Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The "Afghan model"

One of the revelations to come out of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre's dump of Australian military documents: the Australian military believes that its scheme for handling prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq violates international law. Despite this, it has continued to handle prisoners in this way. The core of the problem is differences between Australia and the USA on the Geneva Conventions. In an effort to paper over these differences, the Australian military developed the "Afghan model":

the model was based on the contrivance that the US would always be the formal "detaining" power when prisoners were taken, even if only one US soldier was operating with much larger numbers of Australians at the time of the capture;


The situation reached absurd heights on April 11, 2003, when 66 prisoners rounded up by Australian SAS troops were deemed to have been "captured" by the sole US Army officer present.

"Defence may find it difficult, although not impossible, to coherently explain that [Australia] was not the detaining power," warns a high-level brief at the time. This week Admiral Barrie said his concerns were about the practicalities, not legalities, of the arrangement and, by the time of Iraq, Australia should have had its own capability.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The New Zealand SAS also uses the "Afghan model", though in our case the nominal "detaining power" is the Afghan government rather than the US. And it has produced similar absurdities, and similar exposure of NZ troops to war crimes charges under New Zealand and international law.

In Australia, they're calling for a full inquiry into this mess. We need one in New Zealand too. Unfortunately, our government seems only too willing to cover up illegal and unconscionable behaviour by the military. Which arguably makes them accessories after the fact.