How legally unprepared was Australia for invading Afghanistan?

According to new evidence, clearly deeply. Of course, we’ve seen countless examples in the US of senior government officials escaping any kind of punishment; it’s all about targeting individuals low down the food chain. When a so-called democracy refuses to take responsibility for illegal actions in war, little stops future leaders doing exactly the same thing. Besides, there are masses of evidence of occupation forces serially abusing prisoners in the “war on terror”:

Australia went to war in Afghanistan without a clear policy on how to deal with enemy detainees, secret papers reveal.

When a policy was adopted, the then chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, expressed reservations about the legality of the agreed approach.

The documents also show another former Defence Force chief, General Peter Cosgrove, informed the Howard government of the death of an Iranian man captured by Australian troops in 2003, but the Australian public was never told.

The papers, obtained under freedom of information laws by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and made available to the ABC, reveal utter confusion at the highest levels of the Howard government and the Department of Defence over how to deal with enemy detainees.

On February 25, 2002, as Australian troops fought in Afghanistan, Admiral Barrie wrote to then defence minister Robert Hill complaining his commanders were being put at risk.

“There is currently no clear government policy on the handling of personnel who may be captured by the ADF … Defence and in particular ADF commanders are currently accepting the risk flowing from the lack of government policy,” he wrote.

Admiral Barrie proposed a set of interim arrangements, such as asking for American help to move captives from where the Australians were in Kandahar to a US detention facility, where an ADF team could supervise any prisoners captured by Australians.

Robert Hill gave permission for Admiral Barrie to negotiate with the United States and added a series of handwritten comments at the end of Admiral Barrie’s missive.

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get this brief before the Afghanistan operation,” he wrote. “We clearly should have sorted out this issue with the US as leader of the coalition months ago.”

What emerged from the negotiations became Australia’s detention policy in Afghanistan and Iraq: that if even a single American soldier was present when Australian forces captured enemy fighters, the US and not Australia would be recognised as the “detaining power”.

In a paragraph with words redacted, Admiral Barrie expressed reservations about the legality of this approach.

“Such an arrangement may not fully satisfy Australia’s legal obligations and in any event will not be viewed as promoting a respect for the rule of law,” he concluded.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

Site by Common