31 Jan. 2007

So there's this Iraqi guy, Muhammad Faisal, and he flees his country and seeks refuge in Australia. But the Australian government locks him up in a foreign gulag detention centre for over five years, calling him a threat to national security, without any evidence to back up their claims, and the compliant media barely touches the story.

Faisal ends up trying to kill himself and is transferred to a psychiatric unit, where a psychotic Vietnam War vet tries to make his life even more hellish.

Then, after five years of detention, ASIO suddenly decides that Mo Faisal is actually not a threat at all. And it's the WMD defence all over again for the Howard government:
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock denied ASIO made a mistake in its original assessments.
"They made a decision on the basis of information that was before them at the time," he said.
So here's my questions:

1. What changed? Why was Faisal originally deemed a security threat? Show us the "intelligence". Did ASIO have his name on a list and not realize that there are a few million people on this planet called Muhammad Faisal? Was this all part of the "children overboard" cover-up? Or was the government just scared that this case could have triggered a massive wave of refugees from a country that we had just invaded?

2. How much taxpayer money has the Australian government wasted on Faisal's detention and legal costs?

3. Why is a fellow detainee, Mohammed Sagar, now being given sanctuary in Sweden rather than coming into Australia?

Let me just add this, a measure of the man in question and surely a lesson for us all:
[Faisal] says he bears no ill will at all to those responsible for the policy or the decisions that reduced him to a suicidal mess.

"I am not angry. I just feel tired," he says.

His greatest joy is that he could finally tell his parents, who remain in Baghdad, the truth about his situation. In the 18 months since he was first deemed a security risk by ASIO, he says he has felt compelled to lie to stop them worrying about him.

Maintaining the pretence that he was free and happy and doing well in Australia when he was at his lowest ebb was, he maintains, the hardest part of living in limbo.

30 Jan. 2007

NOW They Tell Us

The CSIRO says soaring temperatures are 'unstoppable':
The CSIRO expects Sydney's maximum temperatures to rise 1.6 degrees by 2030 and 4.8 degrees by 2070.

Average rainfall will decrease by 40 per cent and water evaporation rates will jump 24 per cent by 2040 under the scorching conditions.

By 2050, annual heat-related deaths of people over 65 will increase almost eight times from 176 to 1312...

"What's important for people to understand is that this is not simply a lot of hand waving. There's quite a bit of scientific research and effort both within Australia and internationally that goes into producing these estimates," Dr Preston told ABC Radio.

"And the problem there is that future climate change is already built into the system.

"So the warming we've been experiencing in recent years is really a function of greenhouse gases we emitted a few decades ago...

"Reducing emissions over the next couple of years isn't going to prevent any sort of climate catastrophe from occurring over the near term."
Now, ask yourself who is responsible for that? Who has been actively colluding to deny and suppress reports of climate change for a decade? Who has been sucking up to big US corporations that have spent millions on disinformation campaigns?

Kevin Rudd, please take note. This coming election is un-lose-able. Be bold.
"Get Me Out Of Here"

David Hicks writes a letter explaining why he did not want to see an unnamed Australian official who arrived at Guantanamo unannounced this morning:
"I don't want to see you," Hicks wrote in the letter to the visiting Australian official.

"I am afraid to speak to you."

Hicks, who also wrote he is "not well", then detailed in the letter how he had been punished previously for speaking to Australian embassy officials.

The Adelaide man also alleges an American recently impersonated an Australian official.

"Only last week an American impersonated an Australian embassy official by claiming he was 'from the Australian embassy in Washington'," Hicks wrote.

"This deteriorates my trust even further.

"In the past I have been punished for speaking to you.

"I am not well, I am not OK and yet you have not done anything for me and the Australian Government keeps saying I'm fine and in an acceptable situation.

"To speak with you and tell you the truth and reality of my situation 'once again' would only risk further punishments.

"You are not here for me but on behalf of the Australian Government who are leaving me here.

"If you want to do something for me then get me out of here."
Lord Downer's response:
If there's fresh information that somebody can bring forward, rather than a sort of Labor Party rant about being mean to al-Qaeda ... then we're obviously happy to investigate it.

29 Jan. 2007

The Big Dick Is Coming!!! The Big Dick Is Coming!!!

US vice president to visit Australia:
A statement issued by the White House said Mr Cheney would travel to Australia and Japan during the week starting February 19.

"He will meet with (Japanese) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and (Australian) Prime Minister John Howard to discuss issues of mutual interest including Asian security and the global war on terror," it said.

US President George W Bush had asked his vice president to visit the two allied nations to thank them for their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This comes as Cheney shares his thoughts on religion:
"Let's say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican," Cheney said. "But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."
... and responds to personal criticism from former staffers:
"Well, I'm vice president and they're not."
The first thing you should know about Gerard Henderson, executive director of the Sydney Institute, is that he is an unapologetically rabid apologist for the Howard government. But even by his own low standards, his article in the SMH today, Hicks makes a case against himself, is appalling.

Why oh why does the media give such people column space? Do the people who finance Henderson’s position at the Sydney Institute also pay Fairfax to run such nonsense? This is not journalism, it’s not even an opinion piece: it is just gutter politics of the worst kind.

Henderson’s basic argument is that Hick’s would not be getting so much public sympathy if the Australian people only knew what a bad, bad man he is. He shows no concern for Hicks, or for the rule of law and the extraordinary precedents set by the Hicks case. All that matters to Henderson is the political spin game.

Aussie Bob has more.
Further to that apology on Google Earth:
The high-resolution images were to be added in about four to six weeks' time to the popular online mapping service Google Maps.

But the flight plan was hastily changed on Friday morning after Sydney air traffic control denied the twin-engine Aero Commander permission to fly over parks and beaches in inner Sydney and the east due to air safety concerns.

28 Jan. 2007

Decent IR Laws Impossible, says Howard

Howard says the work of a real government is just too bloody hard:
"It's true that the company behaved very badly, but no industrial law will force people to do what you and I understand to be the right thing if they're not minded to do so...

"How can you write a law that says a company must do the right thing?" he said.

"There could be another case and you would need to couch the law in such very general terms as to allow for every combination and permutation.

"It will cause us to look at the law and I just want to signal that's not the easiest thing in the world to write a generic new rule that will cover every conceivable situation."
John Howard Raped And Killed My Grandmother!

Howard on Hicks today:
"I'm not happy at the time that has gone by.

"I do not accept that he can be held indefinitely without trial, whatever view I may have about the alleged offences with which he is charged." ...

Mr Howard defended Australia's decision not to ask the US to return Hicks to Australia, like Britain had done with its citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay.

"We took the view that somebody who was charged with the offences that Hicks was charged with, knowing as we did that he could not be charged with any offence under Australian law because they were not crimes under Australian law when he allegedly committed them ... we took a view that it was reasonable that he face a military commission in the United States, he said."

On talkback radio, Mr Howard rejected criticism from a listener that the government was being a lapdog to the US by allowing Hicks to be held so long.

"There are a lot of Australians who think a close and strong alliance between Australia and the United States will be as important to our future security as it proved to be critically in the past," he said.

"I don't think we're sacrificing Australians - I think what we're doing is trying to strike a very difficult balance, on the one hand our detestation of the alleged offences and also our proper desire to ensure that no one is held indefinitely without trial."
If Hicks has been held for over five years without a proper trial, it is largely the fault of the Howard government which, unlike the UK and other governments, has never even requested (let alone demanded) the release of its citizens from Gitmo.

The UK model makes it pretty clear that the USA would have been happy to send Hicks home to Australia if asked: indeed, US authorities have all but begged (between the lines, in diplomatic-speak) for foreign countries to take their citizens home.

Howard's comments today make it pretty clear that Hick's detention has continued for one reason only: because Howard has already decided that Hicks is guilty. So Howard verbally "balances" his new-found concern for the rule of law against "whatever view I may have about the alleged offences with which he is charged" and "our detestation of the alleged offences".

Mr Howard, it really doesn't matter what you think of David Hicks and his "alleged offences". It doesn't matter what we, the Australian public think of them. What matters is what a judge thinks of them, when they are fairly presented to him in a proper court of law.

If I claim that John Howard raped and killed my grandmother, of course everybody but the most depraved deviants in our society would abhor the "alleged offences". Whether these "alleged offences" are true or not is another matter entirely.

However, if simply alleging such offences is enough to get John Howard thrown into some hellish foreign gulag for half a decade or more, I am prepared to stand by my claims.

24 Jan. 2007

Ordinary Australian People Try To Say Sorry

An excellent idea via Larvatus Prodeo:
Hi there.

You may have heard that Google intends to take high resolution photos of Sydney on Australia Day as part of its Google Earth project. (Google Earth Events: Australia Day 2007)

We think it’s a great opportunity for a bit of activism.

We’ll be chalking up the word “Sorry” in a bunch of places that are clearly visible from Google’s plane. Given our record on Aboriginal human rights, Iraq, Kyoto, East Timor’s Oil, &c. we have plenty to apologise for.

22 Jan. 2007

Bye, Bye, Amanda

Vanstone to take time to consider future:


UPDATE: Dismissing rumours that she could become ambassador to Paris or London (was that tongue-in-cheek journo humour?), Mandy says she might become the Big Momma of talkback radio:
"I think you guys (talk radio hosts) play a much more active role in the political debate than many people recognise," Senator Vanstone told ABC Radio.

"I have thought for a long time that ... (talk radio hosts) are real players because who you let on your program, whether you let them speak, how you respond to that - all of that has an impact on what the public thinks.

"So you guys are, in fact, in politics. You just don't have to have any responsibility.

"So I don't rule out being interested in that at all.

"It might be great to influence the political landscape and have no responsibility. In fact, I think I am warming to it."
Ah, savour the bitter sarcasm, folks. Coded message: it's all the media's fault.
Murdoch is disassociating his papers from the war. Darryl Mason explains why:
Here’s a quick look at the Newspoll results per Hicks and Iraq :

62% of Australians Oppose John Howard’s “handling of the conflict”.

71% said the ‘War On Iraq’ will affect the way they vote.

56% don’t like how their government has treated David Hicks, and less than 3 out of 10 Australians now support Howard on this issue.

47% of Australians said that what happens to David Hicks will affect the way they vote in the elections.

Someone in John Howard’s office saw those numbers last night, sucked in their breath and muttered, “Oh, fuck…”
60% of Australians have a negative view of the USA.

21 Jan. 2007

Five Minutes, Take It Or Leave It

It's now been revealed that the person whom Alexander Downer cited as having recently verified David Hick's mental state was a US Embassy official from Canberra:
An embassy spokeswoman says the official isn't a doctor, and the observations were based on a five-minute meeting with Mr Hicks during an official tour of the detention facility last Friday.

The spokeswoman says the official's quick impression was that Mr Hicks was physically healthy and mentally alert, but that it wasn't meant to be a medical assessment.
Downer says he was just passing on the information (coz that's what a swell guy he is):
"I'm not asking you to rely on it or not rely on it, I'm just letting you know what observation was made and you can take it or leave it. Listeners can take it or leave it. It's just, I thought, an interesting observation."
Hicks case may be empty:
THE two embassies that David Hicks was accused of staking out as part of his al-Qaeda training were abandoned at the time.

Mr Hicks's charge sheet, made public in 2004, included allegations that "on or about August 2001" he conducted surveillance on the British and US embassies in the Afghan capital, Kabul...

The US Military Commission chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis, mentioned the alleged embassy surveillance in interviews last week in which he said Mr Hicks was a fully fledged al-Qaeda operative. "He conducted surveillance on the US embassy and other embassies," he said.

Inquiries by the Herald show the British and US embassies were abandoned in 1989 as Afghanistan plunged into civil war in the wake of the 10-year Soviet occupation.

The British embassy was reopened in December 2001, four months after Mr Hicks's alleged surveillance and a month after his capture. The US embassy, which had been maintained by Afghan employees since 1989, was reopened in January 2002.
The reason for Howard's abandonment of the traditional liberal ideal of small government is simple: because he could.
US and Aussie spies on the ground in the Phillipines for ASEAN:
The Australian government is currently negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Philippines and hopes to finalize it soon and have the defense accord ratified by the Philippine Senate before the May elections.

18 Jan. 2007

An Utter Disgrace

David Hick's lawyer speaks out on the USA's planned new terrorism trial rules, which will allow "convicted terrorists" to be imprisoned or put to death using hearsay evidence or coerced testimony:
Mr Hicks's military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, says the hearing will be inferior to the standards of a US military court martial and he believes the new rules will not allow a fair hearing.

"We will not provide the same rules and protection that has to be provided to an American," he said.

"If they want to use a fair system they could use the US court martial system - if it's good enough to try US soldiers accused of murder and rape in Iraq why isn't it good enough for David Hicks?"

He has also criticised their retrospective nature.

"A law has been passed in 2006 that is being applied retroactively to someone for conduct five years ago," he said.

"That's not acceptable.

"Even the Australian ministers have said creating legislation now and applying it to David retroactively is inappropriate, and yet that's exactly what the United States is doing to David, which we would not accept for Americans."

Major Mori says he expects the guidelines to be challenged.

But he says by the time they are, Mr Hicks could have spent nine or 10 years in Guantanamo Bay without trial.

Major Mori has urged Australia's Attorney-General Philip Ruddock not to accept the new rules.

"Unfortunately what we've seen in the past under the illegal system is that the Attorney-General just went right along with whatever his American counterparts told him and didn't exercise any independent judgement," he said.

"Yet will that happen again? Will he be fooled twice? That's the question."
Meanwhile Mr Hicks's Australian lawyer has also criticised the chorus of US and Australian officials claiming there will soon be new charges against Mr Hicks:
"They clearly know more than the detainees and their defence lawyers do," he said.

"It's just further evidence that this is nothing more than an extension of the arm of executive government operating in a way that... if the Russians did it during the Cold War you'd never hear the end of it."
The Labour Party is calling on the Federal Government not to accept the new rules.

The bottom line is that these new laws are just another time-wasting tactic by the morally bankrupt Bush administration.
[Hicks's Australian lawyer] says the US Supreme Court will again strike down the military commission process, although that might not happen for another two or three years.

"Although those seeking convictions and long prison sentences for the detainees and masquerading that as somehow or another assisting detainees know the outcome of their position, what lies ahead for David is long, lengthy further delays with no certain outcome," he said.
Our government's complicity in this outrage is utterly disgraceful.
Desperate Times...

Howard jumps into bed with evangelist Christians.
AWB Hush Money?

Howard government embarrassed by AWB payouts:
Mr Vaile says it is not for the Government to judge whether or not the payments are appropriate but says the company should explain them.

"But I would say that ultimately the board of AWB will have to justify those payments to their shareholders," he said.

"They have to explain and justify those payments and I'm not going to comment any further on it."

17 Jan. 2007

Downer Diagnoses Hicks

No sign of distress in Hicks, says Downer:
"I haven't seen any evidence, on the basis of the people who have seen Mr Hicks, that he is suffering mental health problems. Obviously he doesn't like being incarcerated. I understand that."
Downer also said he expects new charges against Hicks within weeks:
"We have made it clear if they are going to detain an Australian, we want charges brought against that Australian."
Obviously, after more than five years in illegal US detention, that message is very clear.

UPDATE: ALP demands Downer disclose the identity of the person who checked on Hicks. Independent mental health experts have been refused access to Gitmo.
A very odd story from ABC News Online:
Western Australia's Health Department has secured a canister of radioactive material that was missing in the state for almost two months.

The canister was found by a Main Roads crew just off the Brand Highway, about 240 kilometres north of Perth.

Mining company Schlumberger imported it from the US in mid-November. The canister was due to be transported to Dampier by road but never arrived.

The Health Department issued a public plea for assistance in locating the item, which looks like a household gas cylinder.

It warned anyone who found the canister to remain at least five metres away to minimise exposure.

The department says the canister was found intact and confirmed there has been no leakage of radioactive material.

It has been placed in secure storage in Perth.
Why is Schlumberger importing radioactive material into Australia?

16 Jan. 2007

Heckuva Job, AWB

AWB execs get $1.25m termination payout:
Former AWB international sales manager Charles Stott received a $781,752 termination payment when he stood down on June 15 last year, it was revealed in AWB's annual report on Wednesday.

Mr Stott is one of 11 former AWB executives facing possible fraud-related criminal charges for allegedly deceiving the United Nations and the federal government over the $290 million in kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Mr Stott received total remuneration, including his cash salary, the payout and superannuation benefits, of $1.36 million, according to AWB's annual report for the year to September 30, 2006.

Another executive singled out for investigation by the Cole inquiry, AWB's senior in-house lawyer Jim Cooper, received a $468,063 termination payment as part of a total remuneration package of $643,092...

Former AWB managing director Andrew Lindberg, who resigned last February but was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Cole inquiry, received a $1.43 million termination payment, bringing his total remuneration for 2006 to just over $3 million.

10 Jan. 2007

John Howard says Bush is right to send more troops to Iraq, even though Australia is right not to send more troops. Go figure.
OZ Politics

If you haven't already bookmarked it, check out The Oz Politics Blog. Now how do I get on the damn thing?

PS: Sorry for not posting more regularly lately, I have been busy talking oil and Iraq at the Juggernaut. I am sure I will get more into this blog as the Oz election gets real: at the moment, the players are just sniffing butts and staking out their territory.
The Charges Against Hicks, Such As They Are

After five years in Gitmo, we are finally getting close to hearing what Hicks is alleged to have done:
Colonel Morris Davis, chief prosecutor for the US Office of Military Commissions, has dismissed any notion of Hicks as a young and naive adventurer.

"David Hicks attended basic training, the al-Qaeda basic training, (and) went back for repeated advance courses in terrorism," Colonel Davis told Fairfax.

"He knew and associated with a number of al-Qaeda senior leadership. He conducted surveillance on the US embassy and other embassies.

"He eventually left Afghanistan and it's my understanding was heading back to Australia when 9/11 happened.

"When he heard about 9/11, he said it was a good thing (and) he went back to the battlefield, back to Afghanistan, and reported in to the senior leadership of al-Qaeda and basically said, 'I'm David Hicks and I'm reporting for duty'."
Colonel Davis also said Hicks translated training manuals for Al Quaeda, something which Hick's lawyer scoffed at.

Let's see some real charges and some evidence, Colonel. And no, not evidence extracted by torture.

9 Jan. 2007

A Tale Of Two Cities

US consumers 'losing confidence' as Australian Consumer sentiment surges.
Gitmo will be 5 years old tomorrow. Join Amnesty International's global action against Guantanamo. Demand the closure of Gitmo and demand the return of David Hicks.
Alexander Downer gets a rap over the knuckles from the Saudis:
A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Minister says a "misunderstanding" with the Saudi Arabian Embassy over the funding of mosques in South Australia has been cleared up.

7 Jan. 2007

Spider sense is tingling on this one... Rise of a man with a magic mystery pill:
Just how does the company make its money, and are its eye-popping business deals all that they appear? Firepower has been the beneficiary of enthusiastic Federal Government support in its push overseas, but there are questions over how much Australian agencies know about the company they support and the products it promotes. And those products - bits of fuel-technology wizardry, including a pill to improve vehicle efficiency and reduce pollution - may be the biggest Firepower mystery of all. Have they been properly tested, do they work, how many are sold, and who is using them?

The answers are obscure in a story whose ripples reach as far as the arms trade in Romania and a multi-level marketing scheme based in New Zealand, and features links to a Russian who won a multimillion-dollar legal suit against The Times in London over claims he was involved in one of the world's biggest money-laundering scandals.

It embraces the Prime Minister, John Howard; the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie; and a former West Australian police minister, Gordon Hill. It also involves several Federal Government-funded trade missions, where some of the companies that have represented Australia are unknown to the corporate regulator...

3 Jan. 2007

Priorities:
"I am pleased to announce the Commonwealth government will contribute $25 million to assist in the building of the new grandstand on the old Hill Site," Howard said at an SCG Trust lunch.
Red-blooded Australian Americans

As if we didn't have enough US influence in Australia today, now we are going to get their blood:
"I cannot for the life of me understand why (Health Minister) Tony Abbott would ... put the safety and security of our blood supply behind the interests of American companies and their profits," Ms Roxon told reporters at the Red Cross Blood Bank in Perth.
Red-blooded Australian Americans

As if we didn't have enough US influence in Australia today, now we are going to get their blood/a>:
"I cannot for the life of me understand why (Health Minister) Tony Abbott would ... put the safety and security of our blood supply behind the interests of American companies and their profits," Ms Roxon told reporters at the Red Cross Blood Bank in Perth.

1 Jan. 2007

101 Uses for a John Howard.
Howard On Hicks: Choking On Hypocrisy

Top brass breaks ranks on Hicks:
Asked about the treatment of Mr Hicks, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years and is not currently charged with any offences, she did not hesitate. "Abominable," she said. "Quite frankly, I think it's wrong. I don't care what he's done or alleged to have done. I think he's entitled to a trial and a fair one and he is entitled to be charged and dealt with as quickly as is possible. As is anybody."

As for the military tribunals the Americans have set up to deal with Mr Hicks, the Brigadier said: "Maybe they should have a good look at us."

Her comments follow remarks by the former prime minister Malcolm Fraser yesterday that the Australian Government had "totally deserted" Mr Hicks.

They also come as the Prime Minister, John Howard, was reported at the weekend as having shifted his rhetoric on Mr Hicks, with his remark that "the acceptability of him being kept in custody diminishes by the day".
If that last sentence isn't enough to make you gag, I don't know what is. I went and dug up the full context for the quote:
Detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba since December 2001, Hicks is likely to be charged after January 17 when new regulations for the US military commission scheduled to try him come into effect.

"I am not happy about how long it has taken and we will be putting increasing pressure on the Americans to stick to the timetable they have given us," Mr Howard said. "The acceptability of him being kept in custody diminishes by the day."

Mr Howard said five years was far too long for Hicks to have been kept without facing trial. "I am not happy, not happy at all, and that unhappiness has been communicated to the (Bush) Administration," he said.

Asked if he would consider asking for Hicks' return to Australia, he said a dilemma would arise if there was a further appeal against regulations set to come into effect on January 17. "If there is a further appeal against the process, that throws up the possibility of yet a further delay … that is a real dilemma," Mr Howard said. "I don't believe in indefinite detention without trial; it is a fundamental of our system."
Once again, in Howard's mind anyway, it's the appeals that are the real problem, not the illegal processes which prompt them.