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'Incompetent leadership' drives military lawy -

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'Incompetent leadership' drives military lawyer to politics

Reporter: Nick Grimm

Australian military lawyer Colonel Mike Kelly, who has served in some of the world's most dangerous
locations, says the country's "incompetent leadership" is what has driven him to enter politics as
one of the Labor party's star recruits.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: He's a veteran of some of the modern world's biggest and bloodiest hellholes.
Australian military lawyer Colonel Mike Kelly has served in Somalia, Bosnia, East Timor, and most
recently Iraq, where one senior American adviser in Baghdad described him as, "easily the most
important Australian in the Coalition effort".

He's been at or near the centre of key events in Iraq immediately post-war, even having to deal
directly with the defiant Saddam Hussein. Having left the army at the end of last week, Mike Kelly
is free for the first time to talk about his experiences in Iraq. And as he tells it, the
incompetent leadership that has driven him to enter politics as the Labor candidate in the
important marginal New South Wales Liberal seat of Eden Monaro, south of Sydney.

Colonel Kelly's critique of the Coalition post-war planning in Iraq, and what he says was a lack of
interest post-war by Australia, is blistering, even though it does now come from a Labor candidate.

And he speaks for the first time publicly about early warnings back to Canberra of the prisoner
abusers at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and also about the AWB (Australian Wheat Board)
kickbacks to Saddam Hussein. Colonel Kelly is the second senior military recruit to Labor's ranks.
The first was SAS (Special Air Service) veteran Major Peter Tinley, who is regarded as having
played a prominent strategic role for Australia in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. Shortly, I'll
discuss the Colonel Kelly's criticisms with Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, but first this report
from Nick Grimm.

NICK GRIMM: As he ends a 20 year military career, Colonel Mike Kelly now wants to lift the fog of
war hanging over Iraq.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: It's the frustration and the sadness of the casualties that were avoidable,
that is the thing that bothers me. These poor young men and women with limbs missing, et cetera,
and terrible states, you know, and just you know, that sort of suffering and the cost that wasn't,
you know. That was very frustrating because I knew that we could have avoided a lot of that.

NICK GRIMM: Mike Kelly has seen up close the horror shrouded by war's smoke and fury, and he
believes the war in Iraq has been comprehensively bungled.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: You can actually pour kerosene on the problem, and I think that's really the
situation we've had in Iraq. We've actually made the international security situation worse by the
way the operation has been conducted.

NICK GRIMM: As any good soldier knows, it's a risky strategy to stick one's head above the
trenches. But that's exactly what Labor's star recruit for the federal seat of Eden Monaro is about
to do.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Sure, people will come after me with a hatchet, given what's at stake. I've
always tried to tell it straight in whatever situation or circumstance I've been in.

NICK GRIMM: But could Australians simply dismiss what you're saying now as simply an expression of
your political bias?

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Yeah, I think that's ... there's definitely the potential there for people to see
now a different slant on what I have to say, that it will be coloured by party politics. But really
I'm getting into this because of my concerns about the security issue.

GARY NAIRN, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: I wouldn't expect a candidate from the Labor Party to
be saying anything else than some sort of critical comments about Iraq and AWB, et cetera. I mean
that's presumably the reason why Kevin Rudd hand-picked Colonel Kelly to be put into Eden Monaro.

NICK GRIMM: A military lawyer, Mike Kelly, is highly regarded internationally as a leading expert
on the laws of occupation and peace making. His expertise saw him assigned to frontline duties in
world hot spots like East Timor, Bosnia and Somalia. What's more, his former boss in Iraq,
Ambassador Paul Bremer gives him a ringing endorsement.

AMBASSADOR PAUL BREMER, FORMER US ENVOY TO IRAQ: I would hire him to do just about anything for me.
He's a very high quality person. But I take no position on ... between the parties in Australia,
that's not my business. But I have great respect for Mike as a wonderful soldier, statesman,
lawyer. He certainly served the Coalition, he served Australia very well in Iraq.

NICK GRIMM: Many people have criticised the war in Iraq, so what makes Mike Kelly's assessment
different? Well few Australians are aware of it, but during 2003 and 2004, Mike Kelly was arguably
the most senior placed Australian in the coalition of the willing.

PAUL BREMER: You know, he worked on a number of our major legal initiatives. In particular he was
very instrumental in helping set up the Central Criminal Court.

NICK GRIMM: Paul Bremer also entrusted Mike Kelly with the responsibility of ensuring Saddam
Hussein and his cronies were brought to justice.

(to Colonel Mike Kelly) What was it like to sit down with this man?

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Personally I felt that getting rid of Saddam Hussein itself was a good thing.
Very interesting, you know, I felt very strongly that while I was sitting there, I had effectively
in the room with me all of his victims and all of my Coalition colleagues who'd worked to sort of
bring about this step in the process of bringing this man to justice.

NICK GRIMM: So, in your view where did it all start going wrong for the Coalition in Baghdad?

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: We were set up for failure to begin with. I think that probably the initial
one, the most important, was the failure in planning.

NICK GRIMM: Or at least the failure to take heed of the planning that had been done.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: We nutted out exactly what needed to be done. We worked through a checklist
that I presented to them of having to worry about stopping looting, and protecting and preserving
the infrastructure, and looking after the standing up of the security, public security aspects. But
then Rumsfeld came in and overruled that concept and basically threw it out the window.

And that's where things really started to go wrong. He just didn't accept military advice on a
number of levels, and he had some very strange conceptions of how we could do business in Iraq.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER US DEFENCE SECRETARY: I guess the reason I don't use the phrase "guerilla
war" is because there isn't one. And it would be a misunderstanding and a miscommunication to you
and to the people of the country and the world.

NICK GRIMM: According to Mike Kelly, chief among the Coalition's failures was the mass sackings of
Iraqi soldiers and civil servants, the so called deBaathification of Iraq. It was meant to bring
about regime change, but it also encouraged hundreds of thousands of unemployed and disaffected
Iraqis to take up arms against the Coalition.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Look, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army was a really tragic mistake. At the time
we knew it. Immediately you had a huge disgruntled mass of organised people who started
demonstrating. And my own vehicle got caught up in one of their demonstrations. I only just managed
to escape by firing a warning shot. So, they were very disgruntled.

NICK GRIMM: Many observers have blamed US Ambassador Paul Bremer for causing that chaos. But he
shunts responsibility to the Iraqis who implemented his deBaathification policy.

PAUL BREMER: The policy was right, the mistake was that I turned the implementation over to Iraqi
politicians instead of Iraqi judges. But I was there, I didn't think we had enough troops at any
point during the time I was there.

And by not having enough troops there for the post-war phase, we gave the impression that we were ...
in fact the reality that we were not prepared to provide the most basic function of government,
which is security for our citizens. You may remember the looting that went on unchecked right after
the fall of Baghdad.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Really after the combat phase, the manoeuvre phase if you like, there was a
distinct coming down to the shutters back in Canberra. We just didn't do any strategic thinking or
analysis of our own.

NICK GRIMM: In fact, Mike Kelly says the Howard Government's attitude was made very clear to him
when he was engaged in pre-war planning in Washington.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: I was advised very strongly, and phoned in the middle of the night in
Washington to make it very clear that Australia had no interest in discussing the post-conflict or
peace and stabilisation phase, that we would ... I was to give no indication that we had .... would
make any commitment to that process or interested in any way. So...

NICK GRIMM: Who made that call?

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Well I was advised through General Cosgrove that that was the Government's
position, and I was to make that very clear.

NICK GRIMM: We asked General Peter Cosgrove to respond to those comments, but he wasn't available
for an interview. However his spokesman told us in this email that General Cosgrove recalls the
late night conversation, though not in quite the same terms as Mike Kelly. Specifically, Peter
Cosgrove denies he told Colonel Kelly that Australia had no interest in taking an active role in
stabilising Iraq. Rather, he says he instructed Mike Kelly to refrain from discussing those issues
because they were still under consideration.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: But there was a distinct lack of interest and analysis going on back in
Canberra about the situation in Iraq, so we weren't really being a good ally.

NICK GRIMM: But Mike Kelly says there was worse to come, when he was later assigned a key role in
investigating the Oil-for-Food kickback scandal.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: I was quite outraged when I did discover, because if you look at that
$300-million poured into the war chest of the regime we were about to send our soldiers into battle
with, to me was just morally outrageous. And how that could have been allowed to happen was
something that really shocked me. At another time something like that well might have been called
treason.

NICK GRIMM: In early 2004, long before the scandal broke, Mike Kelly was sending reports home
warning Canberra "the jig's up for AWB". But he heard nothing in return.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: I was surprised that I never received any inquiries from Canberra about, you
know, what was going on and what information was emerging from that.

NICK GRIMM: But perhaps the most damaging aspect of Mike Kelly's allegations for the Howard
Government, maybe his dramatic new information about when the Government knew about prisoner abuse
in Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: But I did report the problems we were having and no pressure was being brought
to bear either from Washington or Canberra or anywhere else to deal with those concerns.

NICK GRIMM: In mid-2004, a Senate inquiry investigated concerns of a cover up within government.
Former Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill saying the first the Government knew about the scandal
was in January of that year.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: When the public interest was aroused, well that's when
we all saw those photos in May, and we realised that there had been, in some instances, gross
abuse.

NICK GRIMM: But what didn't emerge at the Senate inquiry was Mike Kelly's claim that throughout
2003 he was keeping Canberra informed with detailed situation reports from Baghdad. In June of that
year, Mike Kelly personally visited Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities. He then began
raising concerns about the mistreatment of detainees. He also warned Canberra that the disturbing
situation had the potential to become a severe embarrassment for the Coalition. Remember, this was
months before the scandal broke.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Certainly from the earliest times that I was there that there was a lot of
information being fed back about the allegations of abuse and reports of abuse, and the fact that
some abuse was actually happening for sure.

NICK GRIMM: It was Mike Kelly says, just another example of a consistent pattern of the Coalition's
refusal to confront the growing problems in Iraq.

(to Colonel Mike Kelly) If you were sitting in judgment on those who are leading the Coalition at
the time, what would be your verdict?

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Look you know, if I look at people like Donald Rumsfeld, you know all I can say
is, you know, that verges on criminal negligence as far as I'm concerned.

NICK GRIMM: What's more, Mike Kelly also accuses the Australian Government of being complicit in
that criminal negligence.

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Well I believe so, you know, because you know, we were a part of the Coalition,
and we had a role to play in helping to develop the strategy which we fudged on, you know. And so I
think yeah, there is some questions to be answered there.

NICK GRIMM: Mike Kelly and his wife Shelley, are preparing to move into the electorate he wants to
represent.

SHELLEY KELLY: How about that?

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Yeah, a bit of ancient history.

NICK GRIMM: Eden Monaro may be a quiet, mainly rural area, but it traditionally occupies a critical
role come election time. It's been held by the party-forming Government since 1972. But sitting
member Gary Nairn says it's a long way from Baghdad.

GARY NAIRN: I thought it was a bit of an arrogant move by Kevin Rudd, just sort of parachuting
somebody in. Nobody in the electorate obviously knew this person, sort of driven a couple of
thousand kilometres over the last week. And I can't really find too many people that you know,
really know much about this candidate.

NICK GRIMM: Certainly as Mike Kelly leaves the military, he's conscious that his toughest battle
may still be ahead of him.

(to Colonel Mike Kelly) But people might look at you now and say, "Well, he would say that because
he wans to score political points and advance his own career".

COLONEL MIKE KELLY: Well I'd say look, just look at my record, you know, I've always served both
governments of all colours faithfully and loyally. You don't have to believe my words, but judge me
by my actions.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And I guess he will be judged when the election comes.

(c) 2007 ABC