27 June 2019
The Medical Association for Prevention of War is gravely concerned at the victimisation of whistle-blowers that’s happening right now in Australia.
It’s a deeply worrying sign that when serious alleged crimes are brought to light by people who respect the public’s right to know, the whistle- blowers themselves are put on trial.
Government knows that information and knowledge are key elements in our democracy and in holding governments to account. Free and independent media are critical. We’re constantly told that our defence forces past and present have fought for our freedoms, and yet when those freedoms are used in ways that are politically embarrassing, the whistle-blowers are persecuted.
None of us are above the law, and that includes the ADF. However it seems that our military are regarded by some in government as being just that - above the law. The incidents in Afghanistan which David McBride helped bring to attention are of course the prime example today, but they are not the only one.
In February last year, Sen Jim Molan entered federal parliament. Sen Molan (now former senator) was a Major General in the ADF who had been in charge of the coalition assault on Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, where it is credibly reported that severe violations of international humanitarian law were committed by the coalition forces against civilians. These allegations have virtually not seen the light of day here in Australia, but Richard Di Natale, leader of the Greens, drew attention to them in parliament, citing UN concerns expressed in relation to Fallujah. The response from the then Defence Minister Marise Payne was vehement and indicated that because Molan was in the ADF, and Di Natale hadn’t been in the ADF, Molan was therefore above criticism and Di Natale was being highly offensive.
In other words, the laws are applied differently for different people, and some people are not held accountable. The bearer of politically inconvenient or embarrassing messages, on the other hand, must be squashed and silenced. We’ve seen the same with Bernard Collaery and Witness K, and with Julian Assange and with the attacks on the ABC.
The increasing secrecy of our government in relation to “security” matters manifests in other ways too, such as in our weapons exports. What items are we selling, and to whom? It’s virtually impossible to find out. Mention “national security” and government clams up.
Perhaps the biggest injustice in all this is the fact that those government leaders who took our country to war, in flagrant violation of international law, in 2003, roam free. Where is the trial of John Howard, whose actions then absolutely undermined the rule of law, undermined our security and helped create a humanitarian and political catastrophe which continues to this day in the Middle East? Howard and the others leaders who took us to war then are the real criminals. The Nuremberg trials after World War 2 were clear in their statement on acts of aggression:
“To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
And Iran might be next.
MAPW applauds and thanks those who have the courage to protect our freedoms and our right to be informed on matters of public importance. This includes things that are done in our name overseas. Terrible things happen in the heat of battle because war is a breeding ground for human rights abuses. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. But perhaps if the veil of secrecy were lifted and we knew more about what is done in our name, then we would think more carefully before sending the troops overseas again and again and again.
This is an edited version of speech given by Dr Sue Wareham at a rally at the ACT Supreme Court, 27 June 2019.
Laws are applied differently for different people, and some people are not held accountable.