Did special forces or other soldiers violently strip, cover with hoods, and threaten with anal rape when apprehending non-violent protesters in Australia. We’re keen to know answers.
Alleged abuse of protesters against war in Iraq disturbing
By Prof Richard Tanter*
Under Commonwealth law, what is the correct sentence for trespass on Commonwealth land?
a. to be stripped naked, hooded, and dragged along the ground?
b. to be threatened with drowning?
c. to be threatened with anal rape?
d. to be threatened with kicking in the face?
Answer: In law, none of these.
In fact, apparently according to members of the ADF’s elite Special Air Service Regiment, all of the above.
Early on the morning of 2 October, eight peaceful protesters landed on Swan Island, just across from Queenscliff in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. They were there to carry out a non-violent protest against the Australian government’s rush to war in Iraq. Swan Island is where ASIS spies and the SASR train. What happened next is now a matter for Defence review.
The Swan Island Peace Convergence has been carrying out principled incursions for the past five years at the Swan Island base.
Like the well-trained non-violent activists carrying out principled civil disobedience actions that they are, they announced their intentions by press release and radio interview. They all expected to be arrested, charged with Commonwealth trespass, and most likely convicted. They were content to face the lawful consequences of their actions. And indeed, four of them were arrested calmly and peacefully by the large Victorian Police contingent on the island.
What the protesters did not expect was that after surrendering themselves peacefully and without resistance, the other four would be violently stripped, hooded, threatened with drowning and rape, dragged naked along the ground, and threatened with a good kicking in the face if they did not answer questions.
The four protesters say this is what happened to them. They say that the men in plain clothes enthusiastically identified themselves as members of the Defence Force. The soldiers referred to the radio interview one of the group gave from the island to 3AW earlier that morning, indicating they were expecting the protesters, and that this was a planned assault. The Victorian Police later identified the men as SASR soldiers.
If true, these allegations amount at least to cruel and degrading punishment. Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre said afterwards: “These are extremely disturbing allegations which need to be fully investigated. If true, this behaviour is clearly unlawful.”
If true, these allegations mean that the ADF has serious questions to answer.
Firstly, were the men who allegedly carried out these assaults members of the ADF or the SASR?
Secondly, if so, did they act with the knowledge of their superiors, or indeed, did they act under orders? Regardless, how could this happen in Australia and in the ADF?
Thirdly, while the SASR are trained to do what is necessary in combat abroad under the law of armed conflict, does that training equip them to distinguish between enemy combatants, innocent bystanders, and peaceful protesters?
In the rush to war and the world’s most expansive anti-terrorist legislation, answering all these questions is in the interests of all Australians.
Richard Tanter is a professor in the School of Political and Social Studies at Melbourne University and senior research associate with the Nautilus Institute.
This article first appeared in The Age on 17 Oct 2014