Terror talk


In the wake of the Jakarta bomb and ensuing
developments, six writers give their assessment of Australia’s current state of
security play:

Richard Woolcott discusses the implications of our
involvement in Iraq for anti-Australian terrorist acts…. David Langsam
finds terrorists in places that may surprise you …. Rawdon
urges caution, and more complex conclusions about the security
threat posed by Jemaah Islamiyah … Kevin Childs counts the bodies …
Rory Steele reinforces the G43 message … and Gerry Simpson
reminds us how one ally really sees us.

How will the terror thread
unravel in the election? See these articles published in NewMatilda.com:

Rod Cameron
spots some trends …

Andrew West says go full throttle on ‘truth’ …

Anne Coombs writes a
letter to a friend …

Rebecca Huntley throws a dinner party …

Sam de Silva watches our neighbourhood …

Geoff Davies calls for calm …

Iraq and the
implications of Australian involvement – by Richard Woolcott

While the motives of the bombers in Jakarta last week
are not definitely known, I believe it is a reasonable assumption that Mr
Howard’s unquestioning support for the Bush administration and his decision to
join the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be one of the factors in choosing
our embassy as a target.

Mr Howard’s argument that we were a potential
target before the invasion of Iraq is valid, as suggested by the Bali bombings
on 12 October 2002. Following the invasion of Iraq, however, the situation has
evolved in three important ways.

First, the level of terrorism has
greatly increased, both in Iraq and elsewhere; second, there can be no doubt
that although we were a target, Mr Howard has made Australia a much higher
profile target than it was three years ago; and thirdly the attack on our
embassy is the first such attack directed at a specific Australian

During the televised debate between Mr Howard and Mr Latham last
Sunday, the Prime Minister said: ‘our capacity to deal with terrorism in our own
region has in no way been impaired by what we have done in Iraq’. Even if this
were true, it ignores the fact that the American invasion and occupation of
Iraq, which Mr Howard so strongly supported, has strengthened the motivation of
terrorist groups in our own region, including Jemiaah Islamiyah, and the
opportunities for them to recruit new supporters.

I was in Jakarta last
May and met with four of the then six Indonesian presidential candidates. All
opposed the invasion of Iraq and all were concerned about the continued
occupation. Importantly, however, none of them were seeking to use opposition in
the Indonesian community to American or Australian government policy as a means
of gaining support for their political campaigns. We are indeed fortunate that
the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Indonesia remain moderates and opposed
to terrorism despite the situation in Iraq.

Mr Howard also repeated in
the debate his mantra that it would be a mistake for Australia to ‘cut and run’.
Our forces should stay until ‘the job is done’. This is foolish policy on four

First, it was a strategic and political blunder on America’s
part to invade and occupy Iraq. Australia, like Canada and New Zealand and most
of our regional neighbours, should not have participated.

having done so, there should be no obligation to remain indefinitely. As the
New York Times noted in an editorial on 11 April 2004, staying the course
‘is noble when the course is right’. When the course is wrong, however,
‘perseverance for the sake of perseverance is foolish’.

Thirdly, the
‘job’ to be done, of which the Prime Minister speaks without defining it, has
been stated by the Bush administration to be the early establishment of a
reconstructed, democratic, pro-American Iraq. If this goal can be achieved, it
could take years, even a decade. So Mr Howard’s commitment, unless American or
his policy is changed, means that our forces will be in Iraq indefinitely.

And, fourth, our forces, which are less than one half of one per cent of
the foreign forces in Iraq, are far too small to make a meaningful contribution
to the ‘job’ in any case.

The most recent alleged taking of two
Australian hostages is, if true, a new element. The fact is, however, that
Australia could incur no military casualties if our forces were not involved,
and that the taking of Australian civilian hostages would also be less likely if
the Prime Minister had not put Australian lives at risk by taking the public
position on Iraq he has adopted.

The sooner the Australian government
can extract itself from the imbroglio in Iraq and refocus our security
priorities, including efforts to combat terrorism in our own region, the better.

Richard Woolcott AC was Secretary of the Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade (1988-1992) during the first Gulf War. He is a former
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Indonesia and the United Nations. He
was a signatory to the G43 statement by the group of 43 former military chiefs, heads of
departments and senior diplomats.

 Issue4RichardWoolcottFullPaper From address by Richard Woolcott to the Institute of Post-Colonial
Studies, Melbourne, 9 September 2004. Contact IPCS

Spot the terrorist – by
David Langsam

On my first trip to the Middle East in 1985 I
interviewed the world’s leading terrorist Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir) the PLO’s
then military commander.

I was met by several men with bulges in their
armpits and was put in a dark-windowed black Mercedes and driven in circles
around night-time Amman before pulling into the driveway of his modestly
bourgeois house.

When I tell the story I often embellish it with ‘after
we got over the fact that Australia wasn’t the country just south of Germany
with all the Alps, he said, ‘Ah kangaroo! My cousin Said lives in Sydney, do you
know him?” This didn’t happen, but that was distinctly the tone of our first
few words. Australia was simply not on the terrorist map.

Abu Jihad was
the PLO military commander so he was ultimately responsible for all PLO actions.
He was certainly not a bloodthirsty killer like some other notorious Palestinian
leaders such as Abu Nidal, who was escorted by British security when he came to
inspect his London bank accounts.

Abu Jihad told me that he would
renounce terrorism and recognise Israel if he had ‘one piece of land’ where he
could raise the Palestinian flag. He was most conciliatory. But he was a prime
target on Israel’s hit list that night. Three Israelis, possibly Mossad agents,
had been murdered in Larnaca and Leon Klinghoffer had just been thrown from the
Aquilli Lauro. The PLO was expecting an Israeli raid at any moment.

Jihad was a moderate like his Israeli counterpart, the then Defence Minister
Yitzhak Rabin. Both were military commanders but neither was a political
extremist. On 16 April 1987, I heard the news that Abu Jihad had been
assassinated under Rabin’s orders by a Mossad hit squad in his Tunis home,
sub-machine guns blazing as his wife and children watched.

During the
first Gulf Crisis ahead of the UN-sanctioned war on Iraq I met Usama, also in
Amman, and he was a senior cadre of the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine (PFLP) – a left wing and more radical group than Yasser Arafat and Abu
Jihad’s Fatah faction. Usama was disgusted that his leader, George Habbash, like
Arafat, had gone to Baghdad to kiss Saddam. ‘Saddam kills communists. Why does
Habbash kiss him?’ We agreed that Habbash’s days as leader of the PFLP were
numbered. Is Usama therefore a terrorist?

In 1988, early in the first
intifada, I interviewed the Palestinian leadership in the Occupied Territories.
I visited refugee camps and villages and met scores of ordinary Palestinians,
from the wealthiest families to an 11 year old girl in a small dusty village,
all of whom were prepared to be arrested, abused and possibly killed by Israeli
soldiers for resisting in whatever way they could, from running check points to
throwing stones. These people are all described as ‘terrorists’ by their

Today, the word ‘terrorist‘ is
used too readily to describe anyone who opposes a US-backed operation, but this
is a most dangerous confusion. Terrorism is strictly the killing of civilians
for political ends.

The hijackers involved in the 11 September 2001
assault on New York were terrorists – their intention was to kill civilians –
although at least the Pentagon was in some sense a justifiable military target.
Palestinians under harsh occupation who attack Israeli military personnel are
clearly, from their own perspective, ‘freedom fighters’ but the ground gets
muddied when their attacks move from Israeli soldiers to the often-fanatical
illegal settlers who occupy their land under the post-1967 borders. These same
settlers have also run their own murderous terror campaigns against Palestinians
and to Israel’s credit, some are sometimes caught and jailed.

While the
beheading of civilians in Iraq is a monstrous barbarity, just calling all
attacks in Iraq ‘terrorist’ doesn’t help anyone. Some Iraqis, surely, must be
fighting to rid their country of foreign invaders, including the John Howard
Company of three platoons, and only attacking military personnel. Are they
terrorists or freedom fighters? And if they kill what the Americans call a
civilian contractor who is in fact a ‘military adviser’ (they used to be called
mercenaries), what is their status?

BBC World Service got around the
problem easily when covering the Northern Ireland conflict. It didn’t pick sides
and journalists were under orders to use appropriate language. So while Margaret
Thatcher had cowed BBC domestic news into calling all Irish Republican activists
‘terrorists’, the BBC would describe them as regulars or irregulars of the IRA
or of whichever group they claimed membership.

Many parents from time to
time call their own children terrorists, especially after grandma’s crystal vase
is smashed, but it might be time for reporters from organisations wishing to
maintain their reputations to desist from echoing the Bush and Howard hyperbole
about who is and who isn’t a terrorist.

After all, Senator Robert Hill
is Australia’s military commander, and there are some who would equate him with
Abu Jihad and Yitzhak Rabin, and might even hold the opinion that he is a
terrorist for our complicity in civilian deaths in

David Langsam is a Melbourne based journalist. He
has reported on economics, politics, environment and the arts and specialized on
the Middle East conflict. He has covered elections in Australia, Europe and
Israel and occasionally assisted in political campaigns.

JI, Australia and Iraq –
by Rawdon Dalrymple

Both the Indonesian and Australian security and police
authorities have indicated that they think the explosion in Jalan Rasuna Said in
Jakarta was the work of Jemaah Islamiyah. They have also said there is evidence
that a cell of that organization in Indonesia has made preparations for a second
major attack. It has been reported that investigation of the site outside the
Australian embassy has found traces of the same type of explosive used in the
Bali bombing two years ago in which 88 Australians were killed and for which
members of Jemaah Islamiyah have been convicted.

The bombing of the
nightclub in Bali was presumably not directed exclusively at Australians, since
there were tourists from a number of countries present. But there were more
Australians than others and things which the culprits have said suggest that
they had a particular hatred of Australians.

At first it seemed that the
latest attack was directed exclusively against Australia because it took place
outside the Australian embassy. But all the casualties and nearly all the damage
were borne by Indonesians. Perhaps that was not intentional, but there is
another piece of information which suggests that Jemaah Islamiyah might not see
Australia as the main target.

This is the report that the Indonesian
authorities foiled a JI plan to blow up the opening of the new anti-terrorism
training centre in Semarang – which was attended by the President of the
Republic and many senior Indonesians, as well as by the Australian Minister for
Justice, the head of the Australian Federal Police and some other Australians.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri is abominated by JI as a president who is both a
woman and whose mother was a Balinese Hindu. The fact that her government is
co-operating with Australia (and with the United States) in counterterrorism no
doubt spurs JI to intensify its efforts against the current president and
government of Indonesia. But even if Australia did not exist JI, would be
working to subvert them and towards the eventual creation of an Islamic empire
in the region.

None of the above is to suggest that Australia is not a JI
target. Of course it is. And it has probably become a higher priority target
since the invasion of Iraq. Until he was silenced by the government that was the
stated view of police commissioner Mick Keelty (although whatever one thinks of
the government’s action in silencing Keelty, that was not a matter on which he
should have commented publicly). But if we accept that the Bali bombing was
directed – though not solely – against Australians, we must accept that
Australia was a JI target before the Iraq invasion, which took place after the
Bali bombing. Terrorism by JI or other terrorist organizations spawned by
Islam ikstrim would have Australia as a target whether or not we had sent
our little contingent to Iraq.

It seems to me less certain that we would
still have been a target if we had strongly and publicly opposed the United
States’ decision to go into Iraq. If we had, for example, taken the sort of
position France adopted, it would presumably have been politically
counterproductive for JI to lash out at us while we were seeking to undermine
the United States in the United Nations and in world opinion.

Australia was always going to be an abomination to the new brand of extremist
Islam, which has been spawned in boarding schools largely funded from Saudi
Arabia over the last twenty-five years. And we are the closest such abomination.

Rawdon Dalrymple AO is a former Australian ambassador to
the US, Japan, Indonesia and Israel. Currently he is a research associate in
government and international relations at the University of Sydney. He was a
signatory to the G43 statement by the group of 43 former military chiefs, heads of
departments and senior diplomats.

The security was fine,
it’s just that seven died – by Kevin Childs

If the inevitable has happened and two Australians are
being held hostage in Iraq, it’s comforting to know that two negotiators are on
standby in Jordan. But the official line from Canberra, of course, is that we
don’t negotiate with terrorists.

It’s some solace that, although Mark
Latham parrots John Howard’s now-meaningless mantras about the ‘war on terror’,
he is at least verbalising what many have long though obvious: that the invasion
of Iraq was more than a mistake, it was a disaster.

With some irony,
then, last Sunday’s televised election debate came three years after nineteen
mostly Saudi Arabian nihilists crashed hijacked planes into symbolic targets,
launching the US into its wars of revenge. The debate also came as 70 people
died in Afghanistan in the worst fighting for year. A militiaman was skinned and
others were beheaded, and United Nations’ staff fled to bunkers when their
compound was burnt.

It came, too, as a correspondent for an Arabic
television channel cried: ‘I’m a journalist, I’m dying’, after he was hit by
rockets fired by two US helicopters into a crowd in central Baghdad at the
weekend. A dozen people were killed in the attack, out of a total of 53 reported
war fatalities Iraq that weekend.

And it came as Canberra looked for a
safer site for our Jakarta embassy. And as Bill Clinton’s former
counter-terrorism adviser David Benjamin warned that up to 70,000 Al
Queda-trained terrorists may now be at large.

All these developments
reinforce Benjamin’s views that an ideological campaign is needed to fight
terrorism properly, not a ‘war’ on states or individuals. That’s why Latham’s
hairy-chested talk about going after terrorists is wrong – but his push to put
money into Indonesian schools, to educate students away from extremism, appears
more sound.

Christopher Dickey, Middle East regional editor for
Newsweek magazine, recently spoke
against what he calls America’s impulsive, almost petulant invasion of
Iraq. Wise policy would have been to intimidate and isolate Saddam Hussein,
according to Dickey. Eighteen months ago the goal should have been to calm the
international scene and build cooperation. Instead, America (and camp followers
like Australia) chose a course that created ‘a whole new hotbed of fanaticism,
and an inspiration to terrorist recruiters everywhere’.


‘By pretending the War on Terror is one all-embracing fight,
Bush has created a war he has no idea how to win. At the same time, he’s
succeeded in pulling together many separate enemies. No, terrorism is not a
force of nature. But we have done a lot to create the perfect storm.’

Dickey was writing before the Beslan slaughter of the innocents and the Jakarta

But his comments came after the deaths of Iraqis being
trained by Australian troops, as revealed recently on the ABC’s Four Corners programme. Reporter Debbie Whitmont

’The Australian government never promised a peacekeeping force or
a significant military contribution once the war was over. Australians have run
successful training projects for flight controllers and some of the navy. But
other training has been hampered by Iraq’s biggest problem – security.

‘Four Corners had planned to visit a base where Australians are helping
train recruits for Iraq’s new army. But just before we set off, insurgents fired
mortars on the camp and two water tankers packed with explosives were driven
into the compound. Three Americans were injured and seven Iraqi trainees were
killed. The Defence Force told us our visit was cancelled.’

concerns aside, images of seven men slaughtered while being trained by our
troops would have been a public relations disaster for the Australian ‘war

Middle East Force Commander, Brigadier Peter Hutchinson said
this about the deaths:

‘In this case, the measures that we had for the
protection of our Australian members up there – they worked. Unfortunately, we
weren’t able to…to fully, you know…the security of the Iraqis wasn’t as good
as that. We’re not responsible for the security up there. We’re responsible for
the training.’

These seven dead Iraqis have not made the headlines they
deserve in Australia. They probably never will. If the hostages claim is true,
and if they are executed, Latham may have missed a crucial chance to hammer this
lapdog leadership, and to really pin the government down on its Iraq blunder.
Still, in devising their own wargame, the strategists in Labor’s campaign HQ
should not forget the extraordinarily large crowds that flocked into the streets
of Australia in protest at the start of the Iraq war.

is a freelance writer and runs a media consultancy in Melbourne.

Is Australia a higher
profile terrorist target? – by Rory Steele

Pictures of the Australian flag against ruined buildings
in Jakarta give graphic support to the view of the 43 former defence officials
and diplomats who last month asserted that terrorist activity, instead of being
contained, has increased and that Australia, by its role in Iraq, now has a
higher profile as a terrorist target.

On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister
John Anderson conceded Australia may be more of a terrorist target because of
its involvement in the Iraq war, but later said his comments had been

Until now the government has denied the connection, and
leaned on police commissioner Mick Keelty to reconsider his statement that
Australia could ultimately be the target of a terrorist attack as fellow troop
contributor Spain had been. The official line, reiterated by the Prime Minister
in the weekend debate, is that terrorists threatened Australia even before 11
September 2001.

Justifications like this – true but not the whole truth –
underscore the main message of the 43 former senior officials that, especially
in situations as grave as committing our forces to war, Australians must be able
to believe that we are being told the truth by our leaders.

Only after
President Bush declared ‘war’ on terrorism, and after American, British and
Australian forces invaded Iraq, did the terrorism he was referring to surface
there. Terrorism of the suicide bomber kind has since steadily escalated and
evolved, and now female aid officials have been abducted in Baghdad. Like the
attack on Ossetian children, this shows that international terrorists are ready
to go to ever greater lengths and uglier depths. In New York in 2001 the
geographic reach of terrorists surpassed all expectations. Over the subsequent
three years terrorism has come right into our neighbourhood.

neighbourhood includes large Moslem populations with pockets of grassroots
economic and social frustration where terrorists can be recruited. Some will be
motivated by perceived Western iniquities in the Middle East or by a jihadist
international view. Even with policies popular in the region, Australia would be
at some risk from local terrorism. But there are other factors in

Over the past five years, goodwill towards Australia has diminished
in our neighbourhood, notably in Indonesia. Our policies towards East Timor and
our wholesale backing of the Bush Administration’s foreign policies have been
resented. Tactless statements by our leaders on talkback radio – on issues like
returning the rescued asylum seekers to Indonesian waters and support for US
policies against terrorism – prompted conservative commentator Gerard Henderson
in November 2001 to condemn this public diplomacy. Local opinion, already misled
to believe we aspired to a ‘deputy sheriff’ role to the US, has been stirred
subsequently by our announced plans for smarter defence hardware and our
declared readiness to consider preemptive strikes offshore if we had evidence
terrorists planned to attack Australia. Diminished goodwill in our region
suggests our views will not register so well on key issues, like the need to
neutralise the appeal of Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesian schools. Diminished good
will is no help to us at grassroots levels.

It may well be that our
encircling oceans will keep us relatively safe, and that our vigilant internal
security measures will continue to be effective within our landmass, where in
any case we do not offer especially tempting targets for Al Qaeda-type
operations. The major risk will probably continue to be to Australian assets and
interests – and to travellers – in South East Asia.

One thing we should
do is work harder to build trust in our region. Another is to recognise that
terrorists, more capable than ever to shock and surprise, do focus on countries
like ours with troops in Iraq.

Rory Steele is a former
Australian ambassador to Italy and Iraq. He was a signatory to the G43 statement by the group of 43 former military chiefs, heads of
departments and senior diplomats.

Invisible Australia – by
Gerry Simpson

I am currently a long way from Australia, holidaying on
a small island called Mull in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Australia,
though, is everywhere.

It’s there in the accents of a hundred intrepid
backpackers and family historians with Gaelic roots, disembarking from ferries,
pitching tents in remote campsites and charming the locals. On bitter, windswept
Mull itself, there is a mausoleum dedicated to Lachlan Macquarie – the ‘Father
of Australia’, apparently – maintained by the National Trust of Australia.

In another sense though, contemporary, political Australia is nowhere; a
country offscreen to the British. Every so often I tease my Australian wife by
picking up the Guardian and gravely informing her that it includes a
detailed analysis of Mark Latham’s election prospects or Alexander Downer’s
subtle defence of the ‘war on terror’, before holding up the inevitable
headline: ‘Killer dingoes attack humans in outback Australia’.

This is
Australia in the minds of many British citizens – a continent rich in (menacing)
wildlife, a favourite destination for the once-in-a-lifetime holiday, the place
where Uncle Brian moved twenty years ago .. but not a modern state where
politics and culture happen.

So writing about British perceptions of
Australia’s role in ‘the so-called war on terror’ – as the BBC has nobly taken
to describing it – is a challenge. To put it brutally, Australia is not seen as
having much of a role in the current crisis afflicting the

Certainly, Australia is regularly included in Osama bin Laden’s
litany of forthcoming victims of terrorism, along with the UK, the US, Poland
and until recently Spain. The Bali bombing also gave Australia status in this
list. But the war and occupation of Iraq are seen here as a US-UK business –
with the UK doing better in Basra (football matches between smiling Iraqis and
British soldiers) than the Americans are doing in Faluja (rebellions, mass
casualties, sieges, brutalities) or in Baghdad (torture).

plays a similar role to the UK that the UK in turn plays to the US: we British
feel less lonely when Australia is around.

But as strategic, military or
political partners … well, let’s say that ‘partner’ is not quite the right

In his recent book Blair’s Wars, John Kampfner tells a
revealing anecdote about the US-UK relationship. In the run-up to the Iraq war,
the Blair government in Britain became nervous about the level of parliamentary
support for a motion supporting the war.

Before the House of Commons
vote, the Americans were asked to tone down their bellicose rhetoric in the
interests of Blair’s political survival. Almost immediately, Donald Rumsfeld
unhelpfully announced that the US was prepared and very able to go to war
without British assistance.

The same kind of thinking surely applies to
UK-Australian relations. It’s always a pleasure to have the Australians along –
but no-one thinks they need Australia, except in the context of cosmetic
coalition-building. The Latham-Howard contretemps over troop withdrawal has
barely registered in the UK media. The Jakarta bomb has been swamped by
hurricanes and Blair’s cabinet reshuffle.

Australia is a country more
misunderstood by the British than by virtually any other nation. It has a
well-established niche in British cultural life – but that niche is mostly
related to its geographical advantages: sun, sand and sharks. Only a very tiny
and politically savvy elite in Britain could name even a few Australian Prime

In wars, of course, Australians die alongside us. This,
combined with a shared English-speaking heritage, contributes to a sort of
instinctive fellow feeling. But Australia does not register as an independent
political actor. Paul Keating may have touched the Queen’s arm, but
contemporary, political Australia does not really touch the consciousness of the
British political class.

Gerry Simpson
is a reader in law
at the London School of Economics. His new book is Great Powers and Outlaw States(CUP, 2004).

About the author

Cavan Hogue is a former Australian diplomat who
is currently a Senior Research Fellow at Macquarie University.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.