I haven’t written much lately as I’ve been doing more and more radio. The links to some of my podcasts are available below:
I did an interview with Shane Fenwick about his recent trip to Palestine. It will be at 3cr.org.au at 930am on Saturday. Right before my latest radioactive show at ten am!
Updated- these 2 will be available from Sat the 9th of July:
Swan Island podcasts:
Donna Mulhearn on situation in Fallujah:
Thanks for listening!
What better way could we spend our short lives on this beautiful planet?
2016 marks the seventh straight year of nonviolent direct action at the secretive Australia Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) base. From Swan Island trained Special Air Services 4 Squadron troops go international to do the bidding of the USA, under the command of the US Special Forces control agency Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Swan Island base has had hundreds of millions of dollars poured into it since 2001. It is a centre of Australia’s training for subservience to US war making. Since 2010, protestors have trespassed on the island in protest of the war, blockaded the gates, shut down communications systems and even been victim of some of the torturous anti-interrogation techniques that “the best of the best” are trained on the island, so they can go and do likewise to other people overseas.
Like any dark operation, festering corruption, abuse, death and destruction in its murky shadows- the trainers and trainees of Swan Island run from the light. The several years of direct non-violent action, the recent media spotlight after four of us were assaulted are too much accountability for the vicious nature of Australia’s top secret military regime.
With too much exposure, there are too many questions to answer. Questions like, how many people have Australian Special Forces executed in war zones and other places? How many people have they tortured? How much has Australia following US tactics increased the risk of a terrorist attack on Australian soil?
From 620 in the morning, 12 of us stood in front of the gate. Australia is spending 500 million dollars a year fighting in Syria and Iraq and a billion dollars a year imprisoning the refugees who flee these conflicts. Moved, some of us decided to take a snap blockade of the secretive base. Normally we plan ahead, announce and advertise for more people. This time, to be more effective, we did no public planning or calling.
We were keyed up, ready to be arrested, but so scared of the spotlight and accountability, the military and the police just let us block the gate unchallenged. We stayed until 1pm, so people who work on the base would not be able to get to work. It was a successful blockade, slowing down Australia’s aggressive war making for one day.
After being violently assaulted by the base’s military personnel in 2014, I was a little nervous about blockading the gate on the day. But my concern for potential personal impacts was outweighed by feeling a need to take responsibility for my country’s recent 15 years of war making, including the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and the bombing of Syria, Australia has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, destroyed communities, and created millions of refugees.
We can’t change the world individually, but as small committed groups who regularly turn up to nonviolently disrupt war making and the destruction of our ecosystem, we can slow down the destruction.
Our hope is to change the narrative from one of economic growth at all costs, to one where all of us in the human family are cared for, valued and given space to find our life’s potential. And, who knows, we might even have fun and joy on the way.
Such a vision is surely worth working for. Such a world is worth fighting for by putting ourselves on the line from time to time. On Thursday, it cost our time to slow war making down, but we invested in a more just and peaceful world. Whilst there were risks, they were small compared to the daily risks of those who live on the edge of our Empire, at the mercy of our economic god.
Those of us in the countries where activists and reformers have gone before us to make dissent easier, have a responsibility to use the space given. We have a responsibility to those in the countries we have invaded and destroyed. We have a responsibility to the natural world around us. We have a responsibility to future generations who deserve a fair share of the Earth’s resources and a peaceful, just world. Lastly we have a responsibility to ourselves. Once we were all kids who questioned the world and dreamed of something better. As adults we can use our time, bodies and spirit to make those dreams come true.
Australia’s next leader?
I like following US politics. In 2008, I was living in a small conservative town as a teacher. My colleagues were all obsessed with Rugby League, but when the primary nominations in the US were running, and the eventual election, I was enthralled. “Why do you give a crap?” One young teaching colleague asked. I answered because whoever rules the US will wield a large say in Australia’s foreign and military policy. I could see why he was disinterested. The US is a long way away.
Anyone who knows something about anything though, knows that the Australian military is now just a Corps of the US military. From Iraq, Afghanistan and the South China Sea, Australia does what the US does. In Pine Gap, in the thriving Australian outback- a top secret base collects all of our phone calls and communications, targets drones that have killed hundreds of children and monitors the enemies of the US.
Our special forces, particularly the 4th Squadron of the Special Air Services Regiment work directly under US command. In places where we have gone to war, and other place we haven’t, our specially trained ‘best of the best’ do what their US Masters tell them too.
Generally, most people would think that what the US does is good for Australia.
Unless Donald Trump becomes President.
I think he might. And I think he is a smart man, but might play politics with foreign policy and start a war. If he actually carpet bombs Iraq and Syria, or antagonises Russia or China into a war- Australia is actually at war too.
This isn’t just about Trump. Hiliary Clinton is likely to win the Democratic Primary. In some ways I’m more scared of Clinton than of Trump. Part of me thinks Trump might be just talking big to win an election. When he gets in, he might actually show some common sense and decency.
Clinton on the other hand supported the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was Obama’s Secretary of State. Under her reign, the US greatly increased military spending, devastated Libya, approved of the increase of drones, that killed thousands of children and civilians. So bad was the drone policy, that the US has stopped using it for fear of making too many new enemies.
That was Clinton as Secretary of State.
As President, she may well provoke a war with Russia or China with her hawkish policies.
As it stands now, whatever US policy is after November this year, will automatically become Australia’s policy. If the politics, bluster and madness continues after the election, a large war will be triggered. Australia will find itself on the side of the aggressor, as it did in 2002 and 2003. This time, we might find ourselves at war China or Russia- whether we want to be with them or not.
With Pine Gap, a US facility in the heart of Australia, 2000 US Marines in Darwin and our Special Forces integrated into the US military a US war led by Trump or Clinton will be Australia’s war- and we have no choice in that.
The US President has just announced that the Afghanistan War will now be indefinite. Instead of withdrawing US troops before the end of his presidency at the end of next year, Obama has decided to leave 5,500 troops permanently in the country, to continue to train and equip the Afghan army. A task the US and its allies including Australia have been undertaking since early 2002. Reports are that the Taliban now control over 50% of the country and elements of the Islamic State have popped up and are gaining a foot hold.
At the same time as Obama announced the expansion of the war, a whilsteblower has released secret documents to news site first look revealing much detail of the US drone program. It reveals with chilling certainty that over 90% of the people killed in US drone strikes were not the intended targets. The documents also reveal why the war in Afghanistan has failed and why any expansion of the war will not only be a waste of money and needlessly put our soldiers life at risk, but it undermines the ability of the Afghans to find their own forms of political freedom and civil rights for women, common arguments of those who support the war.
Released in the trove of documents are details of Operation Haymaker that took place in Afghanistan from 2011-2013. In it is an account from a reporter Matt Trevithick, who travelled unaccompanied through the target regions. Trevithick claims that savvy, local strong men in the region of Kunar drew the US into their local feuds. Simply speaking, business rivals would point the finger at each other and claim one was Taliban or Al-Qaeda. In many instances the Taliban suspect would either be sympathetic to the US, or at least anti-Taliban. This wouldn’t stop the US from using a drone or a night time operation to kill either the person, or accidentally kill someone in his family. As a result, a whole village or even region will get drawn into the conflict against the US. Instead of building relationships in the region, the US, and presumably Australian forces would capture and torture, on bad intelligence and make enemies out of the locals.
US intelligence could be so bad, that in one case, a man playing with kids was mistaken as taller than average amongst other men, a sign that he might be Arab, a foreign fighter. So the US killed him from a plane, and killed all of the children around him. Imagine being a parent of one of these children, how do you not fight back against this? Its in this context with many enemies made and the growing strength of the Islamic State, who recruit people who have seen their families and lives destroyed by the US led occupation, that Obama is lengthening the longest foreign war in US history. Instead of leaving behind a liberal democracy, we radicalise and harden those already against us and send them waves of new recruits from those who have seen their lives destroyed before their eyes.
The lesson to learn from all of this, and from the absolute disaster that was the Iraq invasion of 2003, is that military interventions rarely solve anything. They just create more problems. Afghanistan now has a more entrenched, hard line Taliban force than before 2001, the billions spent on trying to create an Allied Afghan State to counter Russian and Chinese influence in the region continue to be thrown away, into arms manufacturers, the real winners of the war. Thousands of people have been killed and the region is now less stable, creating the elements that might feed possible terrorist attacks in Australia. People in Afghanistan who might have been our allies, have been made our enemies.
Australia’s Pine Gap also plays a crucial role in the Afghanistan War. All drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are coordinated at some point through the secretive base just outside of Alice Springs. That means the hundreds of people killed between 2011 to 2013 were killed partially by the Australian Government, which represents its citizens, voters and taxpayers. We have the information; innocent people are being killed by our ally using our resources and land space. This makes Australia a more dangerous place to be and costs us precious resources that could be used in Australian healthcare and education.
As Australians we are all responsible for these deaths and we need to take this responsibility seriously. If we don’t we will be led further down this militarised path, and the next time we let an operation like this happen, it may have consequences much closer to home.
Today might not be remembered in the annals of Australian history. No one won a grand final, an Australian did not garner a prize for a role in an American movie, and in even lesser pursuits, there was no leap forward in curing cancer or inventing the 5D television.
But this morning a Melbourne jury found a man guilty of planning on travelling to Syria where he MIGHT have joined our current enemy the Islamic State, or maybe our former enemy, now ally the Al-Nousra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria). Amin Mohamed (in trouble with that name from the start) was not arrested as he returned from Syria having spent months in Syria promising violence on Australia soil, or inciting members of Australia’s Muslim community.
He wasn’t captured in Syria after an extensive man hunt because he put hours of video online threatening to blow up Parliament House, the Sydney Opera House, The Sydney Harbour Bridge and something that might be iconic of Australia in other cities.
Australian Federal Police and Australian Secret Intelligence Service agents didn’t call in favours from their contacts in Europe and Asia (all their contacts are through the US anyway, let’s face it) ala any Bond type movie you’ve ever seen in an intricate cat and mouse thriller hunting a man threatening to use drones on Australian territory to kill people, including innocent kids attending a large wedding party (well, no one is as resourceful as the US government on that count).
No, Amnin Mohamed had his phone tapped and applied for a New Zealand passport. The man had not left the country, had not posted on facebook that he was planning on joining the Islamic State, or any terrorist group. He had spoken, according to the juries findings, in a secret code of going to Syria to fight. I could go through the detail with you of why I think Amin was screwed over by the justice system and whilst facing 30 years in gaol over phone calls and a passport application is a heinous blow against all of our civil rights. But I won’t go there.
Instead I’ll ask a simple question. If I ring a mate and say “I’m thinking of robbing a bank, I want some of that sweet, cold hard cash they’re always going on about on the FM morning talk shows” and then I apply for my car license so I can drive to the bank legally- should I go to gaol for bank robbery?
Is the mere thought and speaking of possibly committing a crime the same as committing a crime?
Mark down today, October 13th. Get ready to tell your grandkids and to get them to tell their kids. This is the day someone was found guilty and might go to gaol for 30 years because he thought about a crime and rang some people with the idea. Amin committed ThoughtCrime. Today, like so many days around us at the moment as the spy state grows stronger and has far greater reach into our privacy than ever before, or as we become immune to the scenes of millions of people fleeing for their lives from wars our over consumption and greed has started, we quietly ceded a little more of our freedom whilst we remain glued to the boxes that tell us freedom is choosing what colour kitchen you can have and the ability to change what team you support.
Today was the first time, that I know of, that you can be found guilty for thinking about committing a crime against Australia.
Happy ThoughtCrime Day everybody!
In 2001, Australia gave its political and military support to a US based attack on Afghanistan.
At the time, I was in the army and I supported it.
It was sold to people like me as necessary, to disarm Osama Bin Laden and his group who had been responsible for the September Eleven attacks. Since that date, Australia has constantly been at war. We put the bodies and minds of our soldiers on the line on the basis that they are “keeping us safe”.
In supposedly keeping us safe, our political and military leaders have caused the deaths of many people, including our own troops and, I would say, made the world a far more dangerous place than ever before.
Its hard to get accurate numbers on just how many people’s lives we’ve ruined.
I don’t mean terrorists, or Iraqi soldiers necessarily, I mean the average person who, until my country made war with them, were just shopping clerks, teachers, doctors, cleaners, husbands, daughters, cousins and friends.
People who used to go two blocks away for good coffee with a mate.
People who dreamed of travelling the world; or seeing their children get married and make their way in life.
You know, people- being people. Boring, mundane, messy, beautiful people.
Numbers are a bad way to tell a story.
Throughout the peace convergence, in the media, I tried to get across just how many people had died in US led wars since 2001- these numbers dwarf those in Australia or the USA or Europe who were harmed in terrorist attacks since 9/11.
But this isn’t really right.
If I lost someone in my family to a 9/11 attack, I might be baying for revenge too.
But I haven’t lost anyone in these wars. I live in a country that tells itself it’s under attack, when we have attacked and killed many people who never looked like posing a threat to us.
How many people died is almost insignificant compared to the despair my country has inflicted on any one innocent family. As I write this, I wonder if whole families who were wiped out by bombs paid for by my tax dollars, might be better off than those who were wounded or, families left with one or many missing members.
None of my personal attempts to play a numbers game in the media can ever compare with the needless ongoing suffering of someone permanently injured in war. Whether that person is a soldier from Australia or someone who was unlucky enough to be born in Iraq at this time- physical, mental, social and emotional trauma does not choose sides.
For me the 2015 peace convergence was a deeply personal struggle to try and make sense of why my country has done all of this.
And as someone who has benefitted from the wealth and contributed tax dollars- to take responsibility for those actions.
Organising peace activists is hard. I’d much rather be teaching a class, playing a game with any number of the kids I’m lucky enough to have in my life, having a beer with my Dad whilst he teaches me something about how to work with my hands, walking through the bush or a million other things than organising anti-war activism and spending a night in the watch house.
But I’ve tried living my life in ignorance of the suffering of others and all I can say is, I’m not built for it. Lots of people died because of political decisions made in my lifetime.
In a representative democracy, that makes me partially responsible.
Talisman Sabre and the US Alliance is sold on the premise of protecting Australia. But I’ve only seen it used to attack and kill many other people.
Exercises on Shoalwater Bay, land of the Darumbal People, are preparations for further invasions.
My friend Nick Deane has spent fifteen years writing to politicians and submitting research papers on this issue. He has never received a response.
This year he decided to take non-violent direct action against preparations for further invasions of other people’s countries. Along with Shane Anderson he trespassed on Shoalwater Bay to try and disrupt the exercises.
Helen Bayes, Dawn Joyce and Jo Valentine have decades of varying experience in peace building.
Angry at our country’s ongoing preparations for another war, they decided instead to hold a tea party at the gates of Shoalwater Bay. They invited soldiers to practice their communication and negotiation skills- a much better way to work through conflict than killing each other.
Margaret Pestorious and her friend Paul Christie spent days walking through the wilderness to talk with soldiers and let them know that we are not against soldiers. But if you’re willing to sign up to put your life on the line, as Australian citizens, we have a responsibility to the soldiers as well, to make sure it is in the defence of Australia- and not some shadowy political or economic cause that hurts them as well.
Two of the bravest people I know, Dave Spriggs and Sam Quinlan went on in separate groups.
In October, several months earlier- both had been severely assaulted by Special Forces troops on Swan Island.
Those people who think that anti-war activists bludge or should “get a job” should meet and hang out with these 2 and see the hard work and dedication these blokes put in to what they believe. Both entered and physically did their best to non-violently slow down war preparations.
Teigan, Jim, Simon, Simon and Andy also went on in different groups.
This does not even begin to mention the many, many people whose support we would not be able to do the work without. Robin Taubenfeld, Beccy Horridge- to name just two. They kept us organised, feeling safe, fed and warm at times of stress, fatigue and exhaustion.
All of us have varying ideologies and reasons for going.
But all of us have a simple idea.
War is wrong.
Not only is it wrong for the people of the countries we have invaded and killed. It’s bad for our soldiers and if we simply look at the evidence of the world since 2001- our wars have made the world a less safe place to live in.
Our country continues to wage war- we call politicians, we write letters to the editors and we do protests. But when you see preparations for a war happening, you have to try and stop it.
Another key supporter, Gaye Demanuele said to me over a drink towards the end of the convergence “peace takes all of us”.
I had heard it before, but the peace convergence has given me new cause to consider its profoundness.
The best part of the peace convergence is not the actions or the court or the media. It’s solving things together. It’s getting more than 50 people into a space with a wide variety of interests and religions and working our stuff through together.
It takes listening, giving, standing up for yourself or someone else at the right time, being kind, knowing when to stop stressing and have a cuppa- learning to work and live together where everyone feels like they have equal stake whether they give a day or several months.
Its hard work.
The most treasured thing I take away from my White Australian culture is to not shy away from a bit of hard work. And I will keep at it. Whilst my government follows corporate and economic interests over those of Australian soldiers and civilians of other countries, I will work as hard, sustainably and lovingly as I can to build a better alternative. But it’s not up to one person to direct it or lead it.
Peace takes all of us.
There’s lots of stuff out there about Islamic State (IS) right now. They look scary. They wear hoods, have big knives and love to yell out loud. The high definition footage of their atrocities is beyond the pale. Australia is currently spending 500 million dollars a year to fight them. Seems like a very big deal. Here’s a catch up if you don’t know much about it, from the US perspective (seeing as they tell us our foreign policy anyway):
Now I condemn all violence. I would love to see IS disappear. That’s why I am writing this.
Australian and US strategy in the Middle East won’t make IS disappear, it will help IS get stronger- especially if we put soldiers on the ground.
Since October, Australia has been helping the US bomb IS. Politically in Australia this sounds great. No Australian lives at risk; we find the bad guys, blow them up and fly home for a gin and tonic. Things on the ground are a bit more complex though.
Iraq is made up of many different groups. E.g:
- There’s the Iraqi Army; that has continually crumbled since 2011. It is now being backed by Iranian volunteers and funding, as well as US and Australian backing. There are also other groups.
- Shi’ite militias that are allied with the government but don’t support it and;
- Sunni militias opposed to both the Iraqi government and IS.
When our bombs fall, we don’t always hit hooded guys. We have also bombed a slew of civilian casualties in IS controlled areas, but also in Sunni militia controlled regions.
When the bombs fall on your town, you don’t go “oops, they thought we were Islamic State- you rascally Americans made a mistake!” Nope.
You wail, you mourn for your dead family members and you vow revenge.
Iraqis in these areas see the US bombings as support of the Baghdad Shi’ite government. So men, who want to defend their families, join up with a group, that might be crazy, but at least they’re defending your family against the Americans!
This is the very reason IS films its evil on high definition cameras and posts high quality videos. Not only do we drive Iraqis and Syrians to join IS in response to our violence, our image obsessed media spends all of its time talking about the atrocities that the evil barbarian terrorists conveniently uploaded onto youtube.
And our political leaders can score easy points by looking strong against them.
In short, IS knows us. Many have been fighting the US and Australia since we invaded Iraq in 2003, they’ve studied us, and now they’re playing us like fiddles.
Our political leaders, instead of dealing with issues such as, how to give Central Queensland a sustainable future, can just stutter terrorism and they look competent.
This gives resonance when local parliamentarians like Michelle Landry MP and Mayor Margret Strelow; instead of having to demonstrate vision for the region, simply wheel out the old chestnut of ‘we had a conversation with someone and there might be some more tanks in Rockhampton’. Just like they were saying in 2013, when I was last up here.
Australia is facing many problems. Global warming, Aboriginal deaths in custody, asylum seekers, the escalating price of living, being dependent on fossil fuels with only two weeks reserve at any one time, record rates of depression and suicide, an ageing population- to name a few. But what do I read when I get on the news everyday? Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. New laws, new weapons, new wars.
If these guys were in Tasmania, I’d understand. But they’re half a world away. What are we so scared of?
IS, which is really just the battle hardened remnants of Sadaam’s old Iraqi Army combined with people wanting to defend their families from murderous invaders (yep us) know how to twist our media nipples and wet-willy our political ignorance.
Forget the people flying to join them- their numbers are tiny- more rhetoric for our lazy politicians to try and look tough for us on national security. It’s not politics anymore, but a verbal Mr. Universe, featuring Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and another guy who sounds like Arnie.
IS desperately wants to drag Australia into another ground war. Not only do we legitimise them as a significant international force, they gain more funding from Sunni supporters in the Middle East, who are frightened of Iran gaining too much power.
They also gain more recruits, surrounded by horrendous violence from both sides, go with their only option for defending themselves. Or they run away and become asylum seekers…
Australians are hard workers. We pride ourselves on it.
Right now, our military is spending half a billion dollars a year fighting a threat that grows stronger with every bomb we drop and our political and military leaders only know how to scream ‘more bombs!’.
Bombs and guns won’t solve this one, or many of the other challenges facing us. As a country we have to work harder to solve these problems, or our children and grandchildren will have to pick up our weight.
Do you want your grandkids saying:
“Gee, wish granddad didn’t leave climate change to us to solve. What a bludger.”?