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Criminalising Journalism: Australia’s National Security Craze

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Criminalising Journalism: Australia’s National Security Craze

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Submitted by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

There has been a lot of noise made in Australia about the need for broader protections when it comes to the fourth estate and the way it covers national security matters.  In a country lacking a backbone in terms of constitutional free speech, journalists are left at the mercy of authorities when it comes to exposing egregious abuses of power.  Consider, for instance, the exposure of war crimes committed by Australian forces via what has come to be known as the Afghan Files.

As Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, the two ABC journalists involved in putting together the file material wrote in July 2017, “Hundreds of pages of secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC give an unprecedented insight into the clandestine operations in Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children.”

The material, published in seven parts, should not surprise students of war.  In the brutality of the Afghan conflict, the killing of civilians became a casual, cruel matter.  In September 2013, a man and his six-year-old child were killed during the raid on a house.  This incident, along with another involving the killing of a detainee who had allegedly attempted to seize the weapon of an Australian soldier whilst in his custody, formed part of an investigation by the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force.

In 2013, an Afghan man was slain by Australian troops while riding his motorcycle.  The female passenger was injured.  The report in question noted the increasingly parlous state of Afghan-Australian relations in light of such incidents, involving the wanton killing of civilians by special forces.  Much of this stemmed from the sloppiness of Australian military protocol on the battlefield, shown to be hopelessly, and lethally inadequate.  There nomenklatura of the defence establishment spoke to the need of only targeting Afghans “directly participating in hostilities”, a distinction that was lazily made if and when it was made at all.

These are but a few highlights that this cache of files revealed.  But at the core of these revelations was a failed pseudo-colonial mission that was ignoble, misguided and, for all the fanfare of salvation, a dismal failure.  It did little in terms of shoring up either Australian security or those of the Afghan population.  It failed in defeating the insurgent Taliban forces.  It had taken place on impulse, to assist a grieving US still licking its wounds after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  As with other empires, Afghanistan was reaffirmed as a graveyard for failed powers.  The Taliban, far from being defeated, showed their resoluteness and staying power.

The exposure of such defence documents should have sent policy makers and reformers into the corridors of the ADF.  Oakes and Clark deserved, at the very least, a modest acknowledgment of merit.  Instead, they and the ABC attracted the keen eye of the Australian Federal Police.  On June 5, 2019, AFP officers swanned in and cheerfully raided the offices of the national broadcaster in Sydney.  The home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst was also raided for reporting on a separate matter touching on a proposed expansion of surveillance powers held by the Australian Signals Directorate. Both raids were motivated by alleged breaches of official secrecy under the old version of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

These furnished the Australian public a chilling spectacle, and did something nothing else could have done: bring unity to a fractious field.  Journalists from Fairfax, News Corp and The Guardian Australia chorused in concern and consternation.  The Right to Know campaign was born, though remains, to date, an incipient venture.  In the words of the coalition, “You have a right to know what the government you elect are doing in your name.  But in Australia today, the media is prevented from informing you, people who speak out are penalised and journalism that shines a light on matters you deserve to know about is criminalised.”

The reason why the campaign has failed to yield rewards can be gathered by the continued investigation of Oakes and Clark and the mixed results of the campaign in the courts.  The ABC failed to invalidate the warrants executed to search their Sydney offices, with Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham issuing a pointed reminder in February that the implied constitutional right to political subjects is not a personal right but one designed to restrict power.

Smethurst and News Corp did modestly better in the High Court on April 15, but only in terms of result.  In invalidating the search AFP search warrant, the judges found against the police purely on the basis of vague drafting.  The warrant in question failed “to identify any offence under section 79(3)[of the Crimes Act]” and substantially misstated “the nature of an offence arising under it.”  Had the warrant been prescribed with greater clarity, they would still have stood as valid exercises of state power.  Smethurst and her colleagues probably kept the champagne on ice.

In September 2019, Attorney-General Christian Porter issued a direction under the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Act requiring the Director of Public Prosecutions to seek the approval of the AG in instances where a journalist is to be prosecuted.  When it was issued, weak pronouncements were made that this was a warning to the AFP not to pursue the scribblers of the fourth estate.  Porter brandished his credentials as a democrat, arguing that a free press was significant “as a principle of democracy”.  Given Porter’s insistence on prosecuting former ASIS officer Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, for exposing a blatant wrong against a friendly country, such credentials can be dismissed as surplus baubles.

Little wonder, then, that the AFP has now confirmed submitting a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, acting on the July 11, 2017 referral received from the Chief of the Defence Force and then acting-secretary of defence.  Charges are recommended.  Oddly enough, the police have decided to single out Oakes and spare Clark.  Power, in the absence of restraint, is coldly arbitrary.

The final say on whether such charges will be laid resides with Porter, and we have every reason to be troubled by a discretion that is executive, political and non-judicial.  Oakes sees the higher principle at stake.  “Whether or not we are ever charged or convicted over our stories, the most important thing is that those who broke our laws and the laws of armed conflict are held to account.”

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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Brian Michael Bo Pedersen

Wrong picture South Front.
I dont think that Australia would like to be without beaches.

Bobby Twoshoes

The story is about the persecution of journalists reporting on ADF war crimes in Afghanistan.

Brian Michael Bo Pedersen

Thanks for the info, it just seems like one of those “Daily updates” map and not specific for the article.

Veritas Vincit

The greater war crime was the false pretext employed by the US and its involved coalition members in pursuing ‘regime change’ in Afghanistan. In reality, the regime change plan preceded the events of September 11, 2001 as revealed by various reports:

‘Plans for offensive operations against Afghanistan prepared before the events on 9/11/2001- Al Qaeda monitored pipeline negotiations, attack followed’

– “It was at the July meeting…. [Ambassador] Tom Simons suggested that Afghanistan could face an open-ended military operation….. if it didn’t accede to U.S. demands. “Ambassador Simons stated that if the Taliban wouldn’t agree with the plan [relating to the proposed strategic Trans-Afghanistan pipeline], and if Pakistan was unable to persuade them, the United States might use an overt action against Afghanistan….. The words used by Simons were “a military operation”…. Another participant reportedly said the Taliban’s choice was clear: either accept a “carpet of gold” riches from the pipeline or “a carpet of bombs,” meaning a military strike…. [Ambassador Tom Simons] confirms that only a few weeks before Sept. 11, American diplomats warned of military action against Afghanistan if its leaders did not meet U.S. economic and political demands.” (Al-Qaida monitored U.S. negotiations with Taliban over oil pipeline, A memo by military chief Mohammed Atef raises new questions about whether failed U.S. efforts to reform Afghanistan’s radical regime — and build the pipeline — set the stage for Sept. 11., 05/06/2002)

– “The NSPD [National Security Presidential Directive] called on the Secretary of Defense to plan for military options against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control, air and air defense, ground forces, and logistics. [It was presented for decision by principals on September 4, 2001, 7 days before September 11th.] (NSPD-9: Combating Terrorism, October 25, 2001)

– “In June 2001, an announcement was made by US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, that the US would give the Taliban government of Afghanistan a gift of $43 million, “which made the United States the main sponsor of the Taliban.” In 1997, Halliburton, with Dick Cheney as its CEO, secured a contract in Turkmenistan for exploration and drilling in the Caspian Sea basin…. In the summer of 2001, the Taliban were leaked information from top secret meetings that the Bush regime was planning to launch a military operation against the Taliban in July to replace the government. A US military contingency plan existed on paper to attack Afghanistan from the north by the end of the summer.

A former Pakistani diplomat told the BBC that the US was planning military action against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban before the 9/11 attacks. Niaz Naik, former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, “was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October.” Conclusion: The war on Afghanistan was launched on October 7, 2001. An operation of this size could not be planned and executed within three weeks, as we are led to believe. The plans and preparations were in place in the year leading up to the invasion….. The result of this war on Afghanistan is that Afghanistan’s new President is Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal adviser, opium production reaches record level every single year, and as of April 2008, a US-sponsored pipeline agreement was signed with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and may have Canadian forces in Afghanistan guarding the pipeline route. Mission Accomplished. (Origins of Afghan War, Andrew G. Marshall, Geopoliticalmonitor, September 14, 2008)

– “the decision to invade Afghanistan was made in mid 2001, long before the alleged excuse of the events of 11 September 2001 (“9/11”). A major factor influencing the American decision to invade Afghanistan was the decision by the then Taleban government to award the contract for the transport of oil and gas from the Caspian Basin nations via Afghanistan to the Argentinian company, Bridas Corporation. One of the first acts of the US after the Afghanistan invasion was to cancel the Bridas contract. That company later successfully sued the United States government for the breach of its contract, a fact that for obvious reasons went almost completely unreported in the western mainstream media….. A second factor, again ignored by the Washington Post, is geography. Look at a map and the motives for the American action immediately become apparent. Afghanistan shares a border with multiple countries, including the United States’ long-term adversaries such as Iran and China.

The other factor that the Washington Post articles studiously ignores is the role of Afghanistan as the supplier of more than 90% of the world’s heroin. That industry was devastated in the period of Taliban rule, but was immediately resurrected following the United States invasion of Afghanistan. United States planes are used to fly in the chemicals needed to refine opium into heroin, and United States planes are used to fly out the refined product for worldwide distribution.

Again, the facts are well documented, but the Washington Post, along with most of the western media, while noting Afghanistan’s central role in the world heroin supplies, studiously ignored inconvenient facts such as the above distribution network, or the active role of United States troops, and those of their allies in protecting opium production. None of this should be a surprise as the basic facts have been well documented in official United Nations reports for many years….. As is so often the case, it is what one is not told that is frequently more important than the limited information that is provided.” (Washington Post Revelations Only Part of the Story, James ONeill (an Australian-based Barrister at Law), New Eastern Outlook, 15/12/2019)

Veritas Vincit

– “The US$8 billion,1,814-kilometer Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) was officially inaugurated on Friday, in full pomp, and with proceedings broadcast live on Afghan TV, on the Turkmen-Afghan border close to Herat. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani hosted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar. Assuming there are no major glitches – and that’s a major “if” – TAPI should, in theory, be finished by 2020. So far, though, endless deadlines have come and gone.

TAPI simply cannot exist without Taliban approval. According to a statement by Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi, “the Islamic Emirate views this project as an important element of the country’s economic infrastructure and believes its proper implementation will benefit the Afghan people. We announce our cooperation in providing security for the project in areas under our control.” Another Taliban faction, led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool, also let it be known, via spokesman Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, that, “we will not allow any group or state to disrupt this project.”

All of the above is code for the Taliban getting their cut – which happens to have been the key point of contention ever since the first Clinton administration decided the then rulers of Afghanistan were worth doing business with. So when spokesman Ahmadi claims TAPI was initially planned when the Taliban were in power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001, he’s correct. The Taliban were wined and dined in Houston in 1997, as I reported for Asia Times, but nothing came out of it. The haggling was all about transit fees.” (Afghanistan ready to play connector role in Eurasian integration, by Pepe Escobar, February 27, 2018)

– “Khalilzad was a consultant for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, which conducting risk analysis for Unocal, now part of Chevron, for a proposed [1400 km, $2 billion] Trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline project which would have extended from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and further proceeding to Pakistan. He acted as a special liaison between UNOCAL and the Taliban regime.” (Wikipedia: Zalmay Khalilzad)

D Cheney formerly CEO of Halliburton had meetings with numerous oil company executives regarding potential lucrative contracts in relation to Central Asian resources. When negotiations with the Taliban failed he advocated military intervention (‘regime change’) and after the invasion authorised uncontested contracts in Afghanistan.

The invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan relates to resources/resource distribution routes (commercial objectives), establishing a permanent military presence (strategic objectives) and efforts to install a client regime (political engineering). US actions are consistent with behaviour associated with organised crime.

– “Just as the Bosnian conflict was part of an effort to secure the Balkan states for an oil and gas pipeline to the European energy market, so the US is seeking secure passage for a pipeline through Afghanistan to feed the Asian energy markets and the US itself.” (The Bush Administration’s Afghan Carpet, Players on a rigged grand chessboard: Bridas, Unocal and the Afghanistan pipeline, Online Journal, 10 March 2002)

Recognising the unchanging US objective of securing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline (TAPI) and recently with focus on exploiting extensive resources including rare earth metals [1-2], it is unlikely the US will abandon its objectives within Afghanistan (that involve the political engineering of increasingly aligned governing bodies to facilitate commercial exploitation and military bloc expansion/occupation. Other unfolding situations will however in time end the criminality of the US-NATO-Israel-allied bloc that has embraced aggressive militarism to pursue political, commercial and strategic objectives. Indeed the many globally expanding wars of aggression of this bloc are gradually progressing towards one.

1. “Afghanistan has “world-class mineral resources” including rare-earth elements, gold, iron and copper, the U.S. Geological Survey said today…. Clinton made her comments at a meeting with 30 of her international counterparts on a “New Silk Road” initiative during the United Nations General Assembly last week. The initiative aims to encourage investment and create new economic and transit connections within the region.” (Afghanistan Has ‘World-Class’ Mineral Resources, U.S. Says
Bloomberg Businessweek, By Nicole Gaouette, September 29, 2011)

2. “As US President Donald Trump prepares to announce his administration’s strategy for the stalemate in Afghanistan later on Monday, the South Asian country’s $3 trillion wealth of natural resources has taken the center of attention. While the US Department of Defense’s estimates have put Afghanistan’s untapped wealth of gold, copper, uranium and other rare-earth minerals at well around $1 trillion, Afghan officials’ latest geological studies hint at figures three times larger.

The number can probably explain Washington’s willingness to continue the war in Afghanistan….. Interestingly, Trump has been receiving informal advice on Afghanistan from his billionaire friend Andy Feinberg, who owns major US military contractor DynCorp. The company has been operating in Afghanistan since 2003 and is believed to play a role in securing the country’s mines, according to the New York Times. (Trump eying stake in Afghanistan’s $3tn natural resources, PressTV, Aug 21, 2017)

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