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Torture 'ok' for many Australians -

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Torture 'ok' for many Australians

Barbara Miller reported this story on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:38:00

ELEANOR HALL: It's 60 years since the Geneva Conventions laying out the laws of war came into
being. But it seems many people in this country are ignorant of them.

A survey by the Australian Red Cross has found that more than 40 per cent of Australians think that
it's acceptable to torture captured enemy soldiers in certain cases. And that figure was even
higher for respondents who'd served in the military.

Barbara Miller compiled this report.

EXCERPT FROM RED CROSS BROADCAST: In war you cannot do whatever you please.

BARBARA MILLER: That broadcast is just one of the ways the International Committee of the Red Cross
tries to remind people of the laws of war as set out in the Geneva Conventions.

EXCERPT FROM RED CROSS BROADCAST: Making sure that no harm comes to people who are detained is an
essential principle of the Geneva Conventions. They must be protected from all forms of violence,
especially torture.

BARBARA MILLER: But many Australians it seems are either ignorant of the conventions or don't think
they always have to be applied. Forty-three per cent of people surveyed by the Australian Red Cross
said they thought it was acceptable to torture an enemy soldier in certain circumstances.

HELEN DURHAM: The figure was rather higher than one thought, and certainly when you compare it to
studies done say 10 years ago in a country like the UK, the number was a lot lower.

BARBARA MILLER: Dr Helen Durham is the Red Cross's strategic advisor on international law.

HELEN DURHAM: I think that maybe in the last few years since September 11, the discourse in
relation to what can be done for security of the state has shifted. There's probably a whole lot of
factors that are involved in that, another matter I think that was very interesting in the study...

BARBARA MILLER: Sorry though, just to interrupt, wouldn't though the discourse post-9/11 have
strengthened, in your mind, people's knowledge of the Geneva Conventions? The trials and
tribulations for example regarding the inmates at Guantanamo Bay, certain highly publicised cases
of terror suspects who claim to have been tortured?

HELEN DURHAM: Yes, I mean certainly the statistics showed 88 per cent of Australians had heard of
the Geneva Conventions which I think is attributable to current issues like, that has been in the
news in the last few years, but I think it certainly shows there's a lot of work to be done to make
sure that people understand that torture is illegal.

It also leads to hatred and from hatred you get more armed conflict, so it's neither legal nor
practical.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think Australians seem to be applying double standards? Ninety-three per
cent said those who break the rules of war should be punished but 43 per cent think it's ok in
effect to break those rules by torturing enemy soldiers.

HELEN DURHAM: Absolutely, there was a strong juxtaposition between, it's really the issue between
us and them. It's bad when they do it, and when the other side do it we should prosecute them, but
in some instances it may be ok for us to do it.

BARBARA MILLER: The legal complexities surrounding the treatment of terror suspects have led some
commentators to suggest the Geneva Conventions needed to be modified to reflect the changing nature
of warfare. But Dr Emily Crawford a visiting fellow in the law faculty of the University of New
South Wales says the conventions are still applicable in many cases of modern warfare.

EMILY CRAWFORD: It is extremely rare for two sovereign nations to go to war against one another
nowadays, however I would still contend that there is a difference between a non-state armed group
that is waging war against its Government or whoever, you know, another non-state armed group and
an organisation that engage in terrorist acts, simply because non-state armed groups have engaged
in wars against their governing authority and it's normally for a particular aim.

Terrorists specifically Al Qaeda, it's often hard to figure out what they're actually driving at,
what they aim to achieve. And they don't necessarily just target government installations or
military installations, invariably they almost always go after civilians.

And I would contend that non-state actors and certainly armed opposition groups usually have a kind
of purpose, they have an aim - they want to either overthrow the Government, or they want to create
their own state and they will frequently follow the laws of armed conflict.

There's actually a lot of evidence to show that these non-state armed groups will make public
declarations saying we agree to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

BARBARA MILLER: Just over 1000 Australians were surveyed by the Red Cross. Around 130 of that group
had served in some capacity in the military. Of those almost half has said the torture of captured
soldiers in some circumstances was acceptable.

That finding has been described by the Australian Red Cross Professor of International Humanitarian
Law Tim McCormack as diabolical. Professor McCormack said it raised some serious issues for the
Australian Defence Force.

The World Today contacted the Australian Defence Force for a response to that statement. But an ADF
spokeswoman said they had no comment.

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.