Happy Christmas (The war is not over)

It’s Christmas time again!

Motor vehicles are adorned with reindeer antlers (or “thneeds” as I prefer to call them).

Lots of people are sporting Christmas t-shirts, courtesy of Chinese sweatshops. Checkout aisles are full of people swiping credit cards. I was intrigued by one shopper buying a $12.00 ‘Peace’ word art – you know, the wooden word cut-outs you see in windows next to ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ – even while our country remains at war.

With Australia having joined to fight alongside the United States in every major conflict since World War II – and lost or losing them all – maybe she was going to send it to the Minister for Defence?

You’ll be chuffed to know our country is doing its bit for ‘world peace’ this Christmas.

The Australian Army is preparing for longer “campaigns”; we voted against Palestine’s admission to the UNESCO and we lobbied to weaken the international ban on cluster bomb munitions.

We also decided to sell uranium to India, a country standing outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a country whose nuclear program is stimulated by its neighbour (Pakistan) having the fastest-growing nuclear weapons program in the world, and a country whose government has been prepared to bribe MPs to secure the votes for a nuclear future, as evidenced by the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008.

Last but not least, Australia was the fourth largest purchaser of US arms in the 2011 fiscal year.

Tune into the radio for the morning history trivia question. Seldom does a day pass when the answer doesn’t relate to the beginning of a war, the fighting of a war, the ending of a war or some remembrance of a war. Is mankind preordained to a fate of perpetual war mongering?

Mainstream media reports “voila”, the end of the Iraq war, as promised. But the public announcements don’t mention that the United States has left behind in Iraq the world’s largest “embassy“, housing 16,000 people. Or that private security contractors (which may include the infamous Blackwater, renamed Xe and now Academi) will be returning to Iraq because the United States government failed to negotiate immunity for its troops or to renegotiate the Status Of Forces Agreement which requires all US forces to be gone from Iraq by January 1, 2012. And we don’t hear a peep about the rules of engagement for private US security contractors.

But are the US soldiers going home? Or are they joining the US and NATO forces who allegedly have landed outside of Syria and are training militants to overthrow the regime of president Bashar al-Assad. Don’t worry about that – it’s Christmas time: we’ll just have to wait for the White House to spin the bottle on the world map to find out which country our young soldiers will go to next. Syria? Iran? China?

In the spirit of “dealing toughly with your banker” earlier this year the Pentagon revealed a new battle concept – The Air Sea Battle concept- which reportedly is the “start of what defence officials say is the early stage of a new Cold War-style military posture toward China”.

Naturally Australia and the United States each attempted to reassure China that expanding military US ties with Australia are not aimed at containing China, and so far China has remained rather stiff upper lipped, but wars are fought on borrowed money so it will be interesting to see how US Treasury Bonds go (or don’t). Guan Jianzhong, the head of China’s biggest ratings agency, Dagong Global Credit Rating, offered a fairly frank assessment of the US economy.

But fortunately we should be kept safe and warm this Christmas by the Australian Intelligence Community. ASIO costs us $438 million per year, but we have the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Office of National Assessments, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, and the Defence Imagery & Geospatial Organisation as well! And the list is growing: the relatively new Cyber Security Operations Centre is housed inside the Defence Signals Directorate, an organisation that partners with the United States National Security Agency, now notorious for its Orwellian domestic spying program.

We have to trust they’re getting it right because they’re all agencies exempt under the Australian Freedom of Information laws and essentially unaccountable to us, and we just have to forgive slipups when they don’t get it right, like the conduct of ASIO security assessments for people seeking asylum here.

We obviously need this protection because Barack Obama says “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and we don’t get much official sunlight. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks and their sources, and a handful of courageous investigative journalists, are the only ones who have continued to shine the light in 2011. If you can overcome the many obstacles to accessing their information, they reveal the sources of much of the infection. When you consider the information they provide in the context of what we are told otherwise, you also fear that the diseases they identify may be incurable.

Our genuflecting Prime Minister assures us on national television that “we are supporting Julian Assange the same way we would support any Australian citizen who gets into a legal difficulty overseas…” But the Assange case is not your standard consular issue.

The Senate Official Committee Hansard report of February 24, 2011 reveals that Assange was provided with a copy of the Consular Services Charter on December 7, 2010.Very helpful! Since then, according to Assange’s former London solicitor, Jennifer Robinson, the Australian ambassador in Sweden agreed to convey questions from Assange’s defence team to the Swedish prosecutor’s office, but they had offered little more:

Other than this, correspondence was limited to requests to arrange seating in court and requests for briefings on case progress. There was little contact.

The respected human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce detailed her grave concerns for Assange in her letter to Kevin Rudd of September 15, 2011, with a tardy and lacklustre response from his office offering little comfort.

More recently we received confirmation that the Gillard Government has sought assurances some 10 months ago from Sweden, on only three separate occasions, that Assange would be afforded due process, and the usual semantics game that “the Australian Government has no formal advice of any grand jury investigation” in the United States.

As a dear friend puts it, “For how long will the Gillard Government leave Assange hanging on the American noose?” Merry Christmas Assange. Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!

We should pray that 2012 brings more than the usual symbolism, tokenism, consumerism, cronyism, cynicism and defeatism. May the courage of those who take action to make a real difference in this world rub off on us all.

Merry Christmas to all at the Drum and to its loyal readers. To all Australian politicians who offer bi-partisan support to Australia’s participation in war, here’s a little Christmas cheer just for you: enjoy!

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