Senate Hearing: Defence Response to US Torture and Leadership?

I am definitely having inspiration tonight and my finding of the Senate hearings, Senator Ludlam appears to be the focus as the hearings come up with him, which I sense is significant. It was unexpected but intriguing as I explore democracy, Senators, government officials and whether the public interest is served.

I note the questions around Trump going to war with China. Definitely there was posturing prior to Trump and prior to Iraq around tensions building as China is perceived as a threat. So in this dance between Senator Ludlam and the Secretary of Defence the narrative maintains official lines of ‘not going to war with China’ but nonetheless the tensions could escalate as defence is not the issue but pre-emptive tactical approaches which may not be first strike but could build the context for conflict.

The Trump administration has not said it is going to war but the machinations are warlike and it is clear there is conflict over trade and power.

Secretary of Defence Richardson was asked his view on torture. The secretary emphatically states he is keeping his views to himself, yet I believe that is in the public interest given waterboarding, as we are aligned with the United States.

Senator Ludlam then switches tact and asks a policy question.
What is Australian policy on torture?

The Secretary of Defence says: we don’t utilise torture.

Senator Ludlam: Do we support our allies using it?
The Secretary of Defence indicates: as a general principle we are opposed to the use of torture. Senator asks ‘is this view communicated to colleagues at a ministerial or departmental level or counterparts in the US. Secretary says ‘to whom’ and then asks ‘why’?

My thought here: The words ‘as a general principle we are opposed’. So specifically we are not?? Torturing people should be clearly a ‘no’ given the Geneva Conventions and signatories to the Conventions on Torture. So illegality is the subtle issue here.

Senator Ludlam indicates: the reintroduction of torture as a means of intelligence gathering. He says the US Commander-in-Chief indicated things way worse than waterboarding.

Minister Payne indicates the views of the Secretary of Defence are taken on board. No comment on torture.

Secretary of Defence stated: the President spoke positively about waterboarding, as President he indicated personally he didn’t have a problem with waterboarding however he delegated it to the Secretary of Defence, highly decorated officer who was opposed to and not pursue such methods. He thinks Trump is clear.

Senator says it is contradictory.

I will add in here: How can our Secretary of Defence speak to a President’s positive attitude about waterboarding when this is an activity of making a person believe they are drowning. Taking them to the point of death struggling for air. It is horrendous and if he were to experience it I am sure he would condemn such a practice. These are invisible lines drawn as to who we are as humans. Yet the reality is the military is in the business of killing. This acceptance of violence as a solution is hard to fathom and unquestioned mindsets believe violence works as we have seen over and over the harm caused and hatred fuelled by violent actions. This does not make the world a safer place. It makes it very frightening particularly when these attitudes (projections) can come into the Australian society under the guise of homeland security (ASIO Act) given protests and automation/AI disruptions in the future. What then? Do we change humanitarian laws around targetting? Do we replace democracy with a technocracy? Do we drop all rules of war as the posts have shifted and we just move with the times without an anchor or handle on who we are as Australians and what we believe in.

The issue here is standards and ethics and the illegality of torture of which Australia is a signatory and whether as an ally we have sought to make clear we are not aligned there. It appears we ignore it. The answers are vague as it is evident they preserve the relationship. However, as a friend and ally we are in truth obligated to speak the truth to allies if we are steadfast in our sovereignty and values to uphold democracy if that is the objective. The latter is a key question.

Senator Ludlam asks: Will Australia continue to use intelligence from the 5 Eyes agreement if that intelligence was obtained through torture?

Another key area of focus is Pine Gap located in Australia and as part of the 5 Eyes and information about Australians passed by US to Australian counterparts to gather data and create ‘plausible deniability’ from our end.

Secretary of Defence: We don’t know how the intelligence is obtained. We intelligence share with Australia (doesn’t sound right), it saves Australian lives and we value the intelligence the US shares with us.

My question – does it on balance?

Senator asks: Do we do any due diligence? (to find out how it is gathered)

No, the Secretary states.

Senator: So we don’t mind if obtained by torture.

Secretary of Defence: We share intelligence. We have long standing arrangements. National interest is served, Australian lives saved (said again).

Senator Ludlam asks: Are national interests served if implicated by torture as intelligence gathering technique?

Thus the Secretary of Defence ignores the ethics (as he is trained to do) and indicates the relationship is served by intelligence sharing arrangements. So this highlights for me – why we are in relationship with the United States as data gathering is to gain advantage in a competitive world driven by economic interests where real time information is power.

I wish to sit with this for a moment as I can feel inspiration. I wish to say that I observe justification for activities refers to the public benefit yet under the surface there is denial in facing torture that is illegal. We look at self interest but not collective values as democratic which is often a justification for military activities. The issue of complicitness arises as we know, even publicly, that torture is used. This is associated with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes as our societies speak of the rule of law, justice etc. Ethics and warfare are fraught with contradictions as war is about killing and winning. We dress it up as noble yet training is violent and it preserves power in truth.

Senator Ludlam asks: Does the Australian Government support the US in its alleged proposal to bring back the use of black sites, where torture carried out in the past operated by CIA?

Secretary of Defence: As far as I am aware (slip up here). I am simply not aware that this is the intention of the US administration.

Senator: New York Times obtained draft Executive Order, will table it. Refer:

Secretary of Defence: I will simply note Senator administration has denied, whether it was right or not, I don’t know, that there was such as draft administrative order. You are going to present an article from the New York Times, which the administration has denied. So nothing I can do with the article you give to me.

Senator: Won’t bother than.

Further discussion about Tillerson.

I like this question:

Senator Ludlam: Are you guys having trouble establishing what US Government policy is?

No. None whatsoever…

Senator states: President Trump says United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its sense about nukes…(before he takes office) let it be an arms race. Does the Department or Minster agree with this strategy to make the world a safer place?

Minister Payne felt his question wasn’t constructive.

I would like to add in my feeling here. I note that the way she answered the question was controlling the QandA and deciding if she would answer or not rather than being subject to a people’s representative asking questions on behalf of the Australian people. Under the surface Senator Ludlam revealed a vulnerability in respect to the character of Trump which is critical given his finger is on the nuclear button.

As citizens we would want that question answered as nuclear misadventure is in our interests as populations would be destroyed if a mentally unwell or dominating (dictatorial) person ordered a detonation. Whilst these weapons are in the world we have a right to know what our Defence department’s position is. Yes I understand there is diplomatic issues but what of fearlessly speaking out as Australian’s and calling a spade a spade as a good friend and ally must to ensure peace in our world? It is a question of grave importance as the words ‘arms race’ cost Australian taxpayers as we pay the price for this alliance that aligns us against others rather than taking the position of a mediator (in my view a wiser posture). The arms race may convey to the industrial military complex that there will be future sales.

It is noteworthy that Minister Payne oversighted a $200 billion dollar defence expenditure and it has been recently stated by a US Admiral Davidson (Lowly Institute, 2020) that Australia’s trade is approximately $400 billion (Australian) in the defence relationship which is a lot of money. Considering our welfare sector is being cut, more people are unemployed and rising numbers of homeless budget priorities must be determined and justified on real grounds that benefit all Australians.

Moreover, US defence paper’s released to the public have a strategy of Full Spectrum Dominance (2018) which is about total control across battlefield strategic areas including cyber warfare. Scrutiny of the US is essential give Silicon Valley companies contracted in the Australian government to manage software, information and notably defence etc. So their nuclear position, attitudes, beliefs and continued funding of these zero sum weapons is in the public interest.

We still align with violence in the mistaken belief this makes us safer. It does not. It redirects precious resources into violent conflict that is increasingly outside of public oversight given lucrative privatisation of the military and intelligence operatives (militias, contractors). As corporations and foreign governments dominate government (purchase representatives) and in cases have their own Minister’s e.g. Defence Industries, they have access to a political process when in reality we (the public) don’t. I have tried myself to write to Minister’s and leaders and it is evident they are not responding to me or answering my questions etc. Our democracy is shaky at best. We are forced to pay tax and we have no say over where it goes just assured it “saves lives” and is in our interests when soldiers were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq or exposed to depleted uranium. Large numbers of civilians are killed, so lives are not saved in wars for oil or power struggles. The political jostling for control on behalf of interests is of great concern. So the area of Defence relationships and interests requires an inquiry (without vested interests) to cost/benefit and ethical appraise this relationship given the growing instability of leadership, clear undermining of democracy, foreign interference, the unaccountable Deep State (shadow government) and black operations which is unaccountable to the public.

We hitch our wagon in the vague belief we are protected or get surveillance/information benefits when civilians are clearly not protected as weapons blow up entire buildings, release radiation, destroy infrastructure and ignore the Geneva Conventions. So there is a care factor of zero for the public. A rules based order or the rule of law goes out the window as Guantanamo Bay clearly has shown. It appears that thuggery has replaced real defence and the character of leaders is of greatest concern. This is not just Donald Trump but the Clinton, Bush and Obama camps as well.

So what can civilians do? How do we get real answers to questions that must be answered without notice? Are we sovereign or serving two?