Gillard and Abbott and Afghanistan:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Re. “Abbott flies over Afghanistan but the real problem is back home” (yesterday, item 1). Recent comment on the charging of two soldiers and an officer over a battlefield accident in Afghanistan seem based on mistaken assumptions as to the circumstances, operational context and laws applying. Fears that such charges might now mean a lawyer crouching beside every digger are also generally unfounded.

The publicly-known circumstances of this accident, and the resultant charges, are quite specific to this incident. Any added application to wider combat seems minimal to nil because every digger, in every war Australia has fought, has had limits imposed on their use of lethal force in combat (chiefly by the Laws of Armed Conflict based on the Hague and Geneva Conventions).

That this was a battlefield accident is undisputed by all except Taliban propaganda but, at the very least, four non-combatant children and a youth protected by the 4th Geneva Convention were accidentally killed by the ADF.

The investigation and accountability processes of a defence force deployed by a democracy ruled by law necessarily kicked in. Otherwise we are no different to the Taliban, the SS or the Japanese in World War II.

Key facts as to how the accident occurred, and whether reckless or negligent failure to comply with rules-of-engagement or other command orders contributed, will be tested in court not on letters pages, blogs or talkback radio. Otherwise, as for previous wars, the sensationalist wing of our media, and political extremists, will make scurrilous allegations about supposed ADF war crimes or atrocities forever.

Fortunately for those charged, they will at least be tried by court martial where their guilt or innocence and any punishment, including any mitigating circumstances, will be decided by professional peers who understand the operational difficulties and moral nuances of combat. Unlike in the new Military Court of Australia as set out in the seriously flawed bill before parliament.

In the MCA serious offences that would mean a jury trial for any Australian civilian would be heard by a federal court judge sitting alone, with no jury or court martial board, and with no requirement for the judge to have experience of military service or war beyond a vaguely defined “knowledge of the ADF”.

Current controversy over the charged commandos further emphasises the conceptual flaws and civil liberties outrages posed by the imposition of the MCA on our nation’s defence force by out-of-touch politicians, arrogant civilian lawyers and a previously apathetic populace.

Peter Rosier writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 9). Sorry to see that Richard Farmer has gone all squeamish about Julia Gillard’s advice that Tony Abbott had been invited to Afghanistan.

At one level, at least, it’s no part of the role of Opposition Leader to travel to a Conservative Party conference in the UK, but very much part of his job to visit troops in the field.   That’s sauce for the goose stuff.  Then Gillard should, as Prime Minister, take note of the less kind, harsher polity that is Abbott’s gift to the nation — and deal in kind.

Notably, without blinking or any obvious facial twitch, Abbott excused his junket with the line that he was going to learn how to deal with the profligate debt of a Labo(u)r government.

Labor let him get away with way, way too much during the last six months and they’re right not to let him climb onto another bloody slogan now.


Will Fettes writes: Re. “What do we do with Barack Obama?” (Monday, item 12). Given the hundreds of possible permutations of interesting, thoughtful things that can be written about Barack Obama’s current political travails, I’m somewhat perplexed that Crikey chose to publish Michael Wolff’s utterly generic and substance free piece yesterday.

Rather than actually examine the Democrat’s current political situation with any depth or sophistication, with its fascinating mixture of legislative and messaging successes and failures, we get a standard reheating of such tired themes as the president as a blank slate and messianic shortfall redux. But to add insult to injury, the article didn’t even offer a scintilla of substantiating evidence for its thesis that Obama was fundamentally misunderstood.

To be a little more constructive, here are some suggestions for substantive topics about Obama.

How about discussing Obama’s domestic troubles in contrast to his persistent international popularity? Or what about the specifics of the Left’s disillusionment with Obama — such as his propensity to invoke state secrecy privileges, and his continuation with many other aspects of the war on terror framework? How do his actions as President square up against his strong campaigning as a candidate against torture, closing Guantanamo Bay and the growth of the national security state?

Or what about how his attempts in office to implement his promise for a new type of polity, through a conciliatory bipartisan approach, has worked at cross-purposes with his ability to score goals in an highly obstructionist Congress and keep forward momentum with the public?

For example, this overly-conciliatory approach certainly seemed to have left the Administration with no clearly defined enemy in terms of the insurance companies, and Obama allowed his entire healthcare agenda to stall for months at a crucial time just to allow Chuck Grassley to futilely court Chuck Grassley on the Senate Finance Committee.

Obama hoped to be a transformative president like FDR, but FDR would never have been so naïve about the absence of good politics from good governance. These are just a fraction of the topics that are worth discussing about Obama.


Guy Rundle writes: Wil Stracke (yesterday, comments) makes a couple of points in relation to my pieces on voluntary euthanasia which require a response. He compares his brother’s suicide, which by his account was unrelated to physical illness, and voluntary euthanasia, and concludes they’re different things. They are in some ways, but VE is clearly a form of assisted suicide. The fact that, even were it legalised it would not be extended to people who simply wanted to end their existence, doesn’t change that fact.

As to death being a powerful erotic force, I would suggest that that’s undeniable, even if most dying isn’t. From crucifixion art to Marilyn Manson, Santa Muerte to Romeo and Juliet, and a thousand points in between, death is intertwined with desire in ways that quickly go beyond the rational. Life cults — such as Christianity or Marxism, to give two examples — can pretty quickly flip over into death cults, and I’m not certain the VE movement would be immune from that.

As to being patronising towards the terminally ill — well, how would that work? It’s a situation many of us will find ourselves in. I’m suggesting that we all exist within a web of different personal and power relationships, and the notion of an “individual decision” is something of a fiction.

So we better look at the context within which decisions are made.

Rumours et al:

Kym Smith writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). Crikey published:

“The minister and his staffer. Yes, we’ve heard the numerous rumours about the federal cabinet minister having an extra-marital affair with a staffer. Yes, we’ve heard the arguments that they are in a “compromising position” in relation to their ministerial duties. We’re not convinced. And until there’s evidence to suggest their role as a government minister is compromised by what is essentially a private matter, we won’t be naming them.”

Keep up the good work, in  not spreading rumours about extra-marital affairs. You guys are the only light in a dimming world of dumb down media regurgitation…

Stephen Duckett writes: I’m glad you’re not naming whoever it is, unless you plan to report all rumours of such events in which case a separate edition may be in order and a couple of full time reporters might be required.

Anti-climatic television:

Terry J Mills writes: Re. “Last night’s TV ratings” (yesterday, item 15). Glenn Dyer finds the Channel Ten coverage of the Commonwealth Games to be anti-climatic. Is this a pun referring to the prolonged monsoon and flooding in India or did he mean anti-climactic.

Peter Fray

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