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Before you go, Senator Faulkner …

By Kellie Tranter - posted Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Secret US military files just released by Wikileaks require questions to be asked of our government and immediate and truthful answers. The conspiracy of silence about the war in Afghanistan must end.

Senator Faulkner recently delivered a speech to the Lowy Institute about Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan. In it he said:

... At times of such loss, we all should pause and reflect on Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan. We have the good fortune of living in a democratic, open society. A society in which Australia can, and should, ask tough questions of its government. Equally, it is the government’s responsibility to answer those questions, to inform, to educate and to unflinchingly take responsibility for the decisions we make ...


This is a remarkable statement. That governments should be held accountable to the people they represent is seldom on the minds, let alone on the lips, of modern day politicians. This sense of responsibility is one reason why Senator Faulkner is respected and why he will be missed.

But before you step away from the defence portfolio, Senator Faulkner, can you please answer some of the many “tough questions” about the invasion of Afghanistan and its consequences?

Questions you might start with include:

  • Did UN Security Council Resolutions 1368 and 1373 mention Afghanistan?
  • Did the United States seek to gain specific legal support (PDF 86KB) from the United Nations Security Council for its action in Afghanistan?
  • Did Prime Minister John Howard’s motion on September 17, 2001 (PDF 776KB) make mention of the references to the UN Security Council within the ANZUS Treaty (Articles I, IV and VI)?
  • Having regard to humanitarian law, is it true that the use of force in self-defence must consider the issue of proportionality? If so, is proportionality judged in terms of the need to repel those attacks against which an act of self-defence is aimed and that it may not be considered proportionate to retaliate in the same way as the initial attacks, or to produce the same amount of damage?
  • Is it true that since 2001, the US Air Force has dropped nearly 31 million pounds (more than 14,000 metric tons) of bombs on Afghanistan?
  • How many civilians have been killed or seriously wounded since 2001?
  • Did the Howard government in 2007 approve a plan to double Australian forces but to delay the public announcement? If so, just how long did, and does, the government expect the war to continue? 
  • Why does the public have to wait for the release of leaked videos, following official denials of civilian deaths, to seek any sort of political accountability?
  • Is it true that troops kill civilians because they find it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the Taliban from innocent civilians? Maybe that’s only common sense, after all: if the same troops were put in Martin Place and ordered to detect and fire paintballs at atheists in the lunchtime crowd, how many “true believers” would also end up splattered?
  • Was our government aware of the existence of a secret "black" unit of special forces which hunts down Taliban leaders for "kill or capture" without trial?
  • What does our government know about the Taliban’s acquisition of deadly surface-to-air missiles? How many helicopters have been shot down by such weapons since 2004?
  • In 2006 (PDF 341KB) the Afghan government, with the support of the international community, committed to achieving a nationally respected, professional, ethnically balanced Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police and Afghan Border Police, which would be fully established - that is, democratically accountable, organised, trained and equipped to meet the security needs of the country - by the end of 2010. We’re already over half way through 2010: how does reality compare with that “commitment”?
  • Why are the latest international assurances about the war in Afghanistan so strangely reminiscent of the Soviet’s CPSU CC Politburo Decision of January 24, 1989 (PDF 113KB) on the measures pertaining to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan? Why does history seem to repeat itself? Each time we hear the same promises and predictions, with ever more distant attainment dates, they become less credible, and when we examine them with historical insight they become quite incredible.
  • Have the powers-that-be even considered that the impoverished and war-weary people of Afghanistan may never support the Karzai or any other centralised government?
  • Has it occurred to the would-be architects of post-war Afghanistan that to people in constant danger and without food, water, shelter and warmth, naïve plans and optimistic promises about the future have absolutely no meaning?

Please give us some answers before you go, Senator: your successor, whether Liberal or Labor, is unlikely to be as principled or as honest as you are, and the Australian public do need to know the truth.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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