Title Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 11 May 2004: torture of Iraqi POWs.
Database Press Releases
Date 11-05-2004
Author RUDD, Kevin
Citation Id Y3GC6
Cover date Tuesday, 11 May 2004
Format Online Text
In Government no
Item Online Text: 1074486
Key item No
Major subject Iraq
Prisoners of war
United States
Australian Defence Force
Minor subject Geneva Conventions
MP yes
Pages 3p.
Party ALP
Speech No
System Id media/pressrel/Y3GC6

Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 11 May 2004: torture of Iraqi POWs.


Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security


11 MAY 2004



Rudd: Well the Howard Government can’t even get its story straight about Australia’s responsibility for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. We have the Defence Minister Senator Hill saying he only found out about allegations of prisoners abuse a couple of weeks ago and Foreign Minister Downer saying that he was aware of allegations of prisoner abuse four months ago. I’ve just got to say, we have a Government which can’t even get its story straight when it comes to this extremely important question of legal responsibilities for the proper protection of Iraqi prisoners.

You see there are two levels of culpability here for the Howard Government. John Howard when he invaded Iraq at that point became an Occupying Power. We know that because the Prime Minister in April last year said it on two occasions. Even if you accept the Government’s definition of when it was an Occupying Power - back in March, April, May 2003 – in that period they were responsible for sorting out an agreement with the Americans and the British for the proper treatment of Iraqi POWs. We were the only three countries involved, and at that point we had a conjoint responsibility to sort out the proper arrangements for the handling of Iraqi POWs across the board and that’s dictated by the III Geneva Convention.

But there is a second culpability as well and it arises from the Australian Government’s own direct involvement in the war and any action it had in relation to the treatment of POWs itself, and any individual protocols it had negotiated with the Americans and the British for the proper treatment of those prisoners. So what we have here is the Howard Government not being even faintly able to get its own story straight about the responsibility for the proper treatment of Iraqi POWs. Once again, John Howard being loose with the truth,

the Howard Government being loose with the truth, on a matter which frankly revolts the entire Australian public.

Reporter: Given that there is no evidence that Australian forces were involved in this torture, do you think you face a massive battle trying to put blame on the Howard Government when the Bush and Blair Governments are handling their own cases?

Rudd: John Howard’s political strategy is to say this is an American problem, it’s a British problem, but it’s not a Howard Government problem. Unfortunately John Howard needs to read the III Geneva Convention and work out that it is a Howard Government legal obligation to provide for the proper

treatment of Iraqi POWs. Can I just say this: why do we have these things called the III Geneva Convention and the IV Geneva Convention? They were agreed in 1949 because the international community looked at the horror of World War II and decided there had to be a better way to govern the treatment of POWs and civilians in times of war. Australia signed that in 1949 and under the Menzies Government ratified it in 1954. So when John Howard says at a political level ‘hey this is a George Bush problem, this is a Tony Blair problem, but it’s not a Howard Government problem’, he should read the text of the III Geneva Convention which says that it’s an Australian legal responsibility.

John Howard can’t just turn up for the military parades to welcome our troops home from Iraq, he’s also got to accept legal responsibility for his involvement in the Iraq war. And that includes responsibility for the proper treatment of prisoners.

Reporter: David Jull has just told us people in Queensland couldn’t care less whether the Prime Minister commits to staying on or not if re-elected. What do you reckon about that?

Rudd: Well I think leave the Liberals speak for themselves as far as their own internal leadership shenanigans are concerned. They seem to be dong a very good job of doing it so far.

Reporter: Have you received assurances that Australians weren’t in any way involved at all in anything to do with these prisoners.

Rudd: I have no information to date which in any way infers that any member of the Australian Defence Force was involved in the maltreatment of prisoners. No information whatsoever. John Howard however has a legal responsibility at two levels: as an Occupying Power together with the US and the UK to ensure that proper protocols are put in place from the very beginning for

the proper treatment of Iraqi POWs consistent with the Geneva Conventions. Secondly, he has a responsibility to ensure that any Iraqi POWs which came Australia’s way were properly treated according to the Geneva Conventions as well and that proper processes were put in place between Australia, the UK and the US to ensure that that happened. John Howard’s got some answers to deliver to the Australian public on this. I say again, you can’t as John Howard has, simply turn up for the military parades to welcome our troops home from Iraq and not accept your legal responsibilities for being part of the Iraq invasion and occupation in the first place and that includes the proper protection of prisoners.

Reporter: Do these atrocities strengthen Labor’s case to have the troops out of there by Christmas?

Rudd: Our policy position of withdrawing our ADF component from Iraq by the end of the year holds - and it was taken prior to these matters entering the public debate. Our position is that we have an obligation to remain in Iraq militarily until the completion of the term of the Occupying Powers when handover of sovereignty occurs on 1 July this year. And after that point, we’ll be looking to a scale down period which obviously takes us to the end of the year but when it comes to further commitments beyond that we say that the burden of our assistance should be economic and humanitarian. So I emphasis again, our position in terms of having our troops home by Christmas was taken well before these events and it still stands.