Alexander Downer is still not reading his briefing notes and faxes. Not
reading any serious written material at all in fact. Either that or he
needs one of those Costello family homilies about the importance of
always telling the truth.

Downer told PM last
night
: “The United States has not
endeavoured to circumvent the Geneva Conventions”, a statement that is repeated,
without a hint of scepticism, in today’s
Age
.

What
ill-informed parallel universe are Downer and the Australian media living in when something so
blatantly false can be uttered, then reported, with a straight face? Torture
debate, anyone? The battle in the US Congress over the McCain
Amendment

to outlaw torture? Which George Bush threatened to veto and then said didn’t
really apply anyway?

This feels like giving a lesson in chewing gum, but
back to basics, remembering that torture of any sort is not allowed under the
Geneva Conventions. This White
House fact sheet
from February
2002 officially announced that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to al-Qaeda
detainees. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Time
magazine Geneva was out of date because of the nature of terrorism.

And
that, according to Larry
Wilkerson
,
former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, was the beginning of a
series of decisions that lead to the abuse and murder in Abu Ghraib.

In
The New YorkerJane
Mayer
has tracked the battle
that general counsel of the United States Navy, Alberto J Mora, waged to stop “a
disastrous and unlawful policy of authorising cruelty toward terror
suspects”.

A document Mayer uncovered is just one of many that form this
complete
guide to torture memos

compiled by The New York Times. Oh look, here’s one, prepared by Bush legal
adviser Professor John Yoo, on how to avoid the
Geneva Conventions
.

And that is
just a taste of the ocean of coverage about abuse, torture, the conventions,
extraordinary rendition, and the use of techniques like “water
boarding”.

The US Supreme Court has just ruled that Common Article Three of
the conventions applies to detainees because the Bush Administration was trying
to get around applying them, as described by Georgetown law professor Martin
Lederman
.

Memo
to news editors everywhere: Must teach journalists to use Google and read more
widely. If Downer says “moon is made of blue cheese”, it is not necessary to
report as fact.

Peter Fray

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