The Military Law debate continues

Chief of Army gets up me for commenting on the soldiers being charged for actions in Afhganistan. Well not me exactly but those of us commenting publically. In an unclassified email to the military he says;
Many will have views about whether or not charges should have been brought. Many may hope that those who have been charged will be cleared. Some, armed with ill-informed opinions and good intentions, have made public comment in response to the media and public interest. • We must not be party to the pressures being applied by individuals external to our organisation, or by the vocal individuals within our organisation. The Army is simply not above the law.
Full text here General Gillespie mentions the petition I link to over on the right of this page and it may well be that it’s initiation was ill-formed and that it has no legal basis but I’m not a lawyer and in my humble opinion the petition indicates 20,000 plus votes of support for the diggers. It offers moral support and they may deduce from that the people are thinking of them. The General is, of course correct but he is playing with the cards he has been dealt and it could be argued that the Howard government dealt him a disparate hand of cards. Removing military command from the legal chain was always going to initiate debate and I for one have always been uneasy giving power to people who understand the rule of law but have little experience in battle. We do, after all, train our soldiers to deliberately kill others and this is contrary to civilian law. Being a RAAF lawyer, Kathryn Cochrane might not have read General Gillespsies’ email as she argues for the troops to be charged by their commanders and not by a lawyer.
Troops expect to be charged by those in the military who have field experience and campaign medals; those who know first-hand how military operations are conducted. The troops expect to be charged by “command”; they may not like it but they will respect it. Command only works through mutual trust. The troops do not expect to be charged by a lawyer – military or otherwise – who has never executed a military mission in a dangerous place, let alone faced live fire in the circumstances such as those of the three diggers. I agree with the troops.
So do I for what it’s worth. But with lawyers seemingly breeding faster than soldiers I feel sorry for the current diggers as they ply their trade with a legal sword of Damocles hanging over their heads and careers. Officers plan for proportionality; they consider civilians and do their utmost to protect them but it is common knowledge amongst the profession that no plan survives contact with the enemy. After all the planning, after all the training, when the digger is fired on he commences an “immediate-action” drill. If he sees civilian in that part of a second that leads up to returning fire then he can stop but if there is nothing visible to trigger a caution he is trained to return fire. But the debate is now turning to who charges and who hears the case. The General is obviously correct and the Director of Military Prosecution is simply doing her job but that is only pertinent while we accept the current regulations as being the best available to maintain military discipline and the rule of law to the satisfaction of Government, the Military and the people. There are some who suggest that isn’t the case and that can be only a positive in a democracy. Let the debate run it’s course.


  • I don’t think there is much debate.

    The case was settled by SBS who did a hatchet jobs on the soldiers. Their female investigative journalist played the sympathy card and dwelt on the misery and suffering of the family involved who lost their loved ones.

    They chickened out. It was deemed too dangerous for her to go and interview the family herself. I dunno where that came from, was she frightened she would be shot at, just like our troops were? These were innocent civilians? No? If the danger was from the ‘Taliband’ then that’s what they should have focused on, how they are pawns in this war where their lives are put at risk as part of the strategy of risk minimisation where the Taliban shelter among civilians because the good guys don’t shoot back.

    That should have been the story, but then that would be sympathetic to the soldiers, and we can’t have that can we?

  • If any member of our Defence personnel in a war zone need to be charged for any reason whatsoever, it should be done by someone who is totally familiar with a battle front – and most definitely NOT by someone who has done nothing but polish the seat of a chair.

    From news media reports I have seen and read I feel our troops were justified in the manner they handled the situation they found themselves in. In situation like the ones these troops found themselves in they have but a split second, if that, to decide what action to take. They are not blessed with the opportunity to sit in a corner and debate the situation first.

    Unfortunately our troops stand out due to their uniform, but the enemy does not have that word burned on their foreheads, so it is hard to tell who is who. Ask any Vietnam Vet if this is not a fact. They faced the same situation.

    Quite frankly I believe I am one of thousands of Australians who would dearly love to see McDade in a similiar situation to what our troops faced and see how she would (or even could) handle herself.

    P.S.It would be most appreciative if someone could truly explain the reason behind the sudden necessity for a DMP.

  • The “powers-that-be” made a huge mistake when they created the DMP and placed it outside the chain of command. Only a much greater intellect that mine could expalin the reasoning behind dumping a military law system that had worked pretty well in Oz for nearly a century. At least we didn’t shoot pale faced and trembling youths for “cowardice in the face of the enemy” like many others.

    We have a situation here of the tail wagging the dog. I am firmly convinced that the CDF would dearly love for all this kerfuffle to go away, and in the good old days he would simply have ordered this rogue civilian lawyer dressed up in uniform to cease and desist, go and see the PTI and lose twenty kilos and don’t come back until she can pass the PT tests.

    This case will have long lasting and serious effects on our soldiers. Without gilding the lily, I can see our diggers getting killed because of hesitation in opening fire on an enemy for fear of legal consequences from some chair bound officer in Canberra second guessing a split second combat decision.

    Well may the CA send out general orders to the troops not to shitcan the legal system and not to publicly comment on the case. I haven’t seen this much serious and high level bitching from all ranks since the days of Gough Whitlam.

    Much more to follow on this, regardless of the outcome of the Commando’s case.

  • Off Topic:

    Nice to see the old 3 RAR married quarters next door to 16 AD Regt turned over to 17’s favourite ‘asylum-seekers’ along with the selection course huts at Northam.

    Ordinary as the houses are at Inverbrackie they were better than the drive backwards and forwards from Elizabeth every day. I wonder how the ‘asylum’ seekers are going to handle the 25 metre range noise though.

    Probably not a problem really, as I’m sure Gillard will have 16AD cease all small arms and IMT training in the close-training area and ship the troops off to fly-blown Cultana instead.

    But wait, isn’t that where the last ‘home’ for asylum seekers was placed – snuggled up against the hill behind Cultana’s primitive rifle range?

    What was it called? Baxter? Nice neat fences, green grass and a swimming pool. Air-conditioning, clean cool water and freshly cooked food…

    That’s it, I’ve typed the word ‘Cultana’ and memories have come flooding back.

    Taught wire-ropes hanging over ant-infested hummocks of red earth to stretch a ‘hootchie’ over.

    Queues of dirty sweat-soaked diggers waiting patiently to fill their ‘cups canteen’ with watery lime-flavoured cordial and ‘ten man rat-pack potatoes and stew’.

    Laying down on grimy and greasy ‘gas capes’ under the scorching sun trying to zero silvered wobbling old SLRs with warm rifle oil leaking – dripping – across my left forearm and my right hand.

    Trying in vain to sweep away millions of salt-hardened flies swarming over my sun-burnt face with hands blistered with the effort of digging a mortar pit in desiccated dirt with a tiny ‘entrenching tool’.

    The muffled commands from an inadequate ‘squawk box’ next to my mortar – lifting my ear protection up to hear “fire mission platoon – number one adjusting…”

    Trying hard to hear the elevation and bearing amongst the cacophony of different commands and then the teeth rattling realisation I’d shouted “ready – on – fire” and not ducked.


    I have never forgotten the sight of an Iroquois smashing into the hill behing the camp at Cultana. It was a few minutes after I’d been chucked off the aircraft in favour of a couple of RAAF guys who’d been manning a re-fuelling point in the bush to the north-west of the encampment.

    I cursed them as they flew away into the dusk whilst I sat alone on a stack of ration tins next to a row of tilted 44s. Then there was a flash in the dark and tumbling sparks and flames, then dark again.

    My ‘77 set’ lit up – messages – voices loud and sometimes shrill – and then quiet. It was a couple of days before I was remembered and retrieved to a sad and quiet camp.

    Every time I drive home to Perth I pass that hill and remember my lucky escape and the horrible end for those on board the chopper.

    I fucking hate Cultana.

    • I hate the idea that our service personnel are housed in conditions that are not worthy of asylum seekers “needs”. Watch how the conditions are improved to what our service personnel would consider luxury. It is funny how needs and wants are confused and that very fact is what makes good old Aus a favoured destination for asylum seekers with money.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.