Australia is still waiting for an honest appraisal of its involvement in other countries wars of choice, almost invariably carried out for other than the officially professed reasons.
On Monday, 16 March 2020 the ABC broadcast an exposure on its Four Corners program about alleged war crimes in Afghanistan committed by Australian special forces soldiers.
The ABC is to be commended for bringing this issue before the public. In the course of the program we were told that the alleged war crimes had been under investigation for a period of four years. There was no explanation as to why the inquiry was taking so long, although its very links and the relative secrecy surrounding the inquiry does invite the cynical conclusion that there is no pressure being applied to bring the matter to the point where prosecutions are carried out.
The Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials, which were vastly greater than the alleged misdeeds of Australian (and other) soldiers in Afghanistan were commenced and concluded in less time than this investigation has taken thus far.
Although the ABC is to be commended for bringing these allegations before the general public, it has taken a very long time. Other issues relating to the October 2001 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have been known about for literally decades.
According to the ABC News website the first ever Parliamentary debate on Australian involvement in the Afghanistan war occurred in October 2010. It is astonishing that a country such as Australia could wage war on a foreign nation for the parliament to hold its first (and only?) debate years after the event occurred and that it continued for a further decade without serious parliamentary debate.
It is a similar situation with Australia’s involvement in the war on Iraq, which commenced with the allied invasion in March 2003. Although the matter was discussed in parliament at the time, the following years have also seen an astonishing paucity of debate.
To its credit, the Labor opposition opposed the involvement of Australia in the Iraq war, although they did absolutely nothing in the six years they were in power, 2008-2014 to give effect to their earlier opposition and withdraw Australian troops. The real history behind that reticence is yet to be written.
One suspects that the real reason for this reticence in debating in the parliament what is after all a matter of huge public significance, is the utter subservience of the Australian parliament to the wishes of the United States. That includes the latter’s propensity to wage war in one form or another on all governments that do not meet the requisite standard of subservience.
In early 2020 the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously for foreign troops to withdraw from their country unless invited to stay. The United States and Australia were manifestly not invited in the first place, much less invited to stay. The reaction of the two countries? The United States and Australia simply ignored the wishes of the sovereign Iraqi government. Their troops are still there.
Part of the Australian government’s justification for staying in Afghanistan was that they were “training” Afghan soldiers. The ABC Four Corners documentary made no mention of such a role, which is not to say that it is non-existent. What the documentary did show were Australian troops on patrol in areas where they were looking for alleged Taliban sympathisers or activists. If “training” consists of the murder of unarmed civilians then there are surely better activities to be involved in.
What the program completely failed to mention was the Australian role in Afghanistan heroin production. That industry has been virtually eliminated under Taliban rule pre-2001. The vast renewal of Afghanistan heroin production post invasion was not happenstance. As has now been well documented by United Nations studies among others, the United States has been the prime instigator of the revived heroin industry in Afghanistan, and its chief financial beneficiary.
It is a measure of the cowardliness of the Australian mainstream media that the role played by the occupying forces as the principal reason for the resurgence of the heroin trade is almost completely ignored. Of course, such dirty truths do not sit well with the official propaganda about the occupier’s benevolent role in Afghanistan.
If the recently concluded peace deal between the United States and the Taliban actually proceeds and survives, the United States will have to find another source for its worldwide heroin trade, just as they did after being kicked out of Indochina. Indeed, the British faced the same dilemma in the 19th century when they fought three wars in Afghanistan, not least of the reasons being the control of the heroin trade. The principals may vary, but the same game continues to be played.
The focus of the Four Corners program was clearly much narrower. It is difficult to see how the alleged war crimes in Afghanistan can be properly viewed other than in the context of Australia’s endless wars fought on behalf of its erstwhile ally, the United States.
That war was commenced on the basis of a fundamental lie, that Osama bin Laden had masterminded the attacks of 11 September 2001 in Washington and New York city. The Americans further alleged that the Afghanistan government had refused to surrender bin Laden to the American notion of justice. The Afghanistan government not unreasonably asked for evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. It was never forthcoming, not surprisingly as (a) it never existed; and (b) the invasion of Afghanistan has been decided upon months before 9/11 and had wider geopolitical goals.
While the Four Corners program is to be commended therefore for giving a public broadcast to grave allegations of alleged war crimes, it is not enough. Alleged atrocities carried out by an occupying army cannot be divorced from the reasons that took them there in the first place.
Australia is still waiting for an honest appraisal of its involvement in other countries wars of choice, almost invariably carried out for other than the officially professed reasons. Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are classic illustrations of that point.
Afghanistan, like Iraq, is no exception to this general principle. As long as the ABC and other major mainstream media outlets continue to ignore these uncomfortable realities, the vastly greater is the likelihood of Australia yet again waging an illegal war on behalf of United States geopolitical interests.
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at [email protected]