Canada, all our regional neighbours and by all potential adversaries in our wider region. 

It could just as well be argued, using Nic’s points and numerous foreign comparisons, that 16 Air Defence Regiment needs re-equipment with more modern weapons or even that, as the regiment has only one not three batteries anyway, that the ADF needs more than one such unit in order to maintain the capability in the three parts needed to deploy it continually for protracted periods or protect more than one airbase or (tiny) deployed force.  

Finally, there is his odd argument that defence capabilities that have fired few or no shots in anger over recent decades can easily be scrapped. 

Even ignoring deterrent values, the unpredictability of the future and even minimal force adaptability and technological standards maintenance imperatives, this fallacious suggestion would mean, for example, the ADF scrapping all its submarines (last combat 1915),  bombers (last combat 1971), fighters (last enemy fighter shot down in 1953) and artillery (last combat 1971). 

Surely the real story about 16 Air Defence Regiment is why its single-unit base at Woodside is not closed, before more funds are expended there, and why it is not moved to a location that offers operational utility, strategic sense and financial savings? 

Friday, 08 January 2010
Letter to The Australian Financial Review
(published Tuesday, 12 January 2010) 

By all means allow Mark Latham to comment on political or economic matters. 

But not, such as “Why we must avoid US folly”, AFR, January 7, p.46, where his complete ignorance of the fundamentals of grand strategy, all military operations and most intelligence gathering matters, and his prejudiced misunderstanding of much of Australia’s strategic history, only embarrass him, your paper and anyone who once thought he was qualified to be prime minister. 

Surely it also simply bizarre for a former Labor Party leader to be so ignorant of the UN Charter, especially Australia’s responsibilities as a member to help restore international peace and security in UN-endorsed military operations. 

Wednesday, 06 January 2010
Letter to the Brisbane Courier Mail
(not published) 

Ian McPhedran (“Securing a solution”, Courier Mail, 06/01, p.24) oddly claimed that there is a “pro-war lobby” in Australia supposedly arguing that our thankfully low casualty numbers in Afghanistan somehow mean we are not “pulling our weight” strategically. 

The Australia Defence Association knows of no-one seriously arguing for a boost to our commitment on such specious grounds and we would know because our job would involve vigorously refuting them. 

Ian also appears to miss that in moral and strategic terms Australia should never risk our diggers’ lives in any war unless it in our national interest, we intend to win it and, at group and individual level on the ground, our diggers can fight for moral ideals and practical initiatives rather than ivory-tower “policy considerations”. 

The bottom line in such “just wars” is that if we do not fight to win we should not be fighting at all. 

Moreover, winning deters other potential wars while losing often encourages other aggressors (especially if we quit just because it got hard or wrongly seemed “unwinnable”). 

If Australia needs to commit more troops to Afghanistan in order to help win, reduce our casualties and shorten the duration of our commitment over the long haul, further reduce the misery of the Afghan people and show our strategic and moral will to stand up to Islamist aggression, then we should do so. 

But we should never ask our diggers to risk their lives for opinion poll-driven party-political expediency, or as a “token contribution” to satisfy policy considerations or diplomatic aims such as “managing” our strategic relationship with the US, especially when both are invariably postulated by those not called on to risk their lives – and the patience of our US and British allies with such strategic bludging is markedly decreasing anyway. 

Making token contributions to the UN-endorsed war in Afghanistan, and not persisting in order to win, are just as strategically invalid and morally indefensible as simplistic or defeatist calls to quit. 

Monday, 04 January 2010
Letter to The Canberra Times (in answer to a letter from the Chief-of-Army)
(published Wednesday, 06 January 2010) 

Hesitant as I am to comment on an exchange between the Chief-of-Army (Letters, January 4) and the national president of the Defence Reserves Association (“Defence warned reserves will quit”, December 30, p.3), I suspect there is some general confusion involved. 

It is also probable that the “second-class” quote about reservists attributed to General Barry was misreported from quite a different context to that assumed by General Gillespie. 

But the real issue here, surely (and generally), is why the specific funding now allocated to ADF reservists is insufficient to meet their training and development needs for other than high-priority tasks (now that it can no longer be topped up each year using the salary vote surplus from those full-time ADF personnel not actually able to be recruited when the economy was booming). 

Numerous army and parliamentary studies of the Army Reserve over the last generation or two, for example, all agree that army reservists need a minimum of 28-32 days annually to maintain basic standards of operational effectiveness and utility.  

If current funding does not sustain such effectiveness then surely the only practical and long-term alternatives are to increase the direct funding or again cut the size of the Army Reserve (and move it fully to a Ready-Reserve model). 

While the 3rd AIF-in-waiting model of the 1950-2000 Army Reserve is rightly no longer appropriate for strategic, demographic, technological and budgetary reasons, the smaller, more specialised and integrated reserve forces we now have still need to be adequately sustained. 

Otherwise we risk further accelerating the general and generational death spiral afflicting the Army Reserve as a whole. 

Sunday, 03 January 2010
Letter to The Australian
(not published) 

In two recent articles on continuing problems with the Navy’s Armidale class patrol boats Michael McKenna has rightly noted how it is unusual for naval vessels to be constructed to commercial rather than warship standards. 

But he has gone on to blame the Navy incorrectly for this, and for the associated long-term constraints on defence and border protection operations, rather than slot home the real responsibility. 

These boats were wrongly built to a low funding cap arbitrarily set by the early Howard government, then in full thrall to flawed theories of running our defence force like a commercial business, instead of the boats being designed and constructed to the operational capability logically derived and clearly required - as the Navy and the wider ADF professionally and appropriately advised. 

The Armidales are sadly not warships. Their only military characteristics are effectively their (one) gun, electronics suite and grey paint scheme. 

This works for some border protection duties, and in fictional television series where the incoming fire is only blanks and the need for battle-damage control can be ignored, but means they largely cannot be used in most wider defence roles especially in helping deter or fight shooting wars involving missile-equipped adversaries (such as virtually all other navies in the near and wider regions). 

The clear lesson, once again, is that Australia’s strategic and operational requirements always need to drive defence equipment procurement, not the funding thought to be available politically or various absurd theorising by ideologues, bureaucrats, academics and business figures who have never seen a shot fired in anger, spent an hour on the open sea or experienced any of the other day-to-day realities of defence force operations.