Thursday, January 22, 2015

In his 2015 State of the Union address President Obama noted that Iraq War No 3 (not his term) "will take time", meaning there is no end in sight. But what is it that  will take time? What would be its end? Does anyone have any realistic idea about that given that a militant cancer is spreading throughout the Middle East?

The US has recently committed a further 3,000 troops to Iraq though officially their 'combat roles' are confined to air strikes in Iraq and Syria. It is not hard to envisage that before the US can reduce troop levels they would have had to increase if anything like 'success' is to be achieved meanwhile. Nor is it hard to envisage that the Australian Government under Prime Minister Abbott would be keen to leg up again, as he has designated the Islamic State (IS) as a direct threat to Australia's security. 

This would be further "mission creep" and would represent a failure to heed previous experience in that region. The earlier commitment, last year, was purely an Executive act without reference to Parliament and struggled to get Iraqi government approval initially. Unfortunately Australia has allowed itself to be led in this direction for well over a decade. US/Australian military interventions and diplomatic misjudgments over that time have resulted in increased conflict and the political maelstrom now tearing those countries, particularly Syria and Iraq, apart.

There is much about the Islamic State to dislike intensely. If in the light of developments it can be demonstrated as being a 'direct threat to Australia' the government should be obliged to submit its case to the Parliament before any further Australian forces are committed there. This surely should now be the Parliament's prerogative.

Buying into these conflicts without a profound understanding of the complex forces at work or a clear idea of what 'success' from an Australian viewpoint would mean – and without a demonstrated capacity to achieve that success anyway – will win few friends and create resentments which home grown jihadists could exploit.

From Australia's perspective the conflict in Syria/Iraq is destined not to have a 'good' outcome. Historically it will be seen as yet another rebalancing of disparate tribes and religious factions, with far too many victims whose plight we can do little about.

Our best defence against externally inspired terrorist attacks is to stand resolutely by our core values, to maintain sensible anti-terrorist measures that do not intrude unnecessarily on citizen's rights and freedoms while seeking better ways of integrating our diverse cultures, and to exercise our diplomatic skills in working with other like-minded governments to ameliorate conflict wherever we can.

Ill-considered foreign interventions with bombs and bullets only compound these problems; they are not a solution. The solution at this time lies with the countries and peoples most directly involved.

opinion from: Andrew Farran 22 January 2015

A world of no-go zones?

by Dr Alison Broinowski

As the population of our ‘global village’ grows to more than 7.22 billion and mega-cities multiply, the world’s wilderness withers, agricultural land shrinks, oceans become waste dumping grounds, and former industrial sites are reduced to polluted, decaying wastelands. The climate warms and sea levels rise. Humans have rendered many areas in the world no longer accessible for humans.
These areas are ‘no-go zones’, as the lawless streets of Boston were known in the 1980s. The same term applied to Redfern’s Block in the 1990s and parts of Birmingham in the noughties. It is true of Ferguson in the mid-2010s, and has for years described some banlieux of Paris, particularly now. These are spaces beyond the will or capacity of police to control, at least until reform occurs. Parts of other formerly beautiful cities like Beirut, Aleppo and Damascus have become bombed out, burnt out no-go zones because of uncivil war. Many sites in Iraq and Afghanistan have met the same fate because of unjustified military assaults by Western countries, including Australia.  
Hopeful nations set up Zones of Peace during the Cold War to exclude nuclear weapons and curb great power rivalry, seeking to preserve them as sustainable spaces. But areas around Maralinga, Bikini Atoll, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are no-go zones of another kind, having been rendered permanently uninhabitable, inaccessible, and unusable by nuclear contamination. The purpose of demilitarized zones in the Vietnamese and Korean peninsulas, another product of those years, was to keep civil war enemies apart.  A paradoxical result was a no-go zone between the two Koreas  that has acted as a wild-life habitat and ecological recovery area.
No-go zones of another kind are a response to outbreaks of disease, like quarantine stations, tuberculosis clinics and leper colonies. Haiti’s recent experience with imported typhoid after its earthquake, and now the Ebola-stricken countries in Africa, send many fleeing, but also draw in brave volunteer helpers from around the world. But where are the volunteers searching for the lost girls, sent to an area in Nigeria where the government doesn’t want or dare to go? 
Then there are places such as Cuba, which includes Guantánamo Bay, both of them declared off limits until recently for US citizens, as they may be again under a new administration. Travel to parts of Syria is supposedly forbidden by some governments, although the girlfriend of one of the Paris killers seems to have gone there, together with young Muslim men from many countries. Even travel to Baghdad with the Australian Prime Minister to Baghdad in January 2015 was not on for journalists, and they don’t seem to have much access to Manus Island either. Detention centres are in effect no-go zones too, declared by our government, along with the excision of our entire continent as a refugee immigration area.
An intangible no-go area which appears to be expanding, in Australia at least, is official information. Not only do the costs and restrictions on Freedom of Speech applications make them inaccessible to most citizens, the government wants laws restraining leaking and whistleblowing strengthened. In the name of ‘national security’, the public is being told less and is finding it harder to know what to ask. People can be held and questioned without charge, have their communications invigilated and their computers trashed without the legal protections Australia inherited as a democracy. With mainstream media withering, and reporting barred on subjects like official spying on the East Timor oil negotiations and Securency corruption allegations, many Australians turn to alternative sources to inform themselves.  Individuals who are brave enough to publish such information, like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Sarah Harrison, are now living in no-go places of their own as a result.
CIWI/AWPR and other groups have sprung up around Australia to give voice to citizens’ concerns about the way our governments wage wars in our name, with our people and our resources. We challenge those who seek to deflect our concern, while assuring us that they are acting in the interests of national security. The world has more than enough no-go zones: we must reclaim what we can and preserve what is left.
opinion from: Dr Alison Broinowski - 22 January 2015

Friday, November 14, 2014

The latest Bulletin from the Campaign is now available! 

Read the latest news on the Australian troops in Iraq, the views of Dr Alison Broinowski particularly around the Status of Forces agreements, a call for an inquiry into the 2003 Iraq War by war widow Kellie Merritt, articles from a number of people on views on how to take action without committing to warfare, and much more.

If you are not subscribed to the CIWI regular Bulletin newsletter, please do so here.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Lettter re Status of Forces

Below is the text of a letter sent to the Prime Minister on 9 October 2014. Similar letters were sent to the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister.


9 October 2014

The Hon. Tony Abbott MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

Dear Mr Abbott

The Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry has repeatedly expressed concern about the manner in which Australia entered the war in Iraq in 2003. Our organisation is equally concerned about the present situation, and the fact that errors of the past are seemingly being repeated.

We and our members are particularly anxious that whatever Australia does should meet the three tests of international law which would legitimate the deployment of Australian forces to another country: that it responds to an immediate threat, to a resolution of the UN Security Council, or to an invitation from the government of the country involved.

Ministers have been quoted several times in the media, anticipating a formal invitation from Iraq to send Australian forces. If such an invitation has been received, orally or in writing, from Iraq, we invite you to announce it publicly, and to table it in the Parliament without delay. As you will appreciate, without such evidence that our armed presence is accepted, the legality of Australia’s actions could be in doubt.

A related issue concerns the Status of Forces Agreement which is to apply to Australians in Iraq. If such an agreement has not been concluded, we consider that Australian public should be informed as to the issues of concern to the Iraqi Government that are delaying its progress. If no such agreement is reached, then the continued presence of Australian forces in Iraq must be questioned. 

We seek your assurance that the Australian public will be notified promptly when the Status of Forces Agreement has been finalised, and that its contents will be made public.

Yours sincerely

Paul Barratt


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Letter to Members of Parliament

Below is the text of a letter sent to all Members of Federal Parliament on 9 October 2014.


Dear MP  [ personalised ]

Your response is sought on whether Parliament should be required to authorise any deployment of the ADF into armed conflict abroad.

The Australian Government has recently authorised the deployment to the Middle East of six FA/18 combat aircraft, a Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft, a KC-30A Multi Role Tanker, and 200 SAS soldiers who will serve not only in training and advisory roles, but also in forward targeting missions.  This comes despite much concern in the community, including those with significant experience and expertise in security matters, about the many critical questions in relation to this deployment that remain unanswered.   As it was in 2003, Parliament remains marginalised on the most grave decision a Government can make.  While our ADF personnel are sent into harm’s way, there is no parliamentary debate, and no opportunity to seek clarity about their role, the risks to them and non-combatants in the region, the prospects for success however defined, and – just as importantly - about alternatives to military action. 

Contrary to Government assertions, this practice has not stood us in good stead historically; it has facilitated Australia’s involvement in some disastrous wars, as it did previousy in Iraq only 11 years ago. We appear to have learnt nothing.

Having regard to the emerging practice at Westminster since 2003 of debating and authorising UK deployments in the House of Commons, the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry (including the revision of the exercise of the War Powers) seeks your opinion on this issue, and we ask you to respond to the following question:

It is not currently required that Parliament be consulted before Australian troops are sent into armed conflict abroad.  Do you believe Parliament’s approval of such decisions should be required?

B=Yes, unless immediate danger to Australia

All responses (or lack thereof) will be displayed on the CIWI website. There will also be the results of a public opinion poll on this question, which is being conducted simultaneously.

Please return this letter with your response in the enclosed envelope, to reach us by no later than Friday October 17.

With many thanks for your attention to this matter
Yours sincerely

Paul Barratt AO
Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Parliament should decide on the deployment of armed force

Malcolm Fraser and Paul Barratt

In “Parliamentary Vote Would Dangerously Restrict Executive in War” (The Australian, 2 September) Russell Trood and Anthony Bergin assert that the idea of Parliament voting on decisions to go to war is poor public policy. None of the arguments they advance in support of this claim hold water.

The point is made that Governments need the capacity to react quickly to events. Quite so, but the occasions would be rare when the capacity of the ADF to deploy would be held up by Parliamentary process. Apart from the Ready Reaction Force at Townsville, most combat elements of the ADF are held at a low state of readiness. Quite properly, most units are not maintained in a battle-ready state, and before they can be deployed a major investment in both personnel training and materiel is required in order to bring them up to the required standard. Preparation of a brigade group for deployment to East Timor took six months and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Regarding the high readiness forces, it would be quite easy to draft into legislation requiring Parliamentary authorisation a provision for an emergency response, with a requirement for a statement setting out the nature and purpose to be tabled within three or four sitting days.

A second argument – one often regarded as the supreme card to play – is that the Government might have access to information or intelligence which it cannot reveal.

This is an argument that simply cannot be accepted within the framework of a Westminster-style Parliamentary system. While it is certainly true that a government may be in possession of information that cannot be used in Parliamentary debate, it is fundamental to our system that today’s Opposition Leader could be tomorrow’s Prime Minister – even without an election. All that is required for the government to fall is for it to fail to win a confidence motion on the floor of the House of Representatives, at which point the Prime Minister of the day will normally advise the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament and call a general election, but the Governor-General would have the alternative of giving the Opposition Leader an opportunity to test the confidence of the House. It is clear that in recent days the Government has been giving the Opposition leadership briefings which the Opposition feels unable to share with the public.

For purposes of Parliamentary debate, situations will be rare in which a direct threat to Australia would emerge without any warning signs being discernible from open sources. Thus whatever secret intelligence the government might possess which confirms its suspicions about an emerging threat, it is safe to assume that for Parliamentary purposes it will be able to follow the commonplace practice of presenting a rationale which derives from open sources, and perhaps simply stating that this picture is confirmed by classified information in the government’s possession, which information has been shared with the Opposition leadership.

A third argument is the old canard that a Parliamentary vote would “simply hamstring the government of the day to the whim of minor parties”. For the negative vote of a minor party to be effective, however, it would be necessary that there also be a negative vote from the major Opposition party: the combined votes of Government and Opposition would make the views of the minor parties irrelevant. As it is difficult to conceive of a major (or indeed a minor) party voting against deployment of the ADF at a time that the nation is genuinely under threat, this sounds more like a concern that the involvement of the Parliament would make it more difficult for the Government of the day to inject the ADF into wars of choice – which is of course the whole point of the exercise.

Trood and Bergin also advance the extraordinary argument against Parliamentary authorisation that “in a complicated world the occasions and circumstances in which force in its various manifestations is required is becoming more difficult to describe and define”. This is in fact one of the strongest reasons in support of mature Parliamentary debate and resolution: to guard against the future possibility of the leadership of the day rushing us off into ill-thought out military adventures, with no clear definition of the aims, duration, prospects of success or exit strategy.

It needs to be clearly understood that we are not advocating that Parliament be involved at every step in the management of our involvement in an armed conflict, simply that it be the body that authorises our entry into any particular occasion requiring or likely to require the use of armed force. Authorisation could be given prior to it becoming certain that conflict is inevitable, but it would need to address a defined situation in a particular geographical region. Once the authorisation is given, it would last for a defined period, say 60 days, beyond the cessation of hostilities and within that period it would be left to the Government of the day to determine how to react to circumstances as they evolve.

Those who would rule out any role for the legislature other than post hoc debate would have us increasingly out of step with the practice of other representative democracies. As recently as last year the question of UK participation in air strikes against Syria was put to the House of Commons and was resoundingly defeated – an outcome which rapidly came to be seen as wise.

At the end of the day it all comes down to whether we trust the Parliament, or trust a single individual, no matter how clever he/she might be.  A strong Prime Minister will be able to convince the Cabinet, and that is a one person decision as was the case in the Iraq War.  We most certainly should have Parliamentary approval before Australia can be taken to war.

Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister of Australia, 1975-83. Paul Barratt is a former Secretary to the Department of Defence, and is President of the  Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry .

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Letter to the Attorney-General

In Reply on behalf of the Attorney-General I presented the text of a letter of 18 June received from Mr Paul O’Sullivan, Chief of Staff to the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC.

Below is the text of my reply:

4 July 2014

Senator the Hon. George Brandis, QC
Parliament House

Dear Senator Brandis,

I refer to a letter of 18 June 2014 I have received from Mr Paul O’Sullivan, your Chief of Staff, writing on your behalf in response to my letter to you of 16 May.

In his letter Mr O’Sullivan states that ‘the legal basis for Australia’s participation is a matter of public record’ and cites the opinion provided by two lawyers, one an officer of the Attorney-General’s Department and the other an officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

As you are no doubt aware, the legality of an action is not determined by the legal counsel employed by the initiator of the action.

You are no doubt aware also that there are many other views on this matter on the public record, that the Australian government’s views were very much in the minority, and that much more senior international lawyers took the opposite view. If you are unaware of these we can supply a sample of them – along with the statement of one of the few international lawyers who supported the war that she was very much in the minority.

There are several major questions in the minds of our membership about how this advice was generated:

1.   Why did the government choose advice and/or advisors whose views were so clearly in the minority?

2.   What was the brief (formal or informal) given to the lawyers? What were they asked to do? What was said to them about their role?

3.    Were other lawyers approached for their views before those chosen?

4.   Why did the Attorney-General not give an opinion (even when asked by the Governor General)?

5.    Why was the Solicitor-General not asked for an opinion?

6.    Why was the advice of former head of the Office of International Law and then Chief General Counsel of the Attorney-General's Department Henry Burmester QC not provided? Mr Burmester was at that time the most senior and experienced international lawyer in Commonwealth service. If he was not consulted, why not, and if he was consulted what was his opinion?

7.    Was there any other opinion available, in draft or other form, to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or to the Attorney-General’s Department?

8.    Were lawyers at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Attorney-General’s Department in contact with the international legal advisors to the British government? If so, were they aware of the very different views held there? If so, to whom did they communicate those views and what was the response?

9.    What advice had the then Prime Minister received at the time he stated in Parliament that there was ample authority in international law for the action contemplated?

10.  Had the Government been made aware of the legal doubts of others?

11.  Why did the opinion not consider contrary arguments or the likely outcome of those arguments in a court of competent jurisdiction?

12.  Was the then Attorney-General aware, or are you aware, of any legal opinions as to the outcome of a case in a court of competent jurisdiction or was the Government relying on an assumption that no case could come before a court of competent jurisdiction?

13.  Are you aware that Australia changed its recognition of the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ a year before the Iraq war commenced, in a way that would prevent Australia being sued in the ICJ as Serbia sought to sue those countries bombing it in 1999? Why was this change instigated and were those who instigated it aware of the 1999 Kosovo case?

14.  Is it your view that the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 by the “Coalition of the Willing” was legal under international law? If you think that it was legal, will you join us in urging the British and Australian governments to seek vindication in a court of competent jurisdiction or before a genuinely independent Royal Commission?

As indicated, the legality of an action is not determined by the legal counsel employed by the initiator of the action.  It is determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.  The inability of such a court to hear the case does not make the action legal.  In international law, the opposite may be the case.  The long standing limitations of international tribunals has been one of the factors which have given greater weight to academic opinion – raising it to a source of law.  Where the vast majority of international law professors (and an even larger majority of the senior ones) endorse a legal proposition and are not contradicted by a superior source of law, we can say that international law includes that proposition.  It may be that the only way that it can be displaced by the minority who differ is if the matter is taken to an international court of competent jurisdiction.

It can hardly pass notice that the Government in 2003 did not put the then Attorney General to his proof on the issue; nor did it seek a formal opinion from the Solicitor-General, so lacking in confidence was it as to the legality of the action about to be taken. As implied by our questions above, it cannot said that legal advice given by subordinates to Constitutionally responsible officers of the Crown can substitute for their superiors, given the high probability that such advice could have a self-serving purpose. Moreover, in this case no advice was offered to the Governor-General himself on the question.

Regarding the other matter, I am surprised that Mr O’Sullivan would cite the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s 2004 report Inquiry into Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (the “Jull Report”) and the 2004 report of the subsequent Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies (the “Flood Report”) in support of the view that a further inquiry is not required. While this might look to the less-informed observer like an answer to our call for an inquiry, it is not, and by failing to mention the thrust of these inquiries’ findings, it is grossly misleading.

The first point to be made is that these inquiries, as their names suggest, were confined by their terms of reference to the intelligence picture which was available to the Australian Government and an examination of the performance of the Australian intelligence agencies. They were not charged with conducting, and nor did they conduct, inquiries into the matter about which I wrote my letters to you of 13 March and 16 May, namely, the decision-making process which led to Australia participating in the invasion of Iraq.

Second, the outcomes of these inquiries are hardly conducive to confidence in the decision-making process which led to that invasion. The Jull Inquiry found

The case made by the government was that Iraq possessed WMD in large quantities and posed a grave and unacceptable threat to the region and the world, particularly as there was a danger that Iraq’s WMD might be passed to terrorist organisations. This is not the picture that emerges from an examination of all the assessments provided to the Committee by Australia’s two analytical agencies.[1]

The Inquiry led by former DFAT Secretary Philip Flood found that the evidence for Iraqi WMD was ‘thin, ambiguous and incomplete’[2].

Accordingly, far from obviating the necessity for a further inquiry, we think the outcomes of these inquiries strengthen the case for a comprehensive inquiry of the kind we are advocating.

To summarise our position:
·         If the Government believes that Australia’s actions in Iraq in 2003 were legal under international law, then the only way that this view can be validated is by establishing a truly independent commission to consider the matter. We urge the Government to do this to clear the name of the Government of which you were a part.
·         With respect, while you assert that the "legal basis" of Australia's participation in the Iraq War of 2003 is a matter of public record, underpinned by departmental level advice, the legality of an action is not determined by legal counsel employed by the initiator of the action in question. It is determined by a court of competent jurisdiction. The opportunity to put it to this test is unlikely given the Government's stance on the matter now and previously.
·         Clearly the Government's actions were politically motivated and justified to the public on that basis, relying largely on questionable assertions from the US and Britain in this regard. It is common knowledge that the initial, tentative British advice was modified to fit the political case. No authoritative adviser within or without the formal British legal establishment was or has been prepared to advise categorically on this question. Furthermore opinion within the UN Security Council could not have been more divided than it was then and since. The scope of its resolutions at the time fell well short of authorising an invasion.

For Australia's purposes the only available and credible means for determining the issue is to convene a Royal Commission comprising very senior judicial personnel well grounded in international law. It is best that this be done before Australian forces are again deployed in a combat role in foreign countries.

I would reiterate the view expressed in my earlier letters that, given the gravity of any decision to commit the Australian defence force to international armed conflict, the Australian people are entitled to know how that decision was made, and what evidence informed the decision. The Australian Government owes to those it puts in harm’s way a duty to evaluate the quality of the processes by which it decides to put them in harm’s way, to identify and document the lessons learned, and improve the decision making process for the future.

As matters stand, while Britons will have the chance to learn from past decisions once the Chilcot Inquiry hands down its recommendations, Australians will still be deprived of a comprehensive account of the processes leading to our involvement in Iraq. As I said in my earlier letter, an independent inquiry into the decision making process which led to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War would also allow for a public discussion of the appropriateness of Australia’s current ‘war powers’, which concentrate power in the executive branch. This could provide a framework for reforming how the decision is made to go to war. The current process produced very flawed decisions in relation to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and is clearly overdue for careful reconsideration.

Accordingly, the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry urges you to support not only an independent inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, but also a commitment on the part of the Government to reforming the ‘war powers’.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Barratt AO


[1] Commonwealth of Australia Parliament, Intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (“Jull Report’), Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, December 2003, 93.
[2] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies (“Flood Report”), Canberra, 2004, 34.