Monthly Archives: September 2019

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Israel says no decision on Middle East nuclear conference

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But the envoy, Ron Prosor, insisted there could be no accord on a weapons free zone until there is a “comprehensive peace” in the region.

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The United Nations is pressing for a conference this year and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has previously said he hoped Israel would attend.

While there are many doubts about whether Israel would go, Prosor told AFP: “No decision has been made regarding Israel’s participation in the international conference at the end of 2012.” He clarified comments made earlier to reporters.

Israel would only be willing to join a nuclear free zone “when there will be comprehensive peace in the region. Before that we feel that this is something that is absolutely not relevant,” he said earlier.

Prosor said there had been too many cases of nuclear programs in the region where “the international community had very little ability” to act. He cited Iraq and Syria, where Israel has attacked nuclear facilities in the past.

Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but has a policy of neither confirming nor discussing the country’s atomic capabilities.

UN leader Ban has sought a conference on Middle East nuclear disarmament this year and he asked Finland’s undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, Jaakko Laajava, to be the main planner.

Finland agreed to host the event but no official date has been given.

Diplomats consider the presence of Israel and Iran crucial to the success of any conference, which was called for by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Review held in 2010.

Ban said last month that he wanted Israel to attend.

“Israel will be invited and they should be there but nothing has been decided yet,” he said while in Jerusalem.

Preparations are going ahead amid mounting Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Egypt buzzing ahead of landmark poll

A buzz of excitement swept through the Egyptian capital, a day before its first presidential election since an uprising overthrew Hosni Mubarak and ushered in a tumultuous military-led transition.

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The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in power since Mubarak’s ouster, on Tuesday repeated its earlier calls for Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls, while warning against any “violation.”

“The participation of citizens in the presidential election is the best guarantee of the transparency and security of the electoral process,” Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the SCAF, was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA.

“We will not allow any violation or (attempt) to influence the electoral process or the voters,” he added, saying that any person who broke the law would be treated “firmly and decisively.”

Despite the tone of the warning, the sentiment in Cairo’s streets ahead of the election was dominated by excited anticipation and last-minute discussion about candidates.

“This is the first time I’ll be going to vote in any election, and it’s definitely a big deal. My family has been talking about it for weeks,” said Ibrahim Farrag Hassan, 64, who sells toys in a small market in central Cairo.

Around 50 million eligible voters are being called to choose Mubarak’s successor on Wednesday and Thursday with a run-off scheduled for next month should there be no outright winner.

“This election will change things, whoever is coming will be scared of the people and will have to listen to them,” said Hind Ahmed, 25, a shop assistant at a lingerie store.

“All my friends and family are talking about the elections all the time. It’s the first time in their lives that any of them are voting in a presidential election because this time the result isn’t known in advance.”

Campaigning for the landmark poll ended on Sunday night, with candidates banned from giving any media interviews or making public appearances for 48 hours before the election.

But the “campaign silence” did little to dim the excitement in Cairo.

“Tomorrow is the big exam, I have knots in my stomach and can’t sleep,” giggled Warda, 25, an attendant at an upmarket sports club in Cairo.

After decades of pre-determined results, for the first time, the outcome of the vote — which pits Islamists against secularists and revolutionaries against old regime members — is wide open.

The main contenders are former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, Ahmed Shafiq, the last premier to serve under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi, independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri on Tuesday called for calm during the election and urged political forces to accept the results of the historic vote, echoing a call a day earlier by the ruling military.

Ganzuri asked Egyptians to “stand together to ensure the success of the electoral process and to accept the decision of the majority of Egyptians who will express their will through the ballot boxes.”

In a statement, he expressed hope that “the elections proceed with calm” and called on “candidates, political forces, parties to urge their supporters to respect the will of others and accept the results of the election.”

In Cairo, an army vehicle rumbled through Tahrir Square — the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak– urging Egyptians to vote.

“Rise, Egyptian; Egypt is calling you,” the soldier shouted through a loudspeaker, borrowing the lyrics from a popular nationalist song by iconic composer Sayyed Darwish.

“It’s the first time your vote will count, don’t stay at home,” he pleaded.

On Monday, the SCAF urged Egyptians to accept the results of the looming election.

Comment: Defence force sex scandals – can the culture be changed?

By Ben Wadham, Flinders University

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is again confronted by allegations of sexual humiliation and denigration of serving female members.

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The latest scandal involves claims that emails containing explicit images of women were circulated between up to 100 or more Defence Force personnel. A number of the members involved have already been suspended, including several senior officers.

In a video message, the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutentant-General David Morrison, vowed to rid the Australian Defence Force of those guilty of the damaging behaviour:

On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.

If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.

The Conversation spoke with Flinders University’s Ben Wadham, an expert on military culture, on what the ADF is doing to combat such behaviour and whether some cultural problems are perhaps beyond reform.


Are these recurring scandals a demonstration of systematic cultural problems within the ADF?

Yesterday was the latest scandal since the Skype affair in April 2011. The Skype affair led to a range of cultural reviews to address the treatment of women within the Australian Defence Force. The reviews found there was a culture of misogyny and an environment in which it was difficult for women’s careers to proceed.

There was also a culture where demeaning women and objectifying women, and others of different ethnic and social backgrounds, was part of the tradition. So yesterday’s incident is not a surprise, but it still is shocking. It demonstrates, for various reasons, the intensity with which these sorts of values pervade the Australian Army.


Do we have to accept that perhaps there are intractable cultural problems within the ADF?

I think there is a structured element to the way in which militaries operate in a liberal-democratic society, and more specifically, an Australian society. When you are trained to be a soldier you are taken away from your civilian background. You are then re-made and it is a very profound remaking of someone. People in the Australian Defence Force, or in any military, seem to see themselves as quite separate from broader society.

That sense of separation tends to form a part of the culture. It gives some military members a sense of license, a sense that they are above broader Australian standards, a sense they are above the law and in order to reassert that sense of self they end up engaging in sexually, racially or ethnically objectifying practices. These often lead into criminal practices as well.


Are we wrong-headed in expecting an HR code more applicable to a modern office to also fit an organisation that has the ultimate objective of killing others?

No, I don’t think so. If you look at the Australian Defence Force, in particular the Australian Army, it is only a very small percentage of those military personnel that are engaged in a “more-heated” environment. The Australian Defence force is more a giant support network or service institution than simply a combat institution.

These sorts of activities tend to happen more where the combat imperative is stronger, that culture still does pervade throughout the whole institution. There is no correlation between training people in a particular way to be good and effective combatants and this sort of behaviour. In fact they are the antithesis of the professionalism that the Australian Defence Force espouses.


Could the ADF be doing more to curb these cultural issues?

I think there are two sides to this. Firstly, the Australian Defence Force is engaging with broader civic initiatives, such as generation and the development of equity-type organisations – cultural diversity, general awareness, reporting and recording activities – so that when things do happen they are effectively dealt with. These sorts of things indicate the Australian Defence Force is serious.

But the Australian Defence Force, by its very nature, sees itself as quite separate from broader Australian society and is therefore unable to see the root cause of its problem. This is partially because the root cause is the development of core and military effectiveness. It is unwilling to address that part of its core business and that means that within the service, there is great ambivalence about taking on civic initiative and interventions.


Do you think scandals like this damage the ADF’s self-imposed goal of increasing the number of women in the army by next year?

I think it does. But I think it affects moreso how parents consider allowing their children to enter the defence force. I think that the defence force provides an adventurous and exciting career path for young people making the transition from school into the workforce.

From my research it doesn’t seem to be dissuaded by these sorts of events. But it does dissuade parents, and parents do have a strong influence on children as they are leaving school and entering the workforce.

Ben Wadham does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Data-retention plan like ‘punching at a cloud’

The Federal Government’s plan to effectively reverse existing privacy legislation by endorsing a two year data-retention policy for internet service providers has been called “Gestapo” tactics by one Liberal MP.

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Yesterday, Attorney General Nicola Roxon told a Security in Government conference that the “proposed reform is to allow law enforcement agencies to continue investigating crime in light of new technologies.”

The statement moves away from Ms Roxon’s previous statement about the plan and has met with opposition from privacy groups and the IT sector.

They fear that the plan does not address the need for extended powers, will effect e-business and will expose civilian data to risk.

Making a submission at today’s conference on behalf of Blue Print for Free Speech, Simon Wolfe said the Attorney General’s proposed reforms were “vague” and likened them to “punching at a cloud”.

“The onus should be on those proposing the reforms to justify what they should be,” he said.

“They are talking about the merits of increased powers without actually talking about why they are needed in the first place.”

Mr Wolf’s submission also said the plan imposes unreasonable costs, requiring private providers to carry out public surveillance, a sentiment echoed by others in the technology sector.

Pete Cooper is co-founder of Fishburners, the largest collective of tech start-ups in Australia.

He says that the government’s data-retention plan will be a hurdle for international businesses looking to invest here.

“There is a mini boom going on in the data centres at the moment,” he said.

“The one selling point Australia has going for it is a perception of quality and force of law – one tiny security breach would have a dire effect on that perception.”

“There are thousands of layers to this thing and it’s full of holes – none of them good and none of them good for commerce.”

But despite fears about costs, some companies will benefit from the plan — the data-retention industry, as with the data-mining industry, is a multi-billion dollar sector.

Rob Livingstone is a UTS fellow and an information technology expert who says private industry is set to gain – with potential risks to the privacy of Australian citizens.

“The government puts out a tender for the storage of so many exabytes of data, then private markets rub their hands with glee trying to get their hands of that pot of gold,”

“If you get Australian data from citizens in an Australian jurisdiction and you sign a contract to an Australian data host to provide it, and three months after the contract is signed they [could] get bought out by a Chinese or American firm.

“The government cannot mandate that you will always be an Australian-owned company.”

Mr Livingston is also concerned about the security of systems the Government would put in place for data-retention.

“Data-retention is data-sovereignty,” he said.

“The data is resident in a data centre somewhere. That data is very portable; it could be striped across multiple data centres for redundancy and availability purposes.”

In the rapidly changing data industry, Mr Livingstone says the ultimate destination of Australians’ data could be far away from where the government intends.

Also, sophisticated crime syndicates or terrorist groups, the intended targets of the government plan, are already using advanced ISP masking and protocols that circumvent the proposed measures, he said.

“It’s fine for politicians to get up and make grand statements but the potential complexity of this thing in application and practicalities needs to be serious considered,” he said.

Speaking from today’s conference, Mr Wolfe said his biggest concern about the proposed changes was the privacy of individuals.

“Our objection is that they unreasonably interfere with people’s privacy, they have a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” he said.

US discloses list of Guantanamo inmates

The US government has published for the first time a list of 55 Guantanamo detainees cleared for release but still held amid challenges identifying a willing host country or concerns about sending them home.

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The list, which includes names and serial numbers, represents about a third of the 167 “war on terror” suspects who still linger at the US naval base in southern Cuba more than 11 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on US soil.

A significant number of the men listed are Yemenis, reflecting US concerns over sending Guantanamo detainees to the troubled nation, where they could become involved in terror-related activities.

President Barack Obama suspended transfers to Yemen in January 2010, citing the “unsettled” security situation there.

Since 2009, government officials have kept secret the identities of detainees approved for release or transfer, saying a public release would hinder diplomatic efforts to arrange for the men to be moved to “safe and responsible” locations.

“The United States originally sought protection of this information in order to maintain flexibility in its diplomatic engagements with foreign governments on potential detainee transfers, especially in cases of resettlement in third countries, rather than the detainees’ respective countries of origin,” a Justice Department spokesperson said Friday.

But in a court filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in the capital Washington, government lawyers said “circumstances have changed” such that prisoners’ names “no longer warrant protection.”

The efforts of the United States to resettle Guantanamo detainees have largely been successful,” they said, noting that 28 prisoners have been sent to their home countries since 2009, while 40 prisoners have been transferred to other countries.

Among the prisoners cleared for release was Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at Guantanamo, and the prison’s five remaining Tunisians. London has repeatedly called for Aamer to be freed.

Missing from the list was Adnan Latif, a 32-year-old Yemeni man who died at Guantanamo earlier this month, the ninth prisoner to pass away since the prison camp was opened in 2002.

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued an order to shutter the facility by January 2010. But his plans quickly fell apart amid staunch opposition from Congress, as lawmakers raised security concerns.

Although Congress has placed restrictions limiting prisoner transfers to other countries or on US soil, the Obama administration has sought help from allies willing to take in qualified detainees.

Rights groups were quick to hail the new list’s publication, with the American Civil Liberties Union calling it a “partial victory for transparency” that should also be a “spur to action.”

“These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released,” ACLU senior staff attorney Zachary Katznelson said in a statement. “It is well past time to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men.”

Amnesty International USA executive director Suzanne Nossel said the cleared detainees “should be immediately transferred out of Guantanamo to countries that will respect their human rights… Indefinite detention is a human rights violation and it must end.”

The disclosure “dispels the myth that the remaining detainees who are trapped at Guantanamo are too dangerous to be released,” said the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents some Guantanamo prisoners.

“The list announced today, however, is incomplete, and not appearing on the list is no indication of wrongdoing,” CCR executive director Vincent Warren added.