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Aussies dead in drone strikes — and Brandis does not care

The government has no view on whether the killing of two Australians by US drone strikes in Yemen was illegal, inappropriate or concerning, George Brandis reveals.

George Brandis has had a rough time of it since achieving his dream of becoming Attorney-General. He was found out billing taxpayers for attending the wedding of failed shockjock Michael Smith; his apparently inexhaustible taxpayer-funded appetite for books became a running joke in politics; his attempts to amend the Racial Discrimination Act have collapsed in a heap, and according to one report, he even suffered the ignominy of Malcolm Turnbull, a far better and far more successful lawyer than Brandis will ever be, correcting his work in cabinet.

Yesterday much of his time at estimates was given over to laboriously explaining that his portfolio had not cut funding for the royal commission into child sexual abuse in favour of the government’s pink batts witchhhunt, or if it had cut funding it was entirely innocuous and wouldn’t affect the operation of the royal commission, which is likely to be extended.

But last night, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam raised an altogether more serious matter, the killing of two men, Christopher Harvard of Townsville and a New Zealander with Australian citizenship named “Muslim Bin John”, in a US drone strike in Yemen last year.

The killing of two Australian citizens — who were, we were told by anonymous sources, not the targets of the strike, but travelling with the targets — was a matter of complete indifference to the government when it was revealed in April, despite the strike being conducted in apparent breach of the US government’s own code for such attacks. Ludlam took the opportunity of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs estimates hearings to establish how the the government views drone strikes.

… two Australians have been killed and the government has exactly zero interest in their deaths.”

What’s the Australian government’s understanding of the legality under international law of these strikes?” Ludlam asked Brandis. Brandis initially claimed the question was too broad to answer, but then said “nevertheless I’m not aware the Australian government has a view of the legality of these matters”.

Are you comfortable that they’re legal under international law given two Australians were blown away in one of these strikes?” Ludlam continued. Brandis refused to comment, and then said it would be inappropriate to comment. The chief law officer, usually so voluble and so eloquent in his Philosophy I-level musings about the importance of liberty and the efforts of the Left to undermine it, had nothing to offer on the killing of the two men.

You may be of the view that Harvard and “Muslim Bin John” were terrorists, or would-be terrorists, who got what was coming to them — or that they were at best recklessly indifferent to their own safety by being in the company of terrorists. But you don’t know. No one knows, because there was no due process in relation to their killing by a foreign government; indeed, there is no evidence the strike was  conducted in accordance with the Obama administration’s public commitment to only use drone strikes when a target “poses a continuing, imminent threat to US. persons”.

What obligation does a government owe to its citizens? The Australian government ostensibly provides consular support even for Australians convicted of crimes overseas — something that hadn’t happened to these two men. It ostensibly protests to other governments if Australians are subject to inappropriate or illegal actions. It seeks to protect Australians from harm, from other governments or non-government actors, where it can.

But the smirking indifference of the country’s chief law officer, bordering on resentment at even being asked about such matters, reflects a different view, a view that this government couldn’t care less that two Australian citizens were incinerated by the US, couldn’t care less about the lack of due process, the lack of any conviction of the men who were killed. This is a government content to anonymously background journalists that Harvard was “suggested” to have been involved in kidnapping westerners in Yemen, without evidence, as justification for his death.

Perhaps the government has all the evidence it needs that the strike was justified and that Harvard and Bin John were a real threat. It has shown no interest in providing any of that evidence, whereas at least New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was prepared to provide some details about what role New Zealand security agencies had played in relation to Bin John.

But as it stands, two Australians have been killed and the government has exactly zero interest in their deaths, nor does it even have a position — positive, negative, neutral — on whether their killing was legal. Foreign governments are apparently welcome to kill Australians, provided they can explain their deaths away as part of the War on Terror, and this government will be indifferent. And what a malignant indifference it is.

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  • 1
    paddy
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I watched Brandis sneer and pout, as Ludlum asked him about the two Australians who had been killed last night.
    Truly awful stuff. (I really recommend watching the “Ludlam asked Brandis” clip that BK has provided.)
    On so many fronts, this Govt is just trashing Aust’s reputation around the world.
    Deeply depressing.

  • 2
    Pedantic, Balwyn
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Wikipedia defines bigotry as the state of mind of a bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats or views other people with fear, distrust or hatred on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, evaluative orientation, race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics. I guess that explains Brandis’s position, he doesn’t like them so he doesn’t care!he

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Turnbull the Crumb Sweeper”?

    And that “spare” money that Beetle and the Boys redirected to further fund their “Pink Batts Witch-hunt” - in this “financial crisis”, couldn’t that have been better saved, or redirected to more urgent areas than one of their “an anti-Labor exercises”?
    Or put to an inquiry into why his government under Howard took us into Iraq - which cost billions more and how many lives?

  • 4
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    klewso: you’ll have to wait until the Home Insulation Program Royal Commission Report is handed down, before making judgements about its bona fides.

    One of the key outcomes to emerge is the culture of fear among SES public servants at the possibility of disagreeing with their political masters….surely something that should be aired publicly.

    Another is the trashing of the delivery sector of the national insulation industry by the errant stupidity of the Rudd/Gillard governments.

  • 5
    aswann
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the efforts to bring this story into the light B.

  • 6
    fractious
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Bernard. Given what’s been documented here and elsewhere, it’s to know what to even say.

  • 7
    CML
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Good one, Bernard.
    Even if these two men were ‘known’ terrorists, don’t they deserve a charge, an appearance in a court of law and to be found ‘guilty’ before being blown to smithereens.
    We are turning into uncivilised assassins like our great and powerful friends!

  • 8
    A.Blot
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    This sort of behaviour reeks of an affliction among the Federal Liberal ministry, commonly called psychopaths.
    Probably show by the way they crawled to the voters until they achieved their aim and now treat them with distain.

  • 9
    The Old Bill
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Slightly off topic but important to say because of some of the comments:
    Am I the only person to wonder why there is a Pink Batts Inquiry that isn’t looking at the real reason people died. That of course is the failure of our workplace safety laws and construction licensing system. If the people licensed by the States had trained their workers and obeyed their workplace safety requirements, we would still be insulating hand over fist. Not one person seems to have asked the question, who gave these idiots the required builders licenses in the first place?

  • 10
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    You’re not Bill, and those causes are all well and good, but that sort of stuff doesn’t “embarrass Rudd/Labor”.
    Was looking for that sort of “reasoning” in the Limited News Party government’s terms of reference of this commission of embarrassment?

  • 11
    speedo
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    As a follow on from Bill abd klewso, there’s been seven deaths in mining accidents in the last two years. So how come there hasn’t been calls to shut down the mining industry and call a Roysl Commission from these same people?

  • 12
    Altakoi
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I would have thought that however reckless the people installing the bats were, the Government isn’t liable for offering homeowners a rebate to hire them. If you doctor screws up you sue the doctor, not medicare for helping you pay him. Its just not their issue.

  • 13
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Monday, 2 June 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    A point I’ve made several times Altakoi - if I direct my electricians to engage in unsafe behaviour, or to undertake a task they are not trained for, I’m liable for any harm they suffer, not whoever is paying - directly or indirectly - for the work to be carried out.

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