Friday, 21 December 2007

GW's Utopia

The following appears in today's Australian On-line -,25197,22955649-2703,00.html

'Gang-raped by contractors'

A TEXAN woman who claims to have been raped by American contractors in Iraq testified in Congress yesterday, telling legislators she was kept under armed guard in her trailer after reporting the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, 23, said she was gang-raped inside Baghdad's Green Zone in July 2005 while she was working for Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc, which has contracts with the US military.

Ms Jones said she knew of at least 11 other women who were raped by US contractors in Iraq.

"This problem goes way beyond just me," she told the House of Representatives subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

Ms Jones said that on her fourth day in Baghdad, some co-workers, whom she described as Halliburton-KBR firefighters, invited her for a drink.

"I took two sips from the drink and don't remember anything after that," she said.

The next morning she woke groggy and confused and with a sore chest and blood between her legs. She reported the incident to KBR and was examined by an army doctor, who confirmed she had been repeatedly raped vaginally and anally. The doctor took photographs and made notes and handed all the evidence over to KBR personnel.

"The KBR security then took me to a trailer and locked me in a room with two armed guards outside my door," Ms Jones testified. "I was imprisoned in the trailer for approximately a day. One of the guards finally had mercy and let me use a phone."

Ms Jones called her father in Texas, who called his representative in Congress, Republican Ted Poe, who contacted the State Department, which quickly sent personnel to rescue Ms Jones and fly her back to Texas.

"Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge," Mr Poe told the subcommittee. "The law must intervene, and these outlaws need to be rounded up and order restored."

Ms Jones said the rape was so brutal she was still undergoing reconstructive surgery. She tried to get her case resolved first through KBR channels, then through the Justice Department. When neither course seemed to work, she gave an interview to US television network ABC.

KBR has been silent on the matter, although the ABC said the company circulated a memo among employees signed by president and CEO Bill Utt saying it "disputes portions of Ms Jamie Leigh Jones' version and facts".

Ms Jones's KBR contract included a clause that prevents her from suing her employer, Mr Poe said. That would likely force her into arbitration, which he described as "a privatised justice system with no public record, no discovery and no meaningful appeal".

There are many laws that the Justice Department "can enforce with respect to contractors who commit crimes abroad, but it chooses not to," Democrat committee member Robert Scott said.

Fellow Democrat John Conyers said the incident showed "how far out of control the law enforcement system in Iraq is today".

There are 180,000 civilian contractor employees in Iraq, including more than 21,000 Americans.

So this is the model democracy being created in Iraq. Given the moral quality of both the incursion and the civilian contractors, it's not surprising. By their works you will know them.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

No Comment Necessary

This was posted on ABC - Just In, today -

Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson says the Coalition has dropped its WorkChoices policy.

Dr Nelson says the Coalition was damaged at the election by its industrial relations policies and he has officially declared WorkChoices dead.

"We have listened and we have learned, and one of the issues that was very important to the Australian people in changing the Government on November 24 was that of WorkChoices," he said.

"We've listened to the Australian people, we respect the decisions they have made, and WorkChoices is dead."

He has called on the Government to move quickly to introduce its draft industrial relations legislation.

But the Opposition will not commit to supporting changes to industrial relations policies until the Labor Government makes its intentions clear.

Dr Nelson says there should be an independent assessment of the impact of unfair dismissal laws on business before any changes are made.

No comment is necessary.

Remains of Vietnam vet return to Melbourne

This story was posted on the ABC’s website today.
The remains of an Australian medic killed in Vietnam 36 years ago, will be returned to Melbourne this morning.

Family and friends of Lance Corporal John Gillespie will attend the military ceremony at the Point Cook Air Base.

The 24-year-old medic was killed in 1971, when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in the Minh Dam Mountains.

His remains were discovered in an excavation of the crash site.

The veterans' group, Operation Aussies Home have been working to bring the soldier home.

His widow, Carmel Hendrie and daughter, Fiona Pike were at Hanoi International Airport on Monday to watch soldiers carry his casket to a waiting RAAF Hercules aircraft.

The plane arrives in Melbourne this morning.

It’s gratifying that Corporal Gillespie’s remains have been repatriated, and I hope that this action helps his family. The work done by Operation Aussies Home is outstanding.

I know the Minh Dam Mountains as the Long Hais and was in the area near this incident on 28th February 2006 with a group of veterans. This was the anniversary of the loss of eight diggers from 8 RAR in 1970. We acknowledged this with a simple ceremony. Whilst my unit was 7RAR, there were some blokes from 8RAR in the group, and the commemoration meant a lot to them. My sons were with me, and they were given the honour of reading the service. We left poppies for remembrance.

As time goes on, the recognition owed to those who died in Vietnam is improving. It’s a far cry from the situation in the early seventies, when I hid the fact that I was a veteran after some pretty sad episodes. I trust that John Gillespie’s homecoming will be more honoured than many surviving comrades received in the early seventies.

He deserves nothing less.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Apathy and Tragedy

Today’s featured column comes from the Sunday Mail, and is written by Mal Brough.
I don’t always agree with him, but on this issue, he hits the nail on the head.

I worked in communities like Aurukun for a while in the nineties, and have a basic understanding of the conditions these kids are growing up in. The situation is completely disgraceful, but not as disgraceful as the behaviour of the majority of Australians who couldn’t give a proverbial.

What’s to be done? How about a form of compulsory service for all twenty year olds – men and women – to be spent on designated communities enhancing the quality of life of the residents? It was OK thirty-five years ago to keep an obscure Asian nation free of the grasp of Communism. What’s wrong with dealing with a tragedy on our own soil that is happening now, rather than trying to prevent something that might occur in the future?

I cannot accept for one minute that any reasonable person reading this today would accept the scenes I have described here to occur in their community, let alone tolerate the pack rape of a 10-year-old girl.

Ask yourself this: do you recall the public outrage at the crimes committed to this little girl two years ago? You won't, because there wasn't any.
We should all be ashamed that for whatever reason we either didn't hear about it due to media indifference or perhaps it was just too far away to really notice, or maybe it is just too hard for most of us to comprehend or deal with.

I have heard all the excuses and delaying tactics as to why immediate action isn't prudent — you must consult, communities must come up with their own solutions, the situation is somehow different in remote communities, or that cultural differences must be taken into account.

I visited Aurukun, in far north Queensland, as federal minister for indigenous affairs on only one occasion, as part of a tour of Cape communities to talk with locals about their situation and how we could work together. This was a planned visit with all the departmental arrangements put in place well before the allotted time. On arrival by charter aircraft, there was no visiting party to greet us, no transport, nothing.

It became abundantly clear that apathy was not in short supply at Aurukun. A meeting of the Community Council did not eventuate, as only one councillor arrived.
Here was the bright spot A young woman, who clearly had drive, was visibly upset by the behaviour and attitudes of the people of her town. Her description of the drinking and fighting was all too familiar only now, I thought, at least we have a person we can support and work with to improve the situation. However, when I asked for her contact details so the department could working with her, she abruptly informed us she wasn't staying in Aurukun any longer as it was not the sort of place she felt she could raise the child in her care.

I guess this simple experience says it all: a town seen as unsuitable to raise a child by a community leader of that very town. On this same visit, police explained how the grog runners arrange disturbances on one side of town to draw the police off while they deliver their cargo without police interference. The same police spoke of illegal card games that go on for more than 24 hours with thousands of dollars changing lands. Welfare money, provided by the taxpayer for food and clothing for the children, is being gambled away at great cost to these same children. Imagine for a moment two extended families, 100 or 200 people, squaring off in the main street of your suburb or town 'with sticks, stones and other assorted makeshift weaponry.

This is the situation in Aurukun. This is the environment that we are allowing these children to be raised in.

We are talking about the destruction of another generation and what is called for here is urgent, direct action that is measured by positive outcomes. This includes outcomes such as full school attendance, massive reduction in domestic violence, and the complete protection of children. It starts with law and order. The police in these communities generally work incredibly hard. They often know who the criminals are, but they simply don't have the resources to do what is necessary to protect those who need the most protection — the children. There is only one reason for this. The State Government does not have this as a high enough priority and we, the public, don't hold them to account for this lack of commitment.

Only when we stop thinking of these children as Aboriginal and start to think of them as Australian, only when we stop making excuses because of the
challenges of the remote localities, and only when we value every child's life equally will we see the necessary changes being made by government. The good news is that these crimes are preventable, these communities can function in an appropriate and safe manner and children can grow up feeling safe. It just takes an acknowledgement that the policies of the past have failed.

It is at this point that most people contend that you must form working groups, work up discussion papers, consult widely and gain broad support before taking action. If these crimes were committed in Brisbane, every resource would be brought to bear immediately and this is just what must happen here. Longer-term solutions are necessary but must not be used again to delay the sort of response that is urgently demanded.

His comment about the different value placed on the lives of the Aurukun kids is illuminating. Perhaps our kids could do something to help - even if they have to be conscripted to it. Let's put our most precious resource - our offspring - into a situation where they make a positive difference. At least there would be fewer casualties than there were forty years ago.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...