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Tag Archives: human

Why Do We Criminalise Love?

People are in a state of uproar over the notion of two human beings coming together in love, and yet when asked where they stand on Israel/Palestine, the destruction of the habitable biosphere, space travel, virtual reality, the wars in Syria, Yemen, the genocide in West Papua, their expressions and their opinions are suspiciously blank.

Do we only have enough love for one cause? What makes us think the suffering of one party is any different to the suffering of another?

I’m not singling out homosexual love here, I’m talking about all love, it just so happens that homosexuality is a topical battleground on which we’re deciding between whether we want to care genuinely about our fellow man or leave him to wither and die.

If we feel we have to pick and choose what people we extend compassion and care to, I feel we’ve missed the point entirely.

It’s almost like through some long process of dehumanisation, through a gradual shifting of values from human interaction, togetherness and mutual support towards individualism, materialism and greed, we’ve forgotten what’s normal and what’s harmful.

We’re so incredibly quick to shout down love, to marginalise it, to criminalise it.

On the same day we run into a department store and in a roundabout way fund child labour. No one raises an eyebrow. We hear of mass murder and rape, and yet by the evening we have forgotten, and are planning to attend a xenophobic rally against our fellow man, not because of his actions, but because of his race, his country, his religion.

These are the actions of broken people, living confused existences, chasing satisfaction, chasing a solution to the whole “problem” of living, without knowing what it is they genuinely want.

This is not the natural state of the human organism.

When you diminish a human being, when from birth you give them the impression through media, advertising and tacit cultural norms that all they are good for is performing some menial, perfunctory task for a moderate wage, and consuming whatever new flashy toy is made available to them, then one can only expect that person to feel small, powerless, replaceable, unimportant.

I suppose when people feel this way it’s probably deeply unsettling to approach the real issues of our time head on, and so for the sake of comfort and the illusion of security they start shooting at easy targets.

It’s so incredibly important that we awaken to the fact that we are not this deformed, isolated little thing, trapped in a bag of skin, fit for nothing but mindless buying and selling, that in fact written inside each of us is the entire story of mankind, the whole spectrum of emotion and feeling, the totality of what it means to be human.

“Bullshit! All humans are inherently corrupt! Barbarism is the natural state of mankind, only our institutions restrain our more primal urges!”, shout a certain section of the public when told this. They seem fervent and certain.

I can’t say I agree. If this proposition is true, we should see a positive correlation between the strength and scope of authoritarian forms of government and a decline in all of the barbaric, corrupt forms of behaviour.

Funnily enough, the inverse is true.

Can we say that this theory has relation to reality in the light of countless authoritarian and totalitarian regimes which have produced, out of the restraints of their institutions, the most barbarous and corrupt acts?

Also it’s worth asking how you trust yourself to be alone if you genuinely believe this. If your basic nature is aggression, barbarism and so on, then why aren’t you hiring security guards to watch you at home around the clock? I mean, if you really are this terrible thing, how can you be sure you won’t murder your wife or children on a whim? How do you possibly trust yourself to be left to your own devices?

One sees immediately that this way of thinking is unsustainable, and curiously self-defeating. Perhaps it exists as a justification for misanthropy, for a general distrust and fear of ones fellow man.

But again, you are not this fearful, anxious, distant little creature, and nor are the people playing at being it.

It’s all right there, right now, all you need to do is look, quietly, honestly, gently, at what’s happening in the centre of your chest.

Remember who you are. You are not the end product of capitalism, a rat desperately traversing a maze after a non-existent promised cheese. You are not your personality, your goals, your beliefs, your ego. You are not your political party, your dress style, your name, your age, your nationality, your ethnicity.

Go inside. Listen to the process of your own life unfolding.

Remember who you are.

Beyond the Bali 9: Indonesia’s Ongoing Contempt for Human Rights

After ten years of languishing in the Indonesian penal system, Myuran Sukumuran and Andrew Chan have been executed for drug smuggling on Wednesday the 29th of April 2015.

The executions came after months of diplomatic back and forth between Australia and Indonesia, high profile social media campaigns and even weigh-ins from celebrities around the world. Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to go through with the killings is sure to deeply alter the future of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and cause international debate on the legitimacy of the death penalty and the so-called justice systems that administer it.

Hours after the event, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the decision to remove Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, an unprecedented response to the death penalty being carried out on a citizen. It is currently unknown how long the measures will last, according to The Age, senior government sources say that all aspects of the diplomatic relationship are “on the table”.

Australian politicians say that the Australian public should not “boycott” Indonesia and that the relationship between the two countries, although facing a “dark period”, should remain strong in the future.

Tony Abbott made statements today to the effect that he, or perhaps he means “us”, respects the Indonesian system of justice. All well and good. Diplomacy at times like these is, of course, an important consideration to avoid loss of relations, trade, and potential hostilities.

In saying this without qualification, however, we’ve missed our chance to stand up for our national values in a very real sense. Why has the administration not overtly and clearly denounced the death penalty? We can respect the Indonesian system as a sovereign judicial construct, but this does not imply that we must swallow it whole.

There are aspects of Indonesia’s justice system, as there are of our own, that are simply not good enough. The death penalty is one of them. More than half of the world’s countries have now abolished the punishment, and it is counted as a violation of section five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

There is also the issue of Indonesia’s legal hypocrisy when it comes to their treatment of Indonesian nationals facing the death penalty overseas. Their government, under Widodo’s leadership, has launched a formal appeal to acquit an Indonesia domestic worker on death row in Saudi Arabia for murdering her Saudi employer’s wife.

If President Widodo cannot practice universality in his treatment of human beings, we cannot take him seriously as a democratic leader. The rule of law is one of the most important foundations of the modern democratic state, and to skew the process so that some are treated more fairly than others is to hold democracy, and it’s values, in contempt.

His treatment of the issue has been frivolous at best, declining even to read each separate clemency application as he is required to by law.

To uphold the legitimacy of the death penalty is to state that, under certain circumstances, crimes committed are so reprehensible that their perpetrators are beyond redemption and worthless as human beings. For a crime far worse than this, that argument may hold some weight with some of the less astute moral thinkers among us, but if we are to be sensible in our appraisal of these Chan and Sukumuran, we must recognise that trafficking even a drug as dangerous as heroin is no cause for a state to engage in murder.

We must also acknowledge that these two young men were, factually, not beyond redemption. They had spent ten years in the Indonesian prison system, which is more than enough time to rethink the actions that landed them there. And so they did, Chan becoming a pastor with aspirations of starting a family with his new wife, whom he married on Monday this week, and Sukumuran a qualified artist using his talent to draw attention to the human costs of the Indonesian justice system.

The response from the opposition and from the Greens has been more strident in condemnation of the executions, with Christine Milne stating, “Capital punishment must be abolished wherever in the world it is still carried out. We in Australia must continue to advocate for an end to capital punishment and promote human rights around the world, especially in our region.”

Labour leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek condemned the executions in “the strongest possible terms”, in a joint statement today, questioning their commitment to the rule of law and the impact the killings will have on Indonesia’s reputation.

“Indonesia has not just robbed two young men of their lives but robbed itself of two examples of the strengths of its justice system.”

It has also robbed itself of two men who could have served as mentors to Indonesia’s underfunded and mistreated prison population, giving hope to human beings in a situation that is, for all intents and purposes, hopeless.

There is also the burning question of whether the Australian Federal Police’s decision to alert Indonesian authorities prior to the arrests of the Bali nine in 2005 was a responsible one to make. It is public knowledge that Indonesia executes drug smugglers, so the AFP cannot plead ignorance. At best, their actions unintentionally sentenced nine people to face a corrupt and brutal system of justice, at worst, it was calculated and intentional.

In the wake of the executions, it has come to public attention that Justice Minister Michael Keenan had omitted a line from the ministerial direction of the organisation outlining the role of the AFP in matters concerning the death penalty. The line reads as follows: “[the Australian Federal Police should] take account of the government’s longstanding opposition to the application of the death penalty, in performing its international liaison functions.”

This seems to run contrary to Julie Bishop’s comments that the government has sought to uphold the values of Australians. The Foreign Minister criticised the attention given to the removal of the line, stating that the AFP guidelines and the ministerial directive were “completely different documents.”

This seems to me to be missing the point. Any removal of strong words condemning the death penalty from government publications is cause for discussion, and those responsible for the changes should be subjected to questioning from the press and the public.

On the topic of discussion, there has been talk about “redemption” in the media with regards to Sukumuran and Chan, and I think that’s patently absurd to talk about with regards to the situation. They were not murderers or rapists, they were drug traffickers, men who engaged in a form of business we have made illegal.

When a banker is caught laundering money, the word “redemption” is suspiciously absent. When a CEO is caught funnelling money out of his shareholders accounts, again the word is nowhere to be seen. To use it in the context of drug smuggling is to characterise the behaviour as in some way a condition, rather than a decision, and that seems to me to be in no-one’s best interests but those of cheap political commentators.

Many of those commentators have failed to use this disturbing waste of human life to draw attention to the wider humanitarian issues taking place in Indonesia today. While the eyes of the world are on Widodo and the people he governs, it is high time to critically examine the legitimacy of the power structures in Indonesia and the ways in which they affect the some 252 million inhabitants of the nation.

Advocates for human rights have noted Indonesian government actions as a concern. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the Indonesian government on multiple subjects. In it’s 2012 World Report, Human Rights Watch stated that “while senior officials pay lip service to protecting human rights, they seem unwilling to take the steps necessary to ensure compliance by the security forces with international human rights and punishment for those responsible for abuses.”

This contempt for human rights seems to have marred Indonesia since it’s establishment as a democracy. The nations first elected president, Sukarno, employed a form of political control he termed “Guided Democracy”, an oxymoron if there ever was one, and seemed to act as more of a de facto emperor than a democratic leader. After being deposed in a United States-backed military coup on October 1st, 1965, the Indonesian and East Timorese people were subjected to decades of abuse and genocidal murder at the hands of the new kingpin, General Suharto. By most estimates, between 500,000 and a million civilians were murdered, and tens of thousands were detained in concentration camps and prisons.

Journalist Kathy Kadane quoted Robert J. Martens as saying that senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officials provided a list of approximately 5,000 names to the Indonesian Army while it was fighting the Indonesian communist party and its supporters.

One would assume that such violence so close to our own borders would engender strong condemnation from our officials, but the reality is far from it. Internal documents from Australian embassies show that officials were approvingly reporting that army units and Muslim groups were working hand in hand to shoot, hack or club to death at least 1,500 suspected Communist Party sympathisers per day, sometimes parading their heads on sticks.

General Suharto relied heavily on the military to “maintain domestic security”, a synonym for suppressing dissent and quashing resistance to his authoritarian style of governance. By 1969, 70% of Indonesia’s provincial governors and more than half its district chiefs were active military officers. Under these conditions, foreign journalists were murdered for reporting on the abuses taking place, including five Australian men in October 1975.

Corruption in the government was rife during Suharto’s reign, with lucrative government contracts, such as the national toll-expressway market, being awarded to his children. The family is said to control about 36,000 km square of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 square metres of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor.

From 1983-1985, army death squads murdered up to 10,000 suspected criminals in response to a spike in crime rates. Efforts were made to control the freedom of the press by issuing a law that required all media to possess a press operating license, which could be revoked at any time by the Ministry of Information.

While the situation has improved markedly in the years after Suharto’s leadership, conditions are still less than humane for many living in Indonesia, West Papua and East Timor. Many Papuans will be able to recount stories of friends or family members who have been murdered. A study carried out by the University of Sydney claims that the continuation of current practices in West Papua “may pose serious threats to the survival of the indigenous people”.

Torture is not only a reality for Papuans, it is widespread, with significant documentary evidence including “trophy footage” filmed by Indonesian soldiers that depicts extreme abuses being carried out on helpless individuals. Rape and sexual assault has reportedly been used as a weapon by the military and the police forces, with a 1999 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluding that security forces used rape as “an instrument of torture and intimidation” and that “torture of women detained by the Indonesian security forces was widespread.”

There are often limited or no investigation into human rights abuses and if any discipline is handed out it is usually a token gesture, with little effect on the perpetrators of the abuse. West Papua is currently off limits to international journalists, who face deportation, attack or imprisonment if they are discovered. The International Red Cross were expelled from the nation in 2010, and in 2012 Peace Brigades International were also forced to depart.

With all this injustice painfully surrounding the people of Indonesia, we simply cannot stop at a condemnation of the murder of two Australian men at the hands of a corrupt judiciary. If we are to call ourselves a nation that values human rights, where better to demonstrate that valuation than with our closest neighbour?

A clear message needs to be sent to Indonesia by Australian political leaders, that if they are to continue to commit genocidal acts on their citizens, that our economic and political relations will be unable to continue. If Australia garners international support for the movement, there is a good chance that the Indonesian leadership will be forced to comply, and that we can reopen the country to human rights organisations, aid groups and inspectors.

The omission of any mention of the crimes being committed under Widodo’s leadership in the Australian media’s response to the executions of Chan and Sukumuran speaks volumes about our leaders commitment to the goal of ending human rights violations in Indonesia. It is our responsibility as citizens of a somewhat functioning democracy to take action, to raise awareness and to push our elected officials to take a stand in our name against torture, rape, murder and genocide.

It is the least we can do.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

 

The Maintenance of Madness: How Australia Funded a Warlord in Afghanistan

The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.

The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.

Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.

“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.

Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:

“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”

ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.

The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.

Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”

It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.


Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”

Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.

In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.

Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.

Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.

From the Pakistani Daily Times:

“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.

The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.

WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.

Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”

From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:

“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.

The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The remaining 75 were knifed to death.

Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””

In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.

From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:

“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”

These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.

Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.

Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.

In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.


One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.

The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.

We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

Choosing to Lie About Indigenous Australia: Why Tony Abbott Should Do More Than Just Apologize

Tony Abbott has, yet again, demonstrated his appalling lack of knowledge on even the most basic aspects of our society with comments made last week that claimed the problems Aboriginal people face are a result of “poor lifestyle choices”.

The irony of a rich, Catholic white male lecturing a people who have routinely been consciously disadvantaged by government after government after government in this country is palpable.

Anglo-saxon relationships with the indigenous people of Australia have been consistently poor, to understate the matter, since our cultures first crossed paths. The response of our “noble forefathers” to the presence of what they considered to be savages was to engage in mass killing, in genocide, to allow easier access to the land and it’s resources.

There are no Tasmanian aborigines left with 100% aboriginal genes.

Just think about that for a moment.

Imagine what it must be like to know that from an indigenous perspective, to understand that the white man has since the beginning been a force of slaughter, of death, of discord to your people.

Imagine then what it must feel like to hear one of these white men telling the nation he leads that it is the fault of the Aboriginal people that their living conditions rank among the worst in the developed world, that white police officers murder them in custody, that mining magnates such as Lang Hancock, Gina Rinehart’s father, have proposed they be sterilised.

In short, Tony Abbott is blaming the victims, and he’s not apologising for it.

“I’m not going to concede that. I accept people have a right to be critical of me, but I’m certainly not going to concede that.”

This statement made by the prime minister in response to journalists remarking that his framing of indigenous living conditions as a choice may have been a poor choice of words, demonstrates that this monkey in a suit has even less understanding of the situation than he does empathy towards it.

Was it a “lifestyle choice” that resulted in children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being forcibly removed from their families for over a century?

Does the prime minister believe that these human beings are choosing to live seventeen years less than non-Aboriginal Australians?

This behaviour, from the man who is supposed to represent Australia on the world stage, is despicable. It alone is reason enough to oust Gina Rinehart’s praetorian guardsman and ensure he never holds a position of power in this country again.

For those wanting to learn more about Aboriginal Australia and the horrifying disparity between indigenous people and the rest of the populace, head on over to youtube and watch John Pilger’s excellent film, Utopia.

You can find it here.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

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