Sanctioned Murder: Australia’s Role In Drone Strikes On Innocent Civilians Is Growing

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Not content with just brutalising Aboriginal people and refugees, Australia is increasing its involvement in a covert program that has killed thousands of innocent people abroad. Michael Brull explains.

The Australian government takes part in the murder of people overseas. They help to murder people who are not engaged in hostilities, in countries we are not at war with, who have not been convicted of a crime.

Even worse, our leaders intend to expand our involvement, so that Australia takes part in its own extra-judicial executions.

We are presently involved in extra-judicial executions through Pine Gap. As reported at the ABC, the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is “jointly run by the Australian and United States governments”. It has “been in operation since 1970 and is located half an hour’s drive south-west of Alice Springs.”

According to Professor Richard Tanter, it contributes targeting data to American drone operations, including assassinations. American drone operations are known to take place in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, and presumably also in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

(IMAGE: The U.S. Army, Flickr)
(IMAGE: The U.S. Army, Flickr)

Professor Tanter explains that, “One of Pine Gap’s two key functions is as a control station and a downlink station for signal intelligence satellites 36,000 kilometres up in space…. They are picking up a very wide array of radio transmissions, including cell phones, satellite phones and so forth. And that provides the data, both the contents and the geolocation data for targets of interest through the United States military.”

That data has helped in the assassination of thousands of people.

Prof Tanter says Pine Gap was also used for counter-terrorism and wider intelligence programs, as the site was able to contribute data “pretty directly — for example into drone targeting operations”.

According to some estimates, these drone strikes have killed thousands of people. No cause, no notice, no trials. Just execution. And Australia has assisted in those executions.

These executions do not just involve instantaneous murder from the sky. They also help ensure entire communities live in terror.

British lawyer Jennifer Gibson was one of the leading researchers on a major study on drone attacks in Pakistan. Her findings are worth quoting at length:

“People in the United States imagine that drones fly to a target, launch their deadly missiles with surgical precision and return to a US base hundreds or thousands of miles away. But drones are a constant presence in the skies above the North Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan, with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time. People hear them day and night. They are an inescapable presence, the looming spectre of death from above.

And that presence is steadily destroying a community twice the size of Rhode Island. Parents are afraid to send their children to school. Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier strikes. Drivers are afraid to deliver food from other parts of the country.

The routines of daily life have been ripped to shreds. Indisputably innocent people cower in their homes, afraid to assemble on the streets. “Double taps,” or secondary strikes on the same target, have stopped residents from aiding those who have been injured. A leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance by an astonishing six hours.

What makes this situation even worse is that no one can tell people in these communities what they can do to make themselves safe. No one knows who is on the American kill list, no one knows how they got there and no one knows what they can do to get themselves off. It’s all terrifyingly random. Suddenly, and without warning, a missile launches and obliterates everyone within a 16-yard radius.”

Consider the case of Noor Khan. On 17 March 2011, his father Malik Daud Khan, “an esteemed tribal leader, was presiding over a jirga, a traditional meeting used to resolve disputes in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Over 40 elders were attending the jirga that day when a drone hovering overhead launched four missiles, killing Malik Daud Khan and 40 others.”

Children from the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, fled to Khost in Afganistan to escape increasing military intervention. (IMAGE: UNAMA, Flickr)
Children from the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, fled to Khost in Afganistan to escape increasing military intervention. (IMAGE: UNAMA, Flickr)

Noor Khan explained that, “The men who died in this strike were our leaders; the ones we turned to for all forms of support. They are now gone, though they did nothing wrong. The Tribal elders are now afraid to gather together in jirgas as has been the custom for more than one century. We are scared that if we get together we might be targeted again. The mothers and wives plead with the men to not congregate together for fear that they will be targeted. They do not want to lose any more of their husbands, sons, brothers and nephews.”

That is what Australia is complicit in. And Malcolm Turnbull’s government isn’t just interested in supporting such wanton barbarism. Australia apparently intends to join in the premeditated yet sudden execution of foreigners.

About a month ago, the Guardian’s Paul Karp reported that Australia was looking to “increase the intensity of attacks” on ISIS. The problem to be addressed was that Australian forces “who kill ISIS members not engaged in active hostilities are vulnerable to prosecution under the commonwealth criminal code”.

Turnbull wanted to eliminate this “anomaly”. The fact that Australian forces could be prosecuted for bombing people “not engaged in hostilities” apparently alarms the Prime Minister.

According to the chief of our defence force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, we hope to bomb those who aren’t “taking a direct and active part in hostilities”. Turnbull intends for the new laws, supported in principle by the ALP, to see us “joining with our coalition partners to target and kill a broader range of Daesh combatants – which is consistent with international law”.

That is, we can kill that strange breed of “combatant” who isn’t actually involved in combat.

Soon, according to Binskin, we can “target those important supporting elements that are key to their fighting ability, eg. their logistics and support organisations”. We have not yet found out what “logistics and support organisations” includes, but it sounds a lot like what Israel has targeted in Gaza. It seems that in addition to helping the extra-judicial murder of people overseas in countries we are not at war with, we intend to legalise it for our own forces.

US spy base Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in Central Australia.
US spy base Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in Central Australia.

Last week, a heroic group of protesters engaged in various acts of civil disobedience against the facility in Pine Gap.

Five broke into the base to pray for the war dead. Four chained themselves to the gates of a defence contractor for Pine Gap to prevent them from getting to work. And dozens blockaded the access road into the base for two hours.

For those interested in learning more about the campaign to Close Pine Gap, check out their website.

Australia’s involvement in extra-judicial murder is shameful. Their campaign deserves our support.

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

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