|Spoilt cake, by Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com|
G’day. Tonight, the full text of the letter from Mrs Habib to Bush and Webdiarists debate the sort of democracy we want and what we want its values to be. It’s a debate beginning to take off around Australia, despite the indifference of most media.
I’m in Canberra listening to the Senate debate on Bob Brown’s motion to refer the procedures at joint sittings to a Senate inquiry. Queensland Liberal Senator George Brandis has just accused the Greens of using the tactics of the Nazis and being a crypto-fascist party. Brandis endorsed this week’s Andrew Bolt column Bob Brown a dangerous fanatic. Andrew has run this line before – see his July effort Hitler: green guru.
Northern Territory Liberal Senator Nigel Scullion accused the Greens of “political terrorism”. Wild! Nigel was involved in the human shield (see photo on right hand side of Webdiary) and another melee activist, WA Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot, chaired the Senate meeting discussing the issue! I’ll put the speeches up tomorrow. It’s a great debate.
American reader Joshua Boldt writes: “I would like to thank the Australian people for protesting against George W. Bush’s visit to your country. The American press no longer reports any dissent in our country, so it is nice to see some kind of protests being acknowledged. Please realize that not all Americans agree with this war-monger. There are people in America who despise everything that GW stands for. Please do not forget us, and please realize that we are trying to fight for our country.”
Journalist Robert Milliken writes: “Margo, congratulations on Howard’s elite – the official list. But why the hell didn’t the SMH itself dig into this and run it in the paper – along with your piece about the war widow snub and the revelation of Bush’s visit being a “government” one instead of a “state” one? As a fellow journo, I’m pretty horrified at how mute the media organisations have been over how the government stage managed the visit and kept Australian media shut out. At least Media Watch last night had a go at it. Anywhere else they’d be screaming blue murder.”
THE HABIB LETTER
This is the text of the letter to George by Mrs Habib which Liberal Senators stopped Senator Kerry Nettle giving to him last Thursday:
October 22, 2003
Dear Mr President,
America is the country that leads the civilised world with its system of democracy and justice. It is well known for its defence of human rights all over the world. It is the country of liberty, freedom, justice and dignity. As you yourself have said, it is “a country that values human life”.
My husband was arrested in Pakistan two years ago, and is currently a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. He has not been charged with any crime – not under American law, Australian law or any law. In his two years of imprisonment, I have not been able to speak with him. How are his rights being protected by the United States? It is beyond any understanding how he could have been caught up in all of this. He is an innocent family man who only had the best interests of his family and children at heart. Because of his unjust incarceration, I have been left to look after four children. The youngest, who has only just turned three, does not remember her father.
Mamdouh has never broken any law of the United States or of any country. He is a decent and loyal citizen of Australia, where he has lived for 19 years, and was in Pakistan on family business. In fact, his only crime was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the United States government considers that he is a threat to its security, then please inform us of his crime and press charges against him. If not, then please return him to his family and his country.
Thanking you in advance.
Maha Habib, Wife of Mamdouh Habib
The Senate today passed this motion, to be given to the government to pass to the US authorities:
i. That Mamdouh Habib is currently incarcerated at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge.
ii. That Mr Habib’s wife, Maha Habib, has attempted to communicate her concerns regarding her husband’s status to the United States Government.
iii. That Mrs Habib wrote to the US President that her husband:
“… has not been charged with any crime – not under American law, Australian law or any law. In his two years of imprisonment I have not been able to speak with him. How are his rights being protected by the United States? It is beyond understanding how he could have been caught up in all of this… If the United States Government considers that he is a threat to its security, then please inform us of his crime and press charges against him. If not, then please return him to his family and his country.”
B. Calls on the Federal Government to convey the Habib family’s request to the United States Government as soon as possible.
For more on war widow Kylie Russell’s campaign for improved SAS entitlements, Polly Bush recommends a piece by my sister Gay Alcorn back in February – Why SAS widow’s quarrel is a matter of honour. Gay writes:
As 2000 Australian troops prepare to risk their lives on behalf of their nation in a war in Iraq, Ms Russell, 29, a petite, pretty woman with a sandy-haired one-year-old baby on her knee, has chosen not to play the silent heroine but to prod into the politics of war. Most uncomfortably, she speaks of one of the least glamorous byproducts of war – what a nation owes to soldiers who return hideously injured or to the families of those who don’t come back at all.
She argues, and few disagree, that the $187,000 she was offered as a lump sum compensation was grossly inadequate. The pension she chose instead – just over $13,000 a year, tax free, for life, as well as other benefits – is insulting compared to the $50,000 the spouse of a federal parliamentarian receives upon his or her death, or the estimated $300,000 lump sum the partner of a killed police officer or fire fighter gets, she says.
“Everyone knows John Howard only comes to Perth when the SAS are going away or when it’s an election,” she says. “He uses those guys extraordinarily to aid his political agenda, and he promises them all when they go away we’ll look after your families, and as soon as anything happens he doesn’t want to know about it.”
Chris Montemayor: “You ask ‘Who is Andrea Ball?’ (Howard’s elite – the official list). Andrea Ball – Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, member of the Republican Party of Texas.”
Chris Gentle: “See results.guv for details on Andrea Ball. “Andrea Ball – White House Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. From 1995 until her current appointment, Andi Ball served as Chief of Staff to Laura Bush, First Lady of Texas. Previously, Andi served as Arrangements Director for the Texas Inaugural Committee. In addition, she was the Office Manager/ Convention Coordinator for the Republican Party of Texas for seven years. Andi has an Associates Degree from Alpena Community College in Michigan.”
Ben Evans: “It is true that James Kelly is a White House man, although I am left to wonder how ‘Howards spin doctor’ can only guess as to the identity of a man who attended his boss’ party. Shouldn’t he be more informed? Although, I should not be surprised after all the ‘oversights’ that occurred last Thursday.”
Gay Alcorn (former Washington correspondent for The Age and the SMH, my sister): “James Kelly is the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (he was when I was there anyhow). He deals with Australia, so he should have been at the BBQ.”
Jack H Smit: ” James A. Kelly is Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Term of Appointment: 05/01/2001 to present. From 1994-2001, Mr. Kelly was president of the Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of Honolulu. The Pacific Forum has analyzed and led dialogue on Asia-Pacific political, security, and economic/business issues since 1975. It is the autonomous Pacific arm of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.”
Russell Dovey in Canberra recommends Targeting Diebold with Electronic Civil Disobedience. He writes: “The link leads to evidence of endemic security flaws in the electronic vote counting systems used in 37 states for the United States presidential elections, including Florida, as well as direct evidence of tampering using those flaws. This is dynamite stuff, indictable stuff! It is required reading for those concerned about vote-fixing in the US, and possibly in Australia.”
Censoring the net
Just when you thought information management couldn’t get any worse or more all-encompasing, along comes siliconvalley.
Robots.txt files are used to discourage search engines from indexing particular parts of web sites. These generally include, say, personnel or other confidential material or odd dynamic parts of a website that may get a search engine into an infinite loop (been there, done that!). Compliance with the robots.txt file is voluntary, but most search engines do recognise them.
So why does the White House web site have a robots.txt file that includes exclusions for just about everything to do with Iraq? Is it to stop search engines detecting changes to documents, or just to limit the ability of the public to find these documents?
The robots.txt file can be accessed at siliconvalley It’s 59 k (huge for this type of file) and nearly every second line includes an exclusion for topics that include “iraq”.
There’s a debate on the link I’ve quoted with the usual US culture wars going on. The following comment is a welcome dose of relevance:
“As an outsider you Americans are an interesting bunch. Dan here raises an issue for possible concern, one that may be attacking your ability to be informed. One could even say that given the litany of lies used to justify recent wars that have killed thousands of innocent children it might be one of your most important tools (being informed of the truth). Yet much of the dialog I see involves endless debate questioning each others abilities and motives. Whilst you argue with one another your freedoms reduce each year, your media consolidates a bit more and your government steps a little further away from accountability. Why not focus back on the original question of how to retain your sources of information – WHATEVER the reasons for them being taken way.”
The article is also being discussed on Slashdot under the heading “Your rights online: White House website limits Iraq-related crawling”, although being Slashdot it will probably just degenerate into a political flame-war 🙂
Here are some extracts from George Bush Senior’s book A World Transformed, written five years ago. It was co-authored with his former national Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft.
Bush Senior wrote the following to explain why he didn’t go after Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War:
“Trying to eliminate Saddam… would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible…. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq…. There was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see … Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”
Perhaps George Junior has not talked to his father about this event. Perhaps he doesn’t – or can’t – read, as Michael Moore says! In any case, if only …
Many thanks for your outstanding writing in the “Herald” and in your “Web Diary”. You are an inspiration in these dark days of Australian history.
Another thought. I am finding it amazing to see how Joseph Heller’s fiction Catch 22 (first published in 1962) is becoming reality. Yossarian’s worst nightmares are coming true in Bush’s USA and Howard’s Oz. Talk about life imitating art.
Margo: I watched Peter Sellers’ Dr Strangelove the other night. Eerily contemporary. ‘Bob Roberts’ is worth another look, too, the story of a US Republican Congressional candidate against the backdrop of Bush Snr’s Gulf War.
READER REQUESTS FOR INFORMATION
Terry O’Kane in Melbourne
As a former ALP voter (now Greens) I have been reading with interest the Webdiary articles by Carmen Lawrence. I find myself agreeing very closely with Carmen’s sentiments and that is why I was very disturbed to read in a recent article in The Age that she voted for Kim Beazley in the leadership contest with Simon Crean.
At the time of the leadership contest I wrote a short comment to Webdiary proposing that Crean be given a chance, although I am as yet to see anything to bring my vote back to the ALP. I am probably representative of many former ALP voters (working class background, late university education) who no longer believe that the ALP holds to the ideals it was founded on and have lost faith. Surely there is a contradiction in voting for a man who embodies not only the right of the ALP but who failed so miserably on the Tampa issue and presumably would have done no better on Iraq.
Thus I would ask in all sincerity, that Carmen offer the former ALP leftwing voters such as myself some reason for her support of Beazley. Perhaps some insight into the workings of the party may clarify where the ALP is heading.
Margo: I’ve forwarded your email to Carmen and she’s agreed to respond. Here’s my assessment. Carmen said publicly that she supported Lindsay Tanner for the leadership, but he pulled out early. She didn’t want to vote for either of the two candidates, believing there was no difference between their policies or values. Yes, Beazley was the architect of the small target strategy, but Crean, as deputy and shadow treasurer, was the engineer. So given there was no choice on substance, I think Carmen would have voted for Beazley on the basis that he was more likely to remove Howard from office. Now that Crean is reliant on the left for his survival, he appears to have moved towards a more differentiated policy approach.
Daniel Jenkins: “What the hell has happened to Newspoll? The Creanites finally hit the front and suddenly the fortnightly readings disappear. Am I being excessively conspiratorial? Were the last two polls not commissioned and if so why not? But more importantly, were they commissioned and not published?”
John Boase, reading the SMH in Boston: “Anyone who could remember to invite John Eales to a barbecue could surely remember to invite Mrs Russell to a wreath laying. This effort is breathtaking, even for John Howard.”
Harry Heidelberg: “I’m totally shocked by the snub dealt out to a war widow. There needs to be a full explanation from the PM’s office. What is the reason for this? Surely it has to go beyond insensitivity? I am dumbfounded. That is one of the worst things I have heard of in a long time. Talk about wildly inappropriate. The difference between a state visit and a government visit is interesting but no amount of explanation can forgive that kind of behaviour. The man gave his life in the service and was honored by the President of the US and his wife was ignored. I want to hear more about this. Is there something I am missing? I can’t even be angry about this yet as it is so bizarre. What the hell is going on down there?”
Jason Helton: “When I was a little boy I got to be on TV with Santa. I asked for my gifts and then wished Happy Christmas to my parents and brother. I forgot my sister at home because I was so excited to be on TV with my hero Santa. John Howard did the same thing. Who cares about widows when he can be seen hanging out with his hero George W? He doesn’t care about the common people, he cares about his corporate friends and the famous people he gets to be seen with. Widows who aren’t supported after their husband dies for Johnny’s (or more probably George’s) whims? Who gives a damn? Not John Howard, that’s for sure.”
Christian Wesely: “From my perspective 12.000 miles off it makes perfect sense why Howard snubbed Kylie Russell and now adds now insult to injury by declaring it an oversight. If the war in Iraq had ended with striking success no oversight would have happened and Kylie would be an appreciated woman by now on planet Murdoch. As things stand Howard has every reason to minimise Australia’s infamous role in this ongoing conflict and the less people associate victims with it the less they will care – he hopes.” (Margo: Howard hurried up his apology yesterday – see PM sorry for widow’s absence – but still won’t explain his “oversight”.)
Ssg Stephen B Fuhr, US army, retired: “I read your article regarding Howard’s elite and wonder why they didn’t invite icons like my great mate Normie Rowe. He saved my life in Vietnam.”
Duane Kelly: “I thought the guest list quite reasonable. I was expecting much worse. You made no suggestion (except for Kylie Russell) as to who should have been there. I get the feeling you expected people like Bob Brown and other anti bush campaigners. That just would not make sense. Would you invite Howard to a function you were hosting? Before you answer, you would have no opportunity to grill him, tar and feather him or subject him to any form of torture. I get the feeling you are the Mike Moore of this country. I read your articles, as I do Mike Moore’s books, because they often contain interesting facts and anecdotes, but there is a great amount of bias there and certainly a lot of negativity. My advice to you would be to write something good about Howard and his government and restore some credibility. Surely there must be something. Granted, it won’t be found in his support of the Americans, but I don’t think he even sits comfortably with that, but you can see his logic. You really do come across as a Labour lackey which is ironic given your criticisms of people like Alan Jones using there media exposure to endorse their political opinions. I don’t think it is fair that someone who has their own newspaper column can use it to simply perpetuate their personal political views.”
Mark Alderton: “As already mentioned, even after all the exclusions the guest list was still heavily biased towards males. So what fair-dinkum, men of steel, rancheros would fail to invite a real cowboy – an Aboriginal cattle-man – to their barbeque? Without a hundred years of hard work done by black stockmen Australia wouldn’t even have a beef cattle industry. John and George are dangerously deluded wankers, I say!”(Margo: Did you notice the lack of an ethnic mix? All white European except Jackie Huggins, the indigenous invitee. )
Rawdon Lee in Sydney: “I think Steve Irwin was invited because he would be great company for G.W. Bush. Really, the man has come a long way and I’m sure he would prefer a good crocodile story to answering awkward questions about politics and dead husbands. I think it was quite considerate of Mr Howard to make sure there was one familiar face in what must be a frightening and stressful situation for the President, surrounded as he was by foreigners. It is time for the Australian media to ease up on “Dubya”, as I like to call him. He has described us as “The Sheriff” and mentioned something about trade, and I for one feel that our years of obedience have not been misspent. Most importantly he generously invited us to share in the glory of liberating Iraq from the Taliban, something which the “loony left” seems all too ready to forget.”
Jonathan Pagan: “Just a quick query: what is the “Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Biology”? I noticed that a representative of this organisation got a guernsey at the gathering for Hillary Clinton in 1996, as well as another rep, Prof Suzanne Cory, getting an invite to BBQ with Bush. Their website is almost completely uninformative as it relates entirely to the technical aspects of their work (understandably) and the history of those technical aspects. Let’s hope they keep getting these invites simply because they happen to be doing such a great job that anyone who knew of it would go out of their way to support them. Call me cynical, but knowing Howard, I find that a little hard to believe. Any idea why they keep showing up?” (Margo: Safe charity.)
Berry Nyman in North Adelaide, South Australia: “You were at your socialist best in reporting on the protest scene in Canberra for the US President’s visit (Parliament greets Bush: A day in the life of our faltering democracy). It is always easy to be negative in one’s comment. Would Ms Kingston care to write a positive piece on how she would have arranged things for the visit and, perhaps, coped with the disorder that may have followed?”
I replied: Good idea. I’m asking around to find an expert on normal protocols for the visit of a foreign leader who can write a piece for Webdiary.
Berry replied: “I was serious. You were scathing in your criticism of the security arrangements. I was challenging you to put your money where your keyboard is. You have now demonstrated your knowledge of the subject by assuming that an expert in protocol would know what to do. Protocal and security are two entirely different disciplines.”
I replied: Hi Berry. Security didn’t stop a Bush press conference. Hu had one, and journos needed a special security-cleared pass to get in, not just the press gallery pass. Security didn’t stop Australian journalists going to the BBQ to report the event for the same reason. Security didn’t stop Australian media filming or photgraphing inside the Parliament during the address either. I don’t know any security experts except Brigadier D’hage. D’hage did the security for the Sydney Olympics. Brigadier, are you reading? Can you help?
Patrick Donoghue: “Margo, it’s no wonder that SMH sales are dropping dramatically with writers like you – a typical armchair general. Society is full of fuckwits like you – moan moan moan but contribute noting youself. As long as you have someone else to blame you’re happy. Have you not realised the more cocooned clowns like you and Robert Manne hate Johnny Howard the more people like me and millions like me who live in the real world love him? Get a life you old hag.
Gary Woodman in Canberra
I am writing just a quick note to thank you for your fantastic article Living with Bush for a day: Canberra Webdiarist reports. Thank you for referring me to Peter Hartcher’s article, thank you for the “brown eye salute”(they are a bit keen on this type of protest in the Northern Rivers 🙂 and thank you for your Webdiary! It is a beacon in the self-serving soup of the modern Australian media, one that I regret I don’t study as often as I might.
I’m brimming with rage and frustration; amongst other things, we have the spectacle of the two most horrible men in the world, pissing in each other’s pockets right here in my home town, cranking up the terror with jets screaming overhead all night before and all day. I attended the beginning of the protest on the lawn well out of reach of a parliament protected with plastic barricades (how appropriate for Howard’s faux democracy) and the thin blue line of AFP, around 50 of them, while the guys in the shades and the buzz cuts guarded the entrance to the Houses.
My housemate was able to stay with the protest and joined them at the Lodge and the Embassy, where he, amongst others, was threatened by police. It wasn’t a big crowd; the visit was carefully contrived to offer as little opportunity as possible for protestors to attend. Nonetheless, I was inspired to see buses from Victoria and SA in the Triangle on the day (plenty from NSW of course, but that is not unusual here).
I am surprised that Bush and Howard relaxed their control sufficiently to conduct a self-aggrandising stunt in the House with an unedited guest list. With John Winston Stalin and his robots lined up to kiss arse, and Mr Nobody and his team of gutless parasites looking the other way, Bob Brown and his colleague Kerry Nettle are the nation’s conscience.
The point that Hartcher is making is fairly obvious, but I haven’t seen it laid out in such a comprehensive, compelling case. He agrees with my housemate, a very astute man (he grew up in wartime Balmain), who has been saying since Bush’s “election” that it’s the Fourth Reich. Bush and his gunslingers are committed to world domination at any cost. At Any Cost. And they will have us pay the cost, at gunpoint if necessary. But of course, to our eternal shame, that won’t be necessary in Australia.
David Mack in Macclesfield South Australia
I love your Webdiary; a great idea! I live in South Australia, and am starved of decent up-to-date newsprint thanks to Murdoch’s monopoly. I have been buying the weekend SMH (On Sunday) but find myself turning more and more to online content for its immediacy and ‘kick value’.
I’m a political philosophy student and a member of the ALP, Amnesty International and Community Aid Abroad. A long time letter writer to the OZ I now find I am unable to even open the right-wing rag, let alone contribute to it. But if ever there was a time for open political debate it is now!
At least most of the pollies have an email, but their replies in general remain trite and formulated, so I am more than greatful for the chance to contribute to public discourse. (Did you know Robert Hill still maintains there is no evidence to suggest cluster bombs were used in Iraq? At least that’s what he told me when I asked about their strategic significance.)
Yes, the Libs campaign slogan was ‘For all of us’, they just didn’t announce the small print rejoiner ‘And none of you’ till after the election. What a BBQ guest list – talk about ‘unrepresentative swill’.
Margo. whatever happened to your sentiment in Could we start again, please?
I agree with many of the things you say, but I have noticed that any semblence of balance disappeared long ago from Webd iary. Is this an effort to correct the overall balance (ie against big media etc)? Maybe that explains it becuase there is certainly no balance within Webdiary itself. What about item 8 in the Web Diary Code of Ethics?
Even the columnists have something in common. Like if you look at me and Daniel Moye (the Liberal and the Conservative), most of our content is anti-Howard. Then of course all of the others are as well.
I think John Howard has behaved particularly badly and of all the things he has done in the past couple of weeks, not inviting Kylie Russell was the worst. There can be no excuses for this.
I thought Bob Brown acted like a clown and wrote to you telling you so. I noticed that this did not get published and fear that a new form of censorship has crept into Web Diary. You are either anti-John Howard or you are for him………and only those anti, need apply.
The public conversation in Australia has died with the various groups retreating to their respective corners, snarling and growling. It’s clear I don’t always agree with the mainstream. I often find myself in the minority position and argue relentlessly for the things I believe in. I form my views on any situation based on my gut feeling rather than by thoughtful analysis. I’m still interested in alternative views though and that’s why a conversation is important to me.
I fear that Webdiary is at risk of becoming a mini-China. A place where only one viewpoint is allowed and a place where even the artist is employed to echo this viewpoint. You are becoming Chairman Margo!
I liked it better when it was your home for wayward boys and girls! At least as a wayward boy I felt like I would be able to stray off the path from time to time. Now it seems Webdiary is ruled by an iron fist and everyone has to fall into line. This is the scary thing. It happens bit by bit.
I become particulary scared of changes that happen bit by bit because you don’t notice it until it is too late. This applies to much of the Bush visit. It is so utterly depressing because its only when you compare it to the Clinton visit, you see how much things have changed. I trust my gut feeling and I have a terrible feeling about the direction Australia and the US has gone in.
Margo: Hi Harry. I lost a stack of emails last week, and yours was one of them. Even so, I probably wouldn’t have published as I had no time – was working on my own pieces in Canberra. I’m way behind on emails because I’m doing more reporting. Reader’s input guidelines haven’t changed. I’m sorry you’re not happy with Webdiary at the moment, but I’m pretty thinly stretched with mega-news happening as email volume grows. But that’s happened before – it usually balances itself out over time. As to ‘balance’, Webdiary is about the combination of my interests and views and the balance of contributions. I’ve made no secret of my concerns at the direction of Howard’s government and my fears for world peace.