Howard’s weakness, our danger

This piece was first published in the Sun Herald today.


John Howard is a weak man, the worst possible leader of Australia in an era with potentially catastrophic consequences for the West and what we stand for.

Strong men encourage dissent from people of good faith with expertise, not silence it. Strong men are unafraid to say no to close friends (in this case America, when it was obvious President George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq would mean disaster for America, and potentially for Australia).

And strong men, if they make a decision they believe to be right but which is unpopular, seek to persuade their people of the rightness of the cause, not avoid the issue until there is no choice.

I’ve always believed that democracies based on the British tradition, achieved through the blood of many people over many centuries, are a beacon for the world. Yet the democracies of Britain and two of its offspring, the US and Australia, decided on a course that has strengthened immeasurably the cause of those who wish to destroy what we believe in by invading Iraq without a sensible plan to secure the peace.

There is one common denominator in the Anglo nations which invaded Iraq (our sisters Canada and New Zealand did not do so). The leaders in all three are totally focused on spin – for many reasons – and have forgotten, or jettisoned, what we stand for (or used to).

Here are two examples from last week. Bush said he had admonished his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but not because of the collapse in discipline (to accept the kindest interpretation) that led to the gratuitous humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. He did not demand an explanation or a brief on what had been done to fix the problem. “I told him I should have known about the pictures and the report.” So he could prepare his spin.

For two weeks before 60 Minutes in America broke the torture story, it obeyed requests from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers not to run it for fear it would harm American interests in Iraq. The network ran it only after learning that other journalists would tell the story if it didn’t. Myers assured Americans that the incidents were isolated, but later admitted he had not seen the report of General Antonio Taguba, completed in February and disclosed after the 60 Minutes programs by Seymour Hersh, which found it was systemic (the full text is at msnbc). In other words, he spun the line without getting the facts.

Just like Australia’s “leaders” these days, the people who know don’t tell the people who need to know so the latter can get away with lying to the people. That’s probably why Rumsfeld didn’t tell Bush – to give him an out!

Bush has spent more than $100 billion on this war so far. Imagine what could be done for Americans, and the world, with that amount of money. Imagine how a president with brains and courage could have united the Western world and moderate Muslims against Islamic extremism, and reduced the West’s dependence on the oil that drives our persecution of Iraq?

And imagine if Tony Blair and Howard had had the courage to say no to an idiot President advised by mad ideologues like Rumsfeld. Maybe, just maybe, the American people would not have fallen for the lies Bush told over the 3000 bodies of American citizens on September 11. Maybe, just maybe, the civilised world would be united against the enemy, and be attracting to our cause the people who the enemy is trying to recruit, instead of forcing them to join the other side.

But no. Our “leader” said yes straight away, and lied to us for months before sending us to war against our better judgement. And he’s allowed this rogue superpower to keep two Australian citizens in Guantanamo Bay without charge or access to lawyers. The allegations of torture there are long standing, but Howard and Philip Ruddock look to camera with their most “sincere” faces and say they’ve been assured by the Americans it is not so.

And now that we know what the Americans do to prisoners, the Australian Government says nothing. Nothing. How could they? While the Americans torture the Iraqis in their own country, we lock up Iraqis who fled Saddam in our own detention centres. Poor fellow, Iraq.

You know how they get away with it? Because we, the people, let them. In the end, Bush, Blair and Howard invaded Iraq because our democracies were not strong enough to stop them. Blame politicians, blame the media and blame ourselves. The question for all of us, after we purge Australia of this weak, amoral excuse for a leader, is to work out how we can ensure we never let any “leader” do this to us again.

The human spirit one year after war on Iraq

On April 10 last year, I wrote Whose flag? and The human spirit after the fall of Saddam’s statue:


At 12.35 this morning, a marine placed the United States flag over the head of Saddam’s statue in central Baghdad. An Iraqi man climbed onto a US tank and waved the old Iraqi flag. People threw flowers at him. An American marine climbed up the statue and replaced the US flag with an old Iraqi flag, not over Saddam’s head, but hung from his neck.

After removing it, an American tank pulled Saddam down by chain. He didn’t topple; he bent, hanging down from the pedestal. Finally, he split apart, his head and torso on the ground, his feet still firmly planted on the pedestal.

Memories of Umm Qasr, when the Americans thought, wrongly, they had taken the port town very early in this war, and a marine planted the American flag aloft before being told to take it down.

The world knew the war would be won. The world is split asunder on whether the Americans came to conquer or to liberate, on whether the war on Iraq will enhance or worsen world peace, on whether a war of civilisations has begun or is closer to ending, on whether the West will reunite or has split for the long term.

The American and Iraqi people stand face to face, soaked in blood, after decades of bloody proxy plays, uniting in a moment of joy at Saddam’s defeat.

The world will now learn, perhaps over years, not months, how the American and the Iraqi people deal with each other after this moment passes. How the two nations and their peoples negotiate the peace. How the Iraqis, now certain that Saddam is gone, will react to an American occupation. Whether America will replace a man it once called “our bastard” with someone chosen by the people, or by it. Whether it will allow the Iraqi people to decide whether to allow a permanent American base on its soil, or demand a settlement on its terms and pretend that’s the will of the people. Whether it will insist that its companies profit from the peace or allow the Iraqi people to decide where and how its oil wealth will be spent. Whether Iraq is ungovernable and will tear itself apart, or will survive intact.

Hold your breath. Pray food and water are delivered quickly and efficiently. Hope against hope the violent deaths end soon.


This is a day when you dare to hope, and fear hope will be dashed. Although the war is not over, it is a day when healing could begin and hearts could open. Yet energy is drained at a time when the important, patient, constructive, long term work must begin.

I’ve received emails of hope, triumphalism, abuse, threats, bitterness, argument, advice – you name it. The war on Iraq is bloody for the combatants and the innocents, bruising for those who watch, worry, wonder, can’t sleep, weep, despair, and dig to the core of what they believe in, and why. Millions of people around the world in almost every country in the world have experienced an intensity of feeling, energy and debate on one subject – our common future – through the prism of one nation, Iraq. I hope that the world’s scrutiny will bring out the very best in America. Only America at its most noble can achieve the result the world needs out of this nightmare. Peace with dignity. Webdiarist John Nicolay said to me today that the scenes in Baghdad yesterday were “a marvellous affirmation of liberal values – and of the belief that, ultimately, it’s not possible to crush the human spirit entirely.”

I think that test is about to begin. It will be a long, long road, with no certainty of victory. So let all of us who believe in liberal values – pro-war, anti-war, ambivalent, keep Australia out of it, only with the UN – shake hands and do our best to make John’s wish come true.

David Jones writes: “Just maybe? I have been sickened and saddened by the war in Iraq. The pictures today of Iraqis rejoicing in the streets cheering their US liberators gives me cause to question my stand on the high moral ground. Who am I to pass judgment on any of this? To walk a mile in the shoes of the war victims or the victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime is not one I would want to undertake, nor one I will likely ever understand.”



Within days of the fall of Saddam’s statue, we knew that the Coalition of which we are part had not planned for peace, when looting engulfed Baghdad and the Americans chose to guard only the Oil Ministry, not the hospitals or the museums. It�s been downhill ever since. The torture revelations put the full stop after our defeat. The world is more dangerous, and the enemy grows stronger. Our closet ally is dangerously weakened. Yet Bush, Blair and Howard remain in power, as yet refusing to take responsibility for the disaster they have inflicted on the world against the best advice of many in their own nations.

I recommend Abuseat Abu Ghraib, the psychodynamics of occupation and the responsibility of us all by Stephen Soldz. The piece documents the evidence of systemic American torture long before the photos came to light.

Tonight, your recommendations and comments on the torture. I said just after the war that Iraq had become the prism through which the western world would decide its values, and it�s now urgent that we work this question out together and elect leaders who will embody and further them (seeCould we start again please?)

To begin, Chris Wood writes to his federal MP Tony Abbott: “Margo, I thought I’d send on a view from the ‘burbs (I’m sure widely held) – my emails to local member Tony Abbott, who had to go to preferences last time. I’m waiting for a response – don’t like my chances.”

From: Chris Wood, Sent: Friday, 7 May 2004 8:00 AM, To: ‘’, Subject: TREATMENT OF IRAQI PRISONERS

Dear Tony,

I refer to my earlier email (below), the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald and the coverage this issue is rightly receiving around the world. I realise from the transcript of your last interview with Alan Jones (on your website) that you have been distracted by the Pollies Pedal which, amongst other things, is the product of a desire to improve the image of politicians, to have time to respond to me as yet.

How would you explain the front page of today’s SMH? I am not unable to deal with it – the usual about good/evil, errant acts of a few and compare and contrast Saddam etc – but what I have difficulty with is the continued absence of anything that might be regarded as robust criticism or an expression of outrage from our government.

This is an issue of the most fundamental importance – treating all human beings with dignity. Any WW2 or Vietnam vet will tell you humiliation of prisoners is unacceptable in any circumstances. How can we otherwise justify our presence and support for the US now it is clear there are no WMDs and never were at the time of the invasion?

I note Bush’s apology, and hopefully the long awaited departure of Rumsfeld, that does not absolve us.

I look forward to your views. Not all of us vote based on the views pushed by Alan Jones, in fact I suspect an increasingly small minority. A bit more moral courage on the government�s part might actually improve its image.

Yours sincerely, Chris Wood


Chris�s previous email to Abbott:

Dear Tony,

As a Warringah resident I am rarely moved to write to you – maintaining a family, my professional life as well as participating in our community leaves little time for correspondence, but it is the first of this list of priorities which causes me to contact you in the context of the recent publication of photos showing the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US troops.

One of my 13 year old twins (a student at St Augustine�s) was particularly distressed and angered by what he saw. So am I. I am even more angry as a result of the comments by Alexander Downer yesterday that it was not necessary for the Australian government to register its concern/protest regarding the matter because the US Administration was dealing with it in an appropriate manner. True enough the Bush Administration seems to at least be paying lip service to taking action, but our government’s flaccid response via Mr Downer only increases the perception that we are the lackey of the US.

We are a sovereign nation with a proud history of contribution to the defence of others. It is hard enough to accept that we are even in Iraq (on a false premise) but to see the blind compliance and/or timidity of our representatives on this basic issue of human rights and respect for fellow human beings (no matter how much the occupation is justified by the alleged need to overthrow the barbaric Saddam Hussein regime) is sickening.

We are all compromised as a result and our children right to point to the hypocrisy of our political leaders.

I urge you to press for a robust independent Australian expression of concern over this issue.



Full text of GeneralTaguba�s report into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. (via Tim Gillin)

For a private torture investigation see Tortured souls (via Brian McKinlay):

Stories in Iraq have a tendency towards determining themselves, and the one I’ve been working on has taken on new meaning this second time around. It was last January when I came upon the horrendous story of Sadiq Zoman. In short, he was detained by U.S. soldiers last July from his home in Kirkuk. While in U.S. military custody, he was beaten, tortured with electric shock, whipped, one of his hands was broken, his head was bludgeoned, and he was dropped off comatose to the General Hospital in Tikrit a month later.

For the Human Rights Watch status report on American prisons in Iraqi see 10 Prisons, 9,000 Prisoners (via Scott Burchill)

Tim Gillin: If this CIA interrogation manual is any guide, the Abu Ghraib MPs (and their handlers?) were ‘amateur hour’ incompetents. See also US ships Al Qaeda suspects to Arab states.

UK forces taught torture methods (via Antonia Feitz):

The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by Special Forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

Pictures of wounded men being shot censored by TV by Robert Fisk (via Antony Loewenstein)

Roy Wilke: A job ad on the Internet, for anyone who wants to go buggerising around in an Iraqi prison: CACI

Cameron Jackson in Kirribilli: I followed the link on your piece about abuse and torture in Iraq to the website “Al Basrah” ( The web-site was truly disturbing – I don’t know what the provenance of the photos is, but I felt compromised even by looking at them. It caused me to reflect on just what a voyeuristic world we live in. Yesterday, I thought I would return to that site to see what else I could find on it. I was told that access was forbidden. I wondered who had forbidden it and for what reason? Is it my server? Is there some other force at work? If this is some kind of censorship, who is practicing it?


The psychology of torture (via Tim Gillin)

Torture as pornography (via Lynette Dumble)

Another Open Letter to the Troops in Iraq:

What these images of the Abu Ghraib humiliation and torture have done in the United States is collide with the “exalted image and the pseudo-event” of the Bush propaganda apparatus, just as the images of the My Lai massacre did in 1969. That collision between the reality and the real image of war startles civilians here in the La-La Land of wide screen TV and suburban SUVs, and it shakes them out of their opiated shopper dream-state.

Digital Cameras Change Perception of War:

The explosive photos of abuse in an Iraqi prison drive home a defining fact of 21st century life – that the pervasiveness of digital photography and the speed of the Internet make it easier to see into dark corners previously out of reach for the mass media.

Does Abu Ghraib have a silver lining?



An Iraqi�s impressions: �What is happening in Iraq? After the Fallujah siege, as insurgency continues and the June deadline for transfer of sovereignty approaches, Caspar Henderson of openDemocracy interviews the civil society researcher Yahia Said over a line between London and Baghdad.� (via Tony Kevin)

Rumsfeld�s last stand:

Divine Providence has hidden ways that are beyond human understanding. Small things suddenly assume the proportion of great things. And now, taking everyone by surprise, a relatively insignificant element in the myriad of blunders that the invasion has visited on that unhappy desert land has brought the entire imperial enterprise in Iraq to teeter on the brink. Corruption, slaughter, and deception all failed to ignite the American domestic imagination. But the revelation that a few Iraqi prisoners might have been tortured by a few inexperienced noncoms from the Appalachian backwoods (where I live), has suddenly brought the careening imperial juggernaut of the world�s sole superpower to a screeching halt.

Will the anti-war movement get Bush re-elected?

How to stay in – without staying the course

For the really big picture, see Black Gold is King (via Darren Urquhart)



Nicholas Pickard

These are OUR allies? And all we can say is that Saddam was worse? Something is surely rotten…

The revelations about the US in Iraq – and how all the blame is being placed on the bottom-most ranks in the chain of command – raises some rather worrying questions about what is being done in Australia’s mostly privatised and US-run prison system, as well as the refugee detention camps.


Peter Fimmel

I am altogether unclear as to why anyone should be surprised at the performance of the foot soldiers in America’s Iraqi prisons in view of the behaviour of their political and military masters.

What does Dubya and his mates think goes through the minds of the troops when they are immersed in political leader’s lies about WMD and uranium from Niger, illegal preemptive invasion, wholesale killing of civilians in their shock and awe campaign and deliberate targeting of mosques and residential areas with cluster bombs and tanks?

And as for the sanctimonious clap trap about Americans being less wicked or evil that Iraqis, where is the evidence for such an outrageous notion?


Harry Heidelberg

Friday: I am watching live the unraveling of the Bush administration. Consider that Bush says Rumsfeld hid the pictures from him. It�s well known that Powell likes neither of them.

I just heard Bush say he is sorry… the King of Jordan is in town.

The Red Cross in Geneva is now on live. They knew about this long ago. They don�t tell – they need access so they don�t tell (until it got out via the Wall Street Journal). Always remember that each NGO does its own job. Amnesty exposes, but that is not the role of Red Cross. They can�t tender care unless they have access.

The Economist says the picture of the guy with the electrodes could be iconic. They all are.

How incredible. Truly incredible.

Bush only found out about pictures by seeing them on TV. Excuse me? The whole place is collapsing. Rumsfeld should be fired for that alone.


Chris Murphy in Southport, Queensland

�Relatives and friends of Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who appears prominently in the photographs of prisoners in Iraq being abused, are searching for answers.� The New York Times, 7 May 2004

What on earth did these people ever think war would really be about? Crisply ironed uniforms? Discipline? Respect? Law and order? Human rights? Peace?

Just like the executioner in a Texas prison, an army that storms into another country with all guns blazing was never going to make the world a better place.

Those who think that military solutions promote democracy and respect for human rights should get a life. It is obvious to all but the morally blind that George Bush lies through the very pores of his skin whenever he says that “war was the last resort”. The man hasn’t a peaceful cell in his entire evil body.

Is it any wonder, then, that the U.S. Army in Iraq has become an extension and amplification of Bush’s core of violence?

Wars are lost by armies who no longer believe in the justice of their cause. Empires crumble when their armies disperse in confusion. The American Empire – the one dreamt of by Cheney and Rumsfeld and Perle and Wolfowitz – has begun to fall apart before it even began. And the decline could be very, very rapid indeed.


Tim Gillin

What’s fascinating about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal (S&M-gate?) is the incredible naivete of the pipsqueak war criminals captured on their own digital film. My dictionary defines naivete as “The state or quality of being inexperienced or unsophisticated, especially in being artless, credulous, or uncritical.”

It is as if they can imagine no consequences for their action, no moral or other law greater than their power. They do not even have the courtesy, shame or common sense to attempt to hide their crimes.

Is this just the “no rules, no guilt” amorality of the Britney Spears generation? At the same time isn’t this just taking Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war anywhere anytime to its ultimate limit? Did these “troops” (if you can call weekend warders “troops”) simply take the Bush doctrine at face value?

Bush, of course, claims to be a “Born again Christian” but his reworking of Christianity seems to replace the American government for Jesus.

In a sense these misguided “children” (as Seymour Hersh keeps calling these Gen-X war criminals) are the bastard offspring of Bush and “Big Brother”.


Simon Neldner

During his announcement of a boost to security funding at ASIO headquarters, an ABC reporter asked the PM how long he thought the war on terror would take to be won, whereupon he replied: “I hope it doesn’t last longer than the cold war.”

If we were in any doubt, it’s now plain to see that the PM has no idea about the nature of the security problems we are facing, let alone implement the programs and strategies required to find a workable solution.

It also says something about the state of the world – and why foolish foreign adventures like Iraq are tolerated – when the fundamental root cause of terrorism (ie recruitment) is INJUSTICE. Until we deal with this – and our own pitifully small foreign aid budget (0.25 of GDP) – then the war on terror will be, as Gore Vidal predicted, a never-ending one.

The PM might like to compare it with the “cold war”, but the only thing they both have in common is that these types of conflicts cannot be won militarily. The Soviet Union went broke in a futile effort to outspend the United States military-industrial complex (and underwrite its ideological stalemates). The while the current conflict can only be solved in two ways.

First, if we address the real, every-day concerns of people in the developing world (e.g. safe drinking water, a decent job, basic health care, a place to live etc). Or second, if we are prepared to kill everyone on the planet. The first solution is less expensive and far less bloody then the second, but from the PMs glorification of our military and security capabilities, you’d have to wonder if he wants us all to be destroyed.

Am I being too over-the-top, too-sensational? Let’s consider this, that for every dollar the world spends on foreign aid commitments, almost sixteen dollars are allocated to defence and security budgets to protect the world from threats that are related to the lack of spending on the former. Most of the world’s population is living in conditions that can only be described as unequal, unjust and unfair.

And before anyone mentions Osama bin Laden, and that no amount of persuasion or generosity will stop his murderous rampages and religiously inspired delusions, they are correct. The world will always have those individuals who wish to cause harm to others, to impose their ideologies and beliefs on others by threat or use of force. This is part of human nature, a dark side, but one that can’t be ignored.

However, a general improvement in living conditions would certainly take the heat out of both the recruitment to and the financial support of terror organisations. The public support for these groups would also diminish over time, as would the funds which allow them to operate and flourish. There would be no safe haven for them, if the West was prepared to be an equal partner (not just a pretend one).

If Osama bin Laden were killed tomorrow, no victory could be declared, as the conditions that allowed his organisation to grow are still as strong as ever, and if our leaders think otherwise, they are kidding themselves.

This is demonstrated by the futility of Israel’s current policy of targeted assassination, as while it makes a good headline, it achieves nothing to rectify the brutality and the pettiness of the occupation (where Hamas has no problems signing-up new suicide bombers). While their actions are indefensible, the conditions under which the Palestinians live cannot be ignored or simply dismissed as having no relationship to the source of the current violence. It’s actually of central and over-riding importance, but to acknowledge it, means we have to smash the very system which has created it – and that’s the issue we should be talking about it.

I could go on and on about this, but the real test will come on Budget night, and the extent to which our foreign aid budget is increased. As there have been no announcements, no media-friendly briefings or favourable press leaks, we can assume that our foreign aid budget is not going to get a 50 or 100 or 1000% increase. If this is the case, then the PM has sold-out this country and its citizens, because if we continue down our current path it will only be a matter of time before a WMD is used to attack a western city. Then what will we do?

At the moment, our options are continually being narrowed towards pre-emption and military intervention, and while I have no problem in having a robust defense, we have to be more pragmatic, and to spend just as much on foreign aid/development projects in those countries that need a helping hand.

It might also help if we actually act on what we believe, where the rule of law, the right to a fair trial, applies to all citizens of this world (regardless of their country of origin). Today, we spent a lot time making up new rules and new laws to undermine the very rights we claim to be protecting, and which so many men, women and children have had to die for in Iraq. We all deserve better.

Joseph Wilson: the Webdiary interview

Antony Loewenstein writes Webdiary’s Engineering Consent column on the workings of the media. See also last night’s devastating Lateline interview with the former U.S. head of counter terrorism Richard Clarke.


Joseph C. Wilson IV was the acting US ambassador to Iraq during the first Gulf War. Soon after Saddam invaded Kuwait, Wilson was in Baghdad protecting more than 100 US citizens in the homes of US diplomats and meeting with an Iraqi leader threatening to kill anybody caught housing foreigners. Wilson famously talked to journalists wearing a hangman�s noose instead of a tie, and later commented in The Washington Post that his signal to Saddam was, “If you want to execute me, I�ll bring my own fucking rope.”

Wilson was the U.S. diplomat catapulted onto the front pages in 2003 when he revealed that the Bush administration had fabricated evidence over Iraq�s WMDs. He had conducted the official investigation into claims that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger and dismissed them, yet Bush then repeated the claims in his State of the Union address to the American people in January, 2003.

After breaking his silence in July in The New York Times, his wife, Valerie Plame, was exposed as an undercover CIA agent by a right wing columnist. Wilson believes this was payback for his suggestion that the US Government had an agenda other than WMD for invading Iraq.

During a conference at Berkeley University in March analysing the role of the US media in promoting Bush�s agenda on Iraq, Wilson was scathing about the unquestioning mood in America in the run-up to the Iraq war. He spoke on the long-term fallout of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption over Iraq – “instead of having a thoughtful debate, we insulted our allies” – and criticised the media�s acceptance of suspect WMD �evidence� and disregard of the war�s effects on the Iraqi people: “What we didn�t get was the point of view of those who were shocked and awed. We ignore at our peril the effects of our actions on those in other societies.”

These views were familiar to CBS journalist, Dan Rather, who commented in May 2002 that post 9/11, �patriotism ran amok� in the US and reporters were afraid to ask the tough questions of their government. �It’s unpatriotic not to stand up, look them in the eye, and ask the questions they don’t want to hear,� he said.

Wilson told Webdiary this week that Bush and his “cabal” are responsible for an invasion and occupation that has increased America�s risk of a terrorist attack:

By not gaining international will against Saddam and enforcing UN resolutions, such as 1441, we have failed. The mess that will be left is our mess.

To President Bush�s recent statement that he hoped �the good Lord protects those of our troops overseas�, Wilson said Iraq has not been an �enemy� of the United States for many years:

US armed forces were not conceived for George Bush. The American military and the American military doctrine provide that they serve in the defence of the United States against a sworn enemy. When most people signed up to the military, it was for fighting a real enemy.

A number of neo-conservative architects of the Iraq invasion, including former Pentagon policy adviser Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, have promoted the overthrowing of Saddam for many years. In the mid 1990s, Perle was the brains behind a document written for the Israeli Likud party called A Clean Break, A New Strategy for the Realm. Wilson now believes the Bush administration has adopted the Perle doctrine:

It strongly made the argument that the best way to secure Israel�s long-term security (was to) conduct regime change in many Middle Eastern countries, starting with Iraq, but continuing with Iran and Syria.

Wilson argues that America has a duty to protect Israel and its interest, but not at the expense of the Palestinians “as expressed through Ariel Sharon�s recent visit to Washington” (see Top diplomats to Blair: stop Bush’s policy of war without end):

The US has now sent a message to the world that we don�t care about the fate of the Palestinians.

He also has strong views on Israel�s recent killing of Hamas� spiritual leader Sheik Yassin, and its effects on Middle East peace:

It was an abomination. There was no excuse for America to provide Apache helicopters to kill an 80-year-old paraplegic who could have been arrested. Certainly prior to Iraq, the single most glaring failure of US foreign policy was the peace process and the willingness to make Sharon drive the whole situation.”

In an article written for the San Jose Mercury News in September 2003, Wilson offered a disturbing explanation for the �shock and awe� campaign of the US administration in Iraq:

A more cynical reading of the agenda of certain Bush advisers could conclude that the Balkanization of Iraq was always an acceptable outcome, because Israel would then itself be surrounded by small Arab countries worried about each other instead of forming a solid block against Israel. After all, Iraq was an artificial country that had always had a troublesome history.

Wilson appreciates the need for occasional military force to dismantle dictatorial regimes:

I think the President was right to go back to the United Nations in the aftermath of 9/11, but if I was President of the United States, I would have insisted our Security Council partners had done more. I would have put an intelligence umbrella over Iraq to monitor all of Saddam�s moves, which our Deputy Chief of Staff says we are perfectly capable of doing.

If we had to use military force and we were impeded in doing our duty [of weapons inspections] I would have launched a massive strike against those inspection sites where they may have been evidence of weapons of mass destruction. I would also have taken out command and control centres and made life very difficult for Saddam.”

One of the most damning indictments of the Bush doctrine in Iraq, coming hot on the heels of books by Bush�s former Treasury Secretary Paul O�Neill and former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke, is the occupation phase. More than one year after invasion, with roughly 724 American casualties, 4200-wounded and an estimated 10,000 Iraqi dead and thousands more injured, Wilson said America should not be “owning Iraq”:

Saddam and his old men posed little threat to the world and very little threat to the United States. I am suggesting covert action would have been more appropriate if we really wanted to overthrow Saddam.

With an American Presidential election six months away, Wilson said he�d never felt a more “poisonous” atmosphere in Washington:

The election campaign is already riddled with anger, vitriol and outright lies. The mischaracterisation of John Kerry�s background [Wilson is advising the Democratic candidate] is frankly unprecedented.

Wilson’s new book is The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity.


International news in the blogosphere this week was dominated by the Abu Ghraib and Queen�s Lancashire Regiment torture stories. Making Light collects the American perspectives and connects it to the siege of Fallujah that was, and wasn’t, and admits to being emotionally gutted:


I’ve taken down my flags and put them away until after the war is over. I love my flag and my country as much as ever, but I�m mourning actions that have been committed by our troops, under our banner.

Juan Cole, a Middle East expert, tracks the effect of the scandal on the Middle East and reports that Abdul Basit Turki, Iraq’s first Minister of Human Rights, has resigned:

In November I talked to Mr Bremer about human rights violations in general and in jails in particular. He listened but there was no answer. At the first meeting, I asked to be allowed to visit the security prisoners, but I failed,” he said. “I told him the news. He didn’t take care about the information I gave him.”

Whiskey Bar reports on Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem, who calls for Abu Ghraib to be razed, an idea also defended trenchantly by John Quiggin.

In Australia, Bargarz provides a useful summary of the Right’s reaction.

Domestically, we writhed with hubristic delight before our humble keyboards at the antics of Lawsey, Jonesy, Flintsey and Howardsey.

Kick and Scream points out that Keating also hung around Laws before wandering off in 1996.Back Pages adds a survey of cartoons, and makes a small skipping run at the fundamental question: how should we appoint positions like head of the ABA anyway? roadtosurfdom points to the valuable collation of key documents of the Communications Law Centre,� rare in such a small society.

Leading the conga line of funsters, Soul Pacific has some animated snarkiness with the protagonists, while The Governor General anxiously diagnoses their Psittacosis.

Media Dragon doodles good links around the topic, particularly with the National Civic Council’sprerelease extract of David Flint’s book: “Twilight of the Elites”. Utterly without pretensions himself, he wrote from his humble cell:

There can be no doubt that the elites suffered a devastating defeat in the Australian Federal election on November 10, 2001. Concentrated mainly in those inner city electorates in the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne triangle, they managed to attract no more than 10% of the national primary vote.

Failure hurts soooo much.

Backpages posts the results of the latest newspoll, and runs them through the distinctive Sheil analysis machine:

All up, this is virtually a status quo result. Reading the tea leaves, and leaving aside the possibility of some sort of left field circuit breaker, at this stage I would still think Jack’s best chance is to go visit the GG as soon as he can, maximising his milkshake bounce and minimising his Iraq bog … which again spells August 7.

Hot Buttered Death finds a nineteenth century treatise on burning cats, which is at least more dignified than Geoff Honnor’s discovery that this very publication is fascinated by penile girth.

Downtrodden as she undoubtedly is, Wendy James explores the exercise value of housework, the perils of childhood athsma and the pleasures of the pub. Perhaps she has caught some of the archaic diseases such as ‘Domestic Illness’ or ‘Humour Flux’ that Boynton has found.

Southerly Buster provides a rundown on the current state of play in the Indonesian elections as Bambang increases his lead over Megawati:

This is good news. Golkar seems to have backed the wrong horse, although presumably the Golkar endorsement will lift Wiranto above his current standing of 2.2%. Gus Dur is in severe difficulties because the KPU has issued a regulation excluding blind candidates. I plan on following the IFES standings through the campaign over the next month.

At the technical workshops out the back of the blogosphere (somewhere between Highway 69 and Desolation Row with a manhole that somehow leads to the corridors of power), the economists have been bashing out their positions. Starting here, Catallaxy has several analyses of the polls that suggest the public wants more services rather than less tax:

I’ve just finished a book chapter on opinion about taxing and spending, and I think the high numbers in these polls come from the assumption that there is a surplus to be distributed somehow. The surplus seems to be viewed as a sunk cost, so spending it on services will not create any extra tax pain. When the money is still in taxpayers’ pockets there is much more tax resistance.

John Quiggin, meanwhile, is looking at the highly technical economic benefits of the FTA.

After we anxiously waited over the weeks for a somnolent Gummo Trotsky to surface, he has posted a terrifyingly accurate rant about one small incident on a Melbourne tram:

I should have known you were going to be trouble – I did sense that you were going to be trouble – when you stood beside the aisle seat where I’d parked my bag and demanded that I move over. Like a damned fool I picked up my bag and dropped it my lap and went back to my book.�

It helps to explain why we (to be formal about it) Melburnians are the kind of people we are.

Last week, I asked for useful links on the Palestine-Israel conflict. You provided a large list – too large to transpose with all those fiddly codybits – so you can find the list in the comments atBarista.

NEXT WEEK: Who are the commenters you particularly like reading? Post suggestions to here.Just to start you going and off the top of my late night head, I really enjoy John Isbell, the Bahnisch mob (father and son), Gummo Trotsky, Dave Ricardo, Jill Rush, Jack Strocchi, Steve Edwards, Derrida Derider, Sedgwick and Geoff Honnor (among others)….

Google them and see what I mean.

Wilkie, Bolt and ONA at odds over top secret report

This is Jack Robertson’s second report on the leak of Andrew Wilkie’s top secret ONA report to Andrew Bolt. His first report is at Andrew Bolt: I did ‘go through’ leaked top secret report by Wilkie. More to come.


Andrew Wilkie, the former ONA analyst who was the primary author of a top secret report leaked to Melbourne journalist Andrew Bolt last year, says that the Herald-Sun article Bolt published after reading the report was a �very mischievous� misrepresentation of its contents and its purpose.

The intelligence veteran�s description of Bolt�s June 23 article, which sparked an on-going Federal Police investigation into the leak, contrasts with Bolt’s insistence that he presented an �accurate� portrayal of the report�s contents.

The Office of National Assessments has to date said only, of Bolt�s article about the leaked report, that ��it [did] not contain any specific comment on intelligence material�.

The row between Wilkie and Bolt comes amid growing calls by the Opposition for a Royal Commission into the state of Australia�s intelligence agencies, after accusations that the Howard government is misusing intelligence material for political purposes, and also as the Opposition expressed frustration at the slow progress of the Bolt leak investigation. Last week Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd wrote directly to the Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock questioning the apparent lack of action

Andrew Bolt maintained that ��my [article] is accurate, and I�d like [Wilkie supporters] to deal with the revelations it [contains] that go to the credibility of Mr Wilkie.�

But Wilkie – who compiled the report in late 2002 – vigorously disputes Bolt�s defence of his article, in particular rejecting its explicit suggestion that the pre-invasion risk analyis the still-classified report contained, and which was circulated widely throughout government departments as part of Australia�s pre-war planning phase, amounted to little more than an ONA �fairytale� about Saddam Hussein�s Iraq.

Wilkie told me last week that the leaking of the report to Bolt, and what he said was the journalist�s misleading use of its contents to ridicule his analytical credentials was part of a concerted campaign to neutralise his criticisms of the government over the invasion of Iraq. At the time Bolt�s article appeared, Wilkie’s critique was receiving considerable local and international attention.

Since resigning his ONA post in March 2003 Wilkie has argued that from late 2002 – as the war issue came to a head – John Howard and his media backers consistently and knowingly exaggerated the intelligence community�s threat assessments regarding Saddam Hussein�s WMD and links to al-Qaeda in order to sell the invasion to a sceptical Australian public.

The Opposition suspects that the government leaked a copy of the top secret report to Bolt some time in June 2003 with the express purpose of Bolt using it to discredit a plausible expert who was becoming a vindicated critic of John Howard�s decision to go to war.

Last year Kevin Rudd repeated pressed Mr Howard and Mr Downer over what he described as the government�s �motive� for leaking the document, arguing that the six month delay between the report�s initial issue and the Bolt article made the question of whether or not any government Minister had sought an extra copy of the report immediately prior to 23 June a matter of public interest.

It is on the record that a single copy of the report was sought from and released by ONA to an �authorised� recipient in June, over six months after it was first issued. In a Senate Estimates Committee session on 16 February Senator Robert Ray asked newly-appointed ONA Director-General Peter Varghese (formerly John Howard’s foreign affairs adviser):

Senator Robert Ray: Was a copy of this document issued to anyone in the week prior to 23 June 2003?

Mr Varghese: The records here of the document’s circulation do have a reference to a document being circulated in June, but can I just make the observation that since this matter is the subject of an incomplete –

Senator Ray: Don’t anticipate the next question. You can answer the question so far and you can assume that I will be smart enough not to ask you the following question – or you can refuse to answer it. But my question is a legitimate one thus far.

The Committee did not pursue the question of to whom the report was released, nor for what purpose such an apparently redundant, pre-invasion analysis might have been required.

Last September Labor Senator John Faulkner told Parliament that he believed the copy had been leaked by someone inside government with the sole aim of discrediting Wilkie.

On the matter of the relationship between Bolt�s article and the contents of the actual report, now the subject of fierce dispute between Bolt and Wilkie, the only public view ONA has expressed to date has been via Varghese�s predecessor Kim Jones expressed to the Prime Minister last year, which Mr Howard then revealed in Parliament. On 9 September Mr Howard responded to a question on the matter from then Opposition leader Simon Crean:

Mr Howard: The other information I can provide to the House is that, in its request to the AFP, the Office of National Assessments has stated that the Bolt article – that is, the Melbourne Herald Sun article – does not contain any specific comment on any intelligence material.

This view is at odds with ONA�s immediate referral of the leak to the Australian Federal Police and ASIO as a possible breach of national security, and also with Bolt�s confirmation that he had obtained the report.

Wilkie said Bolt selectively quoted sections of his report. “�Bolt was very mischievous when he quoted that [ONA report]. He quoted [it] as though: �Wilkie said the following things would go wrong, they didn�t go wrong – hence Wilkie�s judgement is discredited�. That was the essence of the attack.�

The report�s aim and context was in fact far more nuanced, Wilkie said. He was asked to prepare through late 2002 – for what might ultimately be Cabinet war-decision purposes – a wide-ranging examination of all the many potential humanitarian dangers associated with the government�s developing invasion plans. Wilkie, an intelligence veteran with more than twenty years experience, said:

“I didn�t say anything �would� happen [in that report]. I said the following things �could� go wrong. The essence of the paper was the possible humanitarian implications. The aim was to inform the government of all the things that could go wrong, so that they were well-informed when they made their decision to go to war.”

Bolt, he said, seized only upon those �potential� invasion dangers Wilkie had examined which did not in fact transpire – or had yet to transpire by June 2003 – and then presented them to his readers as solid predictions which were hopelessly wrong.

“Now, some things did go wrong. Some things didn�t go wrong. And some things are now going wrong. Even with the benefit of hindsight, I�d write much the same paper.”

Last week Bolt denied that his article was motivated by anything other than his responsibilities as an opinion columnist to help foster balanced debate. Having had the opportunity to �go through� Wilkie�s Top Secret pre-invasion assessments, Bolt said his interest in writing the piece lay “… in the fact that Andrew Wilkie was making wild claims that traded on what he has promoted as his superior knowledge of Iraq”.

He maintains that Wilkie�s credentials to speak with authority on Iraq issues have been over-inflated by invasion opponents too inclined to give credence to anyone who shared their opposition, and defended his June article as providing valuable counter-evidence at a time when Wilkie�s media profile was climbing.

Bolt said that those who accused him – and the source who leaked him the Top Secret report – of �misusing intelligence material for political purposes� could and should just as easily �..ask themselves why Andrew Wilkie has used his intelligence knowledge for political purposes�.

He said he expected Wilkie to exploit his intelligence background in the upcoming election campaign, during which Wilkie will be standing as a Greens candidate in the Prime Minister�s seat of Bennelong.

Of Wilkie�s accusation that his article was not a fair reflection of the report�s content but a �mischievous� distortion designed to discredit its author, Bolt said: �That�s the first time I�ve ever heard anyone make that allegation. I haven�t heard it from Andrew Wilkie [before]. In fact, he [said at the time] that he recognised this description of his report.�

“If [Wilkie] has any evidence to back up these claims – which are as ludicrous as many others he�s made – I would look with interest for him to present such evidence.”

Testing the two conflicting descriptions – of both Wilkie�s report and Bolt�s article about it – is impossible while Wilkie�s report remains classified.

The Australian Federal Police are yet to respond to my inquiry last Friday as to the status of their investigation – including whether or not they have yet interviewed Bolt about his source – but last Tuesday Andrew Wilkie said that since his own AFP interview in late 2003 he had been made aware �for sure� of some �interesting� new information on one potential avenue of further investigation that may yet inject police enquiries with renewed optimism and urgency.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, and the Director General of the ONA have also yet to respond to Wilkie�s new claims, which relate to internal records of the movement and handling of copies of Wilkie�s report for June 2003, and which I forwarded to their offices last Thursday and Friday respectively.

Did Jones bribe Howard? Public inquiry needed

Joo-Cheong Tham is an Associate Law Lecturer at La Trobe University.


The allegations made by John Laws last Wednesday raise very serious questions. As is well-known, Laws has alleged that Alan Jones pressured John Howard into appointing David Flint as chair of the Australian Broadcasting Authority by threatening to withdraw support for the Coalition in the 2001 federal election.

If true, Jones would have engaged in an act of bribery; an offence under both the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the Criminal Code Act. If Howard responded to Jones� threat, he too would be guilty of the same offence. The fact that no brown paper bags of money were involved makes no difference as a matter of law or principle: the gravamen of corruption, the exercise of public power for private gain, will clearly be present.

Moreover, if these allegations were proven to be true, they would vividly demonstrate that Australian political life has yet to deliver on democracy�s promise that all citizens have equal access to political power. Some, it would seem, are more equal than others.

At this stage, we are, of course, far from knowing the true situation. There are only allegations and denials at hand. The water is also muddied by the intense rivalry between the accuser, Laws, and one of the accused, Jones. At this point, Howard and Jones, like all other persons accused of a crime, are entitled to the presumption of innocence and judgment is best reserved.

This does not, however, sanction inactivity. Uninvestigated, these grave allegations would still leave a dark stain on Australian political life. They will create a strong perception of corruption at the highest levels of government with Kirribilli House seen as the venue of choice for bartering away the public interest. Such a perception will have a corrosive effect on the standards of public life. It will also to deepen the disenchantment that the community already has of the political process.

It is imperative then that these allegations be thoroughly investigated. This needs to occur on at least two fronts.

The police should investigate whether Howard and Jones have engaged in criminal wrongdoing. Such an investigation could be triggered by a formal complaint made by either the Opposition or Laws.

Moreover, there should be an independent public inquiry into these allegations examining not only the question of illegal conduct but also whether there has been improper or unethical conduct.

There should also be a broader investigation into the relationship between politicians and influential media commentators like Jones and Laws. Acts of corruption are usually the tip of the iceberg.

The real danger is that Laws� allegations, if true, prefigure a web of informal understandings where political patronage is regularly traded for favourable media coverage or, more insidiously, where political action is profoundly shaped by the fear of media reprisal.

If such understandings exist, Australia�s pretensions to democratic credentials might very well be just that.

Is US withdrawal the least worst option?

A year after Bush declared �Mission accomplished� in Iraq, a few mainstream American military and foreign policy voices are urging the US to admit defeat and withdraw.


These opinions were aired before the images of torture which end any chance that the Iraqi people will believe that America is a benign force for freedom and democracy in their nation.

Since the publication of those images on Thursday night the shocks keep coming. So tonight, updates on the tragedy of Iraq and your thoughts on what went wrong and what to do next.

The truth about American torture

* Seymour Hersh obtained the military report into America�s torture chambers in Iraq: TORTURE AT ABU GHRAIB: American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go?

* Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, in charge of Iraqi prisons at the time, says the block concerned was off limits to her and under the complete control of US intelligence – Rough Justice in Iraq:

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski is angry. She says she warned her superiors from the first about the ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners… The trouble was, Karpinski says, she didn’t have enough troops or resources to do the job right, and the men at the top ignored her complaints. “They just wanted it to go away,” she told NEWSWEEK last week… “There’s no excuse for what these people did,” says Karpinski. “They’re just bad people. But the guys involved in this were new to Abu Ghurayb. It got way out of hand.

Karpinski says the abuse took place in Abu Ghurayb’s Block 1A, which had been taken over and turned into a windowless prison-within-a-prison by military-intelligence officers. They called the shots there, not the usual military-police guards. “So far I haven’t heard of any investigation of the military-intelligence people,” she says.

* The American military denied problems in the prison for months, dead batting complaints from the British human rights envoy and Amnesty International. Hersh reports:

As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba�s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

* An American veteran comments in Abu Ghraib as My Lai?

* The Americans have outsourced interrogation to private contractors (see Hersh), thus ending the last remaining core function of the State: Privatization of warfare. And now we�re losing our SAS soldiers to the private army in Iraq: Army exodus: SAS troops quit. Webdiarist Donald Brookcommented:

It’s good to see the war being privatised, with soldiers leaving the SAS and going entrepreneurial. One had thought that the blight of socialism, under which armed conflict has been seen by old Lefties like Howard et al as essentially a public enterprise, would never be cured.

* The American media hardly run the story for days, although the Hersh scoop seems to have forced them to do so. See Iraq Torture Images Vie with Photos of U.S. War Dead:

This shows U.S. newspaper editors understand what kind of war coverage interests American readers, according to David D. Perlmutter, a historian of war and media at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “The torture pictures are absolutely irrelevant,” Perlmutter said in a telephone interview. “Americans care about American soldiers, and only journalistic and political and academic elites fret about pictures of collateral damage …

As US blogger Kevin Drum said:

Remember this the next time someone wonders aloud why Arabs all hate us so “irrationally.” We play down incidents like this as “aberrations,” merely a few soldiers out of thousands, and run the story on page 27. They see it splashed across the front page and think of it as yet another case of American hypocrisy. It’s going to be awfully hard now to convince them they’re wrong.


Voices for withdrawal

Former General Sees ‘Staying the Course’ In Iraq as Untenable:

It is delusional, asserts the Army veteran, college professor and longtime Washington hand, to believe that “staying the course” can achieve President Bush’s goal of reordering the Middle East by building a friendly democracy in Iraq. For the sake of American security and economic power alike, he argues, the U.S. should remove its forces from that shattered country as rapidly as possible.

“We have failed,” Mr. Odom declares bluntly. “The issue is how high a price we’re going to pay. … Less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later?” His is not the voice of an isolationist, or a peacenik, or Republican-hater. He is talking from the conservative Hudson Institute, where he was hired years ago by Mitch Daniels, later Mr. Bush’s budget director. His office displays photos of Ronald Reagan, under whom Mr. Odom directed the National Security Agency, and Jimmy Carter, on whose National Security Council staff he served.

* Conservative� foreign policy expert Christopher Layne of the Cato Institute (one of the very few right wing think tanks which opposed the war) wrote The Best of Bad Choices in �The American Conservative�:

The United States has no good options in Iraq but the least bad is this: Washington should transfer real sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30. It should tell the Iraqis to work out their own political future among themselves and turn over full responsibility for Iraq�s external and internal security to the new regime in Baghdad. Simultaneously, the United States also should suspend all offensive military operations in Iraq, pull its forces back to defensive enclaves well away from Iraq�s cities, and commence a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq that will be completed on December 31 (or on January 20, 2005).

There is no point in being Pollyannaish. In the long run, the U.S. will be better off leaving Iraq. In the short-term, however, there will be consequences � not all of which are foreseeable � if the U.S. withdraws. But that misses the point. Sooner or later the U.S. is going to end up leaving Iraq without having attained its goals. Washington�s real choice is akin to that posed in an old oil-filter commercial that used to run on television: America can pay now, or it can pay later when the costs will be even higher.

* Paul Krugman in In Front of Your Nose:

Even among harsh critics of the administration’s Iraq policy, the usual view is that we have to finish the job. You’ve heard the arguments: We broke it; we bought it. We can’t cut and run. We have to stay the course. I understand the appeal of those arguments. But I’m worried about the arithmetic.

… I don’t have a plan for Iraq. I strongly suspect, however, that all the plans you hear now are irrelevant. If America’s leaders hadn’t made so many bad decisions, they might have had a chance to shape Iraq to their liking. But that window closed many months ago.

* United Press International analyst Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote in Looking for the exit:

Total alignment on Prime Minister Sharon’s anti-Palestinian strategy has turned even moderate Muslims against the United States. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak said hatred of the United States had never reached such depths.

When Mr. Bush suddenly dropped longstanding U.S. opposition to Jewish settlements on the West Bank, rooted as they were in U.N. resolutions, Israeli settlers could not believe their luck. Sharon conceded Gaza, where 7,500 Jewish settlers had no future among 1.3 million Palestinians, but in return obtained U.S. blessings for permanent Israeli habitation in large swaths of what was to be a Palestinian state. Even illegal hilltop settlements concluded they were now safe from removal and immediately began erecting permanent structures to replace mobile homes…

No sooner had the White House’s red light flashed green than the once surreptitious, crawling annexation of the West Bank resumed in the open. Jewish West Bank settlers were jubilant, while Palestinians were adrift in the Slough of Despond. With the Right of Return for Palestinians also off the table, and no viable state of their own on the West Bank, extremist organizations will have no problem recruiting more jihadis (holy warriors) and merging terrorist operations with the underground resistance in Iraq, Arab opinion has been inflamed to the point where Palestine and Iraq are now two fronts in the war against what Charles de Gaulle used to call “the Anglo-Saxons.”

Osama bin Laden is probably thinking he’s some kind of strategic genius.

After the torture photos scandal, he wrote Tutwiler’s mission impossible:

The shameful pictures of U.S. soldiers humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners were the final straw for Margaret D. Tutwiler. Moved out of her post as Ambassador to Morocco last December to become Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs, Ms. Tutwiler was instructed to spruce up the Bush administration’s image in the Arab world in particular and the Muslim world in general.

It took her only four months to conclude this was mission impossible. She was the third “image” czarina to come a cropper in three years. Competing against the Qatar-based al-Jazeera and Dubai-based al-Arabyia and their coverage of the occupation of Iraq gave Ms. Tutwiler about the same chance of success as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

* For a detailed account of the end of the neo-con power in Washington, see Jim Lobe�s US on the brink:

One year after President George W Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq, the United States appears to be teetering on the brink of strategic defeat in its Mesopotamian adventure.

Even as Bush on Friday reiterated his ambition to bring “freedom and democracy” to Iraq and the Middle East, a series of recent policy reversals � capped by Friday’s announcement that a former Ba’athist general will take charge of an all-Iraqi security force in Fallujah � suggests that an increasingly desperate Washington will settle for far less.

* The father of thus Senate and a consistent opponent of the war, Senator Robert Byrd made a speech called Mission Not Accomplished in Iraq to mark the first anniversary of Bush�s boast:

Since that time, Iraq has become a veritable shooting gallery. This April has been the bloodiest month of the entire war, with more than 120 Americans killed. Young lives cut short in a pointless conflict and all the President can say is that it “has been a tough couple of weeks”. A tough couple of weeks, indeed.

Plans have obviously gone tragically awry. But the President has, so far, only managed to mutter that we must “stay the course”. But what course is there to keep when our ship of state is being tossed like a dinghy in a storm of Middle East politics? If the course is to end in the liberation of Iraq and bring a definitive end to the war against Saddam Hussein, one must conclude, mission not accomplished, Mr. President.

The White House argues time and again that Iraq is the “central front” on the war on terrorism. But instead of keeping murderous al Qaeda terrorists on the run, the invasion of Iraq has stoked the fires of terrorism against the United States and our allies. Najaf is smoldering. Fallujah is burning. And there is no exit is in sight. What has been accomplished, Mr. President? (For Byrd�s pre-war speeches against the war, see A lonely voice in a US Senate silent on war and Today, I Weep for my Country…)


Allen Jay

This piece by Alex Cockburn, Watching Niagara: Stupid Leaders, Useless Spies, Angry World, summarises the situation perfectly and applies equally to Howard�s Australia.

My only comment on evaluating intelligence and being able to sort the wheat from the chaff is that it requires an unbiased and open mind. When you have either a political or ideological bias there is a great temptation to ignore contrary facts and information as a matter of deliberate policy or because you subconsciously give them little credence.

That seems to be the deep corruption and failing within Australian, British and particularly US intelligence.


Alistair Bain in Perth

I am amazed at all these protestations of outrage at the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. We knew from interview snippets revealed during the invasion that elements of the American and British forces had little respect for the Iraqis. The abuse of prisoners is hardly surprising.

You claim not to have believed the released Japanese captive when he recounted his captor’s claims of mistreatment by the Americans – until you saw the photographs. Hmmm. We believe what we want to, don’t we? We invaded Iraq because we wanted to believe Mr Saddam had WMD. We didn’t want to believe that Iraq’s “liberators” could be brutal and inhumane.

The pictures – of which others, less “presentable”, exist – are reminiscent of the rape of Nanking, where Japanese soldiers had happy snaps taken while they abused Chinese women.

However, I acknowledge your moral courage in openly stating your changed position. What amazes me is how quickly former supporters of the invasion are changing their minds or carefully qualifying their support. Why do they think so many people raised objections to the invasion in the first place? With what REAL evidence did they offer their support?

I sympathise with Mark Latham’s pull-out call. However, part of me still believes that since Australia has allowed itself to become part of the Iraqi mire we have a moral responsibility to stay and help clean up the mess. Let’s hope we can find ways of doing so which truly make amends for the unspeakable horror we have helped create.


Russell Dovey in Canberra

Recent images of American and British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners are more than disturbing; they are damning to a cultural tradition that upholds itself as the way of freedom, peace, and civilisation. The West is shamed by these photos, as it is by every act of barbarity that its soldiers commit in foreign wars.

Those in the US and British military who were responsible for these crimes, those who gave the orders, and those who did nothing even though they knew these crimes were being committed, should be arrested and tried in a court of law. It is the third group that I fear will get away with their crime, because the very nature of these acts means that many will have heard what was going on, making it hard to separate criminal negligence from disbelief.get away with their crime, because the very nature of these acts means that many will have heard what was going on, making it hard to separate criminal negligence from disbelief.

It is disturbing to remember that before the war, the US refused to join many other countries around the world, including Australia, in signing and ratifying the treaty for the International Criminal Court. The ICC handles war criminals who have not been adequately tried in their own countries.

It is possible that the Bush administration knew this sort of thing was likely to happen, and therefore ensured it could control the investigation. So why didn�t they make sure that soldiers knew the basic idea behind the Geneva Convention and respected a prisoner’s human rights? Why did it not respond to allegations that many of its soldiers regard Iraqis as subhuman?

However, Margo, the solution you propose in An empire in moral crisis may be worse than the problem. If the US and Britain withdrew all their forces from Iraq, then there would be no more tortures, beatings or Falluja-style massacres committed by American or British soldiers upon Iraqis.

Unfortunately, the American and British forces are not the only self-righteous, militaristic cowboys in Iraq, just the most numerous and well-armed. There are dozens, if not hundreds of militia groups of various sizes in Iraq, each one with a different view on how the country should be run. The weapons available to these groups range from the ubiquitous Kalashnikov rifle to rocket-propelled grenades capable of ripping apart a car.

An optimist might think that once the American and British forces leave, these militias would have no-one to fight anymore. They would go home and keep their rifles buried in the back yard, wrapped in oiled cloth, in case they were needed again.

No doubt, this is exactly what many of them would do. Quite a few more would simply protect their own neighbourhood, as they have ever since the fall of Saddam’s regime in the absence of any effective policing by the CPA.

Unfortunately, many of these groups were not formed in reaction to the Western occupation, or to protect their own neighbourhoods. Some are the personal armies of aspiring warlords, out to conquer as much territory as they can and hold it by force.

Other groups are motivated by religious beliefs, and intend to enforce their own rules and systems of worship wherever they can. Finally, there are terrorist groups under the banner of Al-Qaeda, using Iraq as a stage to hurt the US in their propaganda war, caring nothing for the people they kill or maim in the process.

Iraq’s borders are being enforced by the American and British military. Effectively, Iraq now exists as a nation because of the occupation. If we withdraw, then the borders are just lines on a map. While regional militias would fiercely defend their territories from Turkish, Iranian or Syrian attack, they would be hard-pressed to mount the fully co-coordinated defence required to prevail against the well-equipped armies of Turkey and Iran.

At best, if American and British forces withdrew entirely, Iraq would become a fragile coalition of diverse militias, many of whom have long histories of violence with many of the others. In another part of the world, they might even maintain stability, and be left alone to find their own way to govern themselves.

However, the land of Iraq has been blessed, or cursed, with a staggeringly large amount of oil. Especially in a time when we are constantly being told that the oil will start to run out in 30 years, it is hard for any country to resist this lure. Oil is valuable both for its financial and its geopolitical value, even if a country is already the richest, most powerful nation on earth with its own oil reserves.

If the USA is unable to go without Iraq’s oil, Iraq’s neighbours would be even more unable to resist the opportunity to grab what they can now in order to protect themselves from economic chaos in 30 years, and Iran would especially see it as a chance to gain more control over the US economy.

So the Iraqi people, far from having a chance to determine their own future, would be invaded and plunged into anarchy. Civilian deaths in the widespread fighting could be in the tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands would probably die from lack of basic infrastructure, combined with an inability to deliver food aid. The flood of refugees into surrounding countries would cause even more hardship and famine.

Therefore, even though the occupation of Iraq is wrong and must end, to simply wash our hands of the mess would be worse for Iraq’s people and for global stability. I don’t mean that the PM is right about “getting the job done”, because he wouldn’t know what the real job was if it hit him in the face.

This petty, selfish national interest that the PM seems to believe in is not what the Australian people believe in. We are not a selfish, petty little people, ready to sell another country down the river to enrich our American big brother. Our fearless leader has done a great job of convincing the world that we are, but we know better.


An empire in moral crisis

A version of this piece was first published in the Sun Herald today. See Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker for TORTURE AT ABU GHRAIB, a detailed report into systematic US torture at Saddam�s former prison. Yesterday was the first anniversary of Bush’s “Mission accomplished” decree. On Friday, American time, he defended his statement with these words: “A year ago I did give the speech from the carrier saying we had achieved an important objective, accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein. As a result, there are no longer torture chambers or mass graves or rape rooms in Iraq.” He lied. The US defence force has confirmed that Bush was kept informed of the investigation into the American torture chambers in Iraq – completed in February. Webdiary�s April statistics are at the end of this entry. For an update on the torture scandal, see Is US withdrawal the least worst option?


Yep, time to get out of Iraq

by Margo Kingston

G�day. Time magazine this week interviewed Jumpei Yasuda, one of the Japanese hostages set free by Iraqi kidnappers:

�The man who pointed his gun at me told me he was walking on the sidewalk and was arrested by the G.I.s when he wouldn�t answer their questions. He said he was imprisoned for almost a month and regularly beaten up. One day, he said, he was taken to a private room and sexually assaulted. He asked me what I would have done if I were him, and I had no answer.�

I didn�t believe the man�s story. Now I do. I�ve also reversed my opposition to Mark Latham�s promise to bring our soldiers home by Christmas. The photos released by Sixty Minutes in the US changed my mind (also see thememoryhole and albasrah). The photos record tableaus in a US prison in Iraq. In one, a man cloaked in black, his face covered, stands on small box, electric wires attached to his fingers, toes and genitals, after being told that if he falls off he will be electrocuted. In another, several naked men, garbage bags over their heads, are arranged in a human pyramid. One American soldier stands behind them, arms folded, smiling to camera. A female soldier squats behind them, also smiling.

The photos are deeply disturbing, not just for their sadism, but because they are precisely posed. They are �artistic�, not torture in action, but torture frozen to capture the moment for the camera. Trophy pics. As Juan Cole wrote:

“There was also apparently coerced male on male sexual activity. The genteel mainstream news reports of this scandal (which have given it less attention than it deserves or than it will get in the Arab press) have not commented on the explicitly sexual message sent by the abusers, which is that Iraq is f**ked.”

The decadent American empire now sees itself as the star of its own movie. Remember when it rushed a few troops into Baghdad to show it could win quickly, meaning no one was there to stop the inevitable looting and anarchy when Saddam�s regime collapsed? Remember when George Bush dressed up as a soldier to pronounce �mission accomplished� in May last year? Every non-American is a stage prop for the greater glory of America.

We�re told that those directly involved in recreating the Caligula movie in Baghdad will be court martialled. Yet if you read the very few stories on the matter in the US media, it�s clear that the smiling faces are scapegoats for a US defence force which has lost its way. There was no training for the soldiers on holding prisoners. They were not even given the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners, and were told to get on with it when they queried prisoner abuse. The US even outsourced interrogation to private contractors!

When I wrote about my change of heart on Latham, a couple of readers accused me of being silly. �Surely you must have considered the possibility that, if psychopaths constitute between 1 and 5% of the male population worldwide, then there must logically be a similar percentage of psychopaths in the volunteer US military,� wrote Mike Lyvers.

Matthew Cleary: “That you now think the troops should leave is akin to thinking jails should be abolished because there are instances of prisoner abuse by guards.”

But the photos are the defining visualisation of what�s been becoming clear since Saddam�s statue fell last year. The Americans were unprepared for the task of securing the peace, with defence chiefs failing even to train soldiers on the cultural norms of the Iraqis so they would not needlessly humiliate or insult them. Even worse, the ugly side of being American, the side incapable of empathy with any other culture, let alone respect for it, has eaten alive any chance of nurturing democracy in Iraq.

Recently, a British officer said the US troops saw the Iraqis as �untermenschen�, a term Hitler used to describe Jews, gypsies and other �racially inferior� groups:

“My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They view (the Iraqi people) as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful.�

As one of three nations which invaded Iraq, Australia is responsible for what is happening there. What those pictures show is that it is not possible to �do the job� any more. The war is lost. They longer we stay, the worse it will get, for the world and for the long-suffering Iraqis.

As for the importance of the US alliance, the United States under its present government is a force for evil and perpetual war. Until America elects a leader and an administration which brings out the good side of America and listens to solid, thoughtful advice, we are endangering our security by supporting it.

All the reasons they told us to go to war have fallen apart except the one about giving the Iraqi people freedom and dignity. Now that one is in ruins. What is the job we must do, Mr Howard?

Bring our soldiers home. The longer we stay, the more complicit we are in the war crimes of an empire in moral crisis.


Noel Hadjimichael

The war of images between good and evil has swung against the Americans for the first time. Passionate believers in the benefit of ridding Iraq of the despotic regime, such as myself, are appalled by the image of gun-happy US military tourists treating �lesser breeds� like this. Voters from the mainstream don�t expect unsullied heroes in our military forces. But they do expect self-restraint and common sense judgment. Professionalism is not a luxury but a benchmark standard.



Top ten entries

1. A superpower defeated?, April 10

2. Is it any wonder the Iraqis are resisting?, April 13

3. Media don’t get it on Latham and Iraq, April 1

4. Why the big parties won’t keep Big Media honest, April 29

5. Why is Latham alarming?, April 5

6. Murdoch v the people on Iraq, April 7

7. Few chances left to restore public service integrity, April 14

8. Latham’s troops recall: your say, March 31

9. Andrew Bolt: I did ‘go through’ leaked top secret report by Wilkie, April 30

10. Latham tunes us into Iraq, April 6

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