China threat: Australia kowtows to US masters over pilot’s degrading treatment

Mar 3, 2023
Lockheed Martin fighter jet.

The treatment of former US marine Daniel Edmund Duggan by Australian authorities in the service of their US masters has again shown that the Australian passport is not quite worth the material it’s printed on.

In January this year, Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court heard that Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus accepted a US request before Christmas to extradite Duggan. Duggan is no longer a US citizen but it is clear that other considerations are at play in the US-Australian alliance.

In a 2017 indictment unsealed on December 9, Duggan is accused by prosecutors of using his expertise to train Chinese fighter pilots to land on aircraft carriers along with eight co-conspirators. The claim here is that “defence services” were provided via a South African flight school. It is also alleged that the US State Department warned him to apply for written authorisation to train a foreign air force in 2008, which is a requirement of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The allegation here is that he went ahead without securing authorisation, thereby breaching trafficking and arms control laws between 2009 and 2012.

Duggan has been held since October. In the finest traditions of Australian justice, he is being confined in conditions that suggest presumed guilt. His lawyer, Dennis Miralis, has stated at various points with some exasperation that his client is “presumed innocent under US law”. Duggan’s wife, Saffrine, insists that her husband is “a victim of the United States government’s political dispute with China.”

The presumption of innocence has also been sorely tested by Duggan’s detention in a two-by-four-metre cell at the Silverwater jail, which also houses convicted terrorists. Miralis can only assume that the New South Wales Department of Directions has been all too willing to follow instructions delivered from on high.

Earlier this month lawyers for Duggan made a submission to the UN Human Rights Commission challenging the state of his confinement. Their submission argues that the authorities have failed to protect Duggan from “inhumane and degrading” treatment, failed to segregate him from convicted inmates, violated his right to adequate facilities to enable him to prepare his legal defence, and denied his right to confidential communications.

Regarded as nothing more than contingent paperwork, citizenship is feeble in prosecutions of Australians by other allied countries. To the contrary, Canberra has often aided and abetted the undermining of that very idea with a “good riddance” attitude. Best let others deal with those supposedly bad apples.

During the poorly conceived “War on Terror”, a tellingly ghastly response to the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, Australian citizens found themselves captured, rendered and left to decay in detention. Such names should forever be taught in schools. They include the Egyptian-Australian national Mamdouh Habib, and David Hicks.

In the case of Habib, his arrest in October 2001 in Pakistan and subsequent detention for three years on suspicion of having prior knowledge of the September 11 terrorist attacks, was a fantasy nurtured by both US and Australian personnel. Despite the US expressing the view in January 2005 that it would not lay charges against Habib, the Australian Attorney-General and Minister for Foreign Affairs were still adamant that Habib had prior knowledge of the attacks, had spent time in Afghanistan, and trained with al-Qaida.

The Hicks case is particularly striking for its influence on US jurisprudence and the unconstitutional military commissions created to try “illegal enemy combatants” held in Guantanamo Bay. The Australian role in this inglorious chapter was to engage in blatant acts of premature adjudication. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer even dared to claim that Hicks be grateful for having not spent longer in US captivity. “He would have been there for years if it hadn’t been for our intervention.”

To crown this appalling resume of achievements is the Australian government’s grossly feeble response to Julian Assange’s continued persecution at the hands of the US Department of Justice in the United Kingdom. Facing a preposterously broad application of the Extradition Act of 1917, thereby imperilling all national security journalism, Australian calls to drop the case have been weak and lukewarm at best. The tone was set by Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose response to Cablegate in 2010 was to presume Assange guilty for having breached some regulation, despite failing to identify a single law to that effect.

The Duggan case has an all too familiar feel to it. The training of Chinese pilots by veteran personnel from a Western country would hardly have raised a murmur when relations between Washington and Beijing were less acrimonious. Miralis also notes admissions from the Department of Defence that Australian citizens “have performed foreign services in other jurisdictions with foreign states of a military nature.” To specifically target Duggan was “highly unfair.”

The question here is what Australian citizens can do when providing services for foreign countries. Serving in ultra-nationalist Ukrainian regiments, or moonlighting in the Israeli Defence Force, is unlikely to land you in trouble. But proffering military services in a private capacity the Great Yellow Devil, while earning some cash on the side, is clearly frowned upon.

If the fevered assessments from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation are anything to go by, Duggan’s future is bleak. Threats abound, disloyalty is everywhere. ASIO Chief Mike Burgess, in his annual threat assessment, was eager to justify his agency’s bloated and increasingly flabby budget. “More hostile foreign intelligence services, more spies, more targeting, more harm, more ASIO investigations, more ASIO disruptions. From where I sit, it feels like hand-to-hand combat.” He was especially unimpressed, in a clear sideswipe at Duggan, with those “top guns” who were nothing more than “top tools” in selling their services to adversarial powers.

Now that Australia’s near-treasonous apparatchiks have committed the country to a Washington-led Armageddon in any conflict with the PRC, Canberra is doing everything it can to be a capturer and gaoler for its enormous and not always considerate friend.

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