The Guardian 3 August, 2005

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Letters to the Editor

Letting loose the dogs of war

It will perhaps not surprise Guardian readers that the former warden of Abu Ghraib has come out and said the use of dogs during interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was recommended by the commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention centre during a visit in 2003.

In testimony from a Marine major during a hearing on two Army dog handlers accused of prisoner abuse, he said, "We understood that he was sent over by the Secretary of Defence", i.e. Donald Rumsfeld!

The officer also testified that teams of trainers were sent to Abu Ghraib from Guantánamo Bay to try to incorporate certain interrogation techniques in Iraq.

The use of unmuzzled dogs to intimidate Abu Ghraib inmates was sanctioned "high up in the chain of command" and was not just a game played by two rogue soldiers, as the government claims.

Prosecutors claim the two soldiers used their dogs in a competition to frighten prisoners into urinating on themselves, an attempt to protect Bush and his cronies in the administration.

It should be recalled that the then-commander of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was Major General Geoffrey D Miller, who later went to Iraq to oversee detainee operations and is now in a Pentagon position unrelated to prisons.

And at another hearing another soldier testified that he saw classified US personnel beat prisoners with a sledgehammer handle and that the CIA was involved. The CIA declined to comment. Surprise, surprise.

That hearing will determine also whether three soldiers will stand trial for the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush during an interrogation in 2003.

There are no rules for these people, not even the basic rules of war, such as they are. The general’s body was badly bruised as he had been severely beaten two days before he was suffocated.

The soldiers could get life in prison without parole if they are convicted of murder. But we know who should really be on trial.

Nathan Barnes
Brisbane, Qld

Perceptions of China

Having lived in China off and on for the past decade I am concerned at what I consider to be an anti-China bias creeping into the Australian media.

Much has been made of the Chinese defector Chen Yonglin who to my knowledge has not outed one spy as yet.

I really wonder what the average Australian believes is the situation in China. Do they believe as some Americans certainly do that the majority of Chinese are oppressed people denied basic human rights living under a vicious communist dictatorship. People whose only dream is to be freed by Western Christian democracy.

Actually the average Chinese is about as interested in politics as the average Australian, i.e. only when it affects them personally.

While I don’t think this is necessarily good, the point is that most Chinese while they may grumble from time to time about the government are by and large quite happy with their lives.

The middle class enjoy a standard of living that people of a generation ago could not even dream about.

My wife and I live in a city rated the 17th most liveable in the world. Well below Melbourne at no 1 but impressive none the less.

I include among my friends Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and yes well communists (although with the latter some party members like my sister in law don’t seem to be all that sure which one of the Marx brothers actually wrote the Communist Manifesto.).

Organisations such as Falun Gong are proscribed and churches are not allowed to call for the overthrow of the government or to preach religious or racial intolerance for that matter.

So I suppose by Australian standards of civil liberties we lag behind.

On the other hand, Dalian where I live, a medium sized city of six million is remarkedly free from crime the biggest threat to personal safety being the chaotic road traffic.

The present government is trying to find ways to redress the growing income disparity between the coastal and inland regions and while the education opportunities of children in the poorer regions are well below say Dalian, organisations like Project Hope are making inroads.

Trade union rights need more protection and while industrial accidents in e.g. the mining industry are appalling by Australian standards the current government has instituted new safety regulations and has actually jailed non-compliant mine owners and managers.

Finally on the question of terrorism I know of no Chinese who applauds the recent bombings in London. While they may also condemn the unilateralism of the US and its allies in Iraq they see a need for a united front against international terror.

They are of course puzzled to see that alongside Chen Yonglin, in the US testifying about human rights in China, is a representative of the Ughir (Muslim minority in Xinjiang) independence movement. An organisation that has been accused of terrorist activities in their country.

As friends of mine say is terrorism committed against ordinary Chinese somehow more acceptable than terrorism committed against ordinary Americans, Britons or Australians.

We live in a global world, unfortunately a world targeted by international terrorist organisations.

As Australians we have enough genuine enemies, let's not invent others.

Ken White
Dalian Foreign Language University
Dalian, China

Tearing up the old system

It is important to listen to both sides of the story before making a decision on what you believe to be true. However, it is more important to look at the facts that each side presents by way of evidence to support their claims.

When it comes to industrial relations we have the Howard government hell bent on revamping a system that has been in operation for more than 100 years. A system which amongst other things allows:

  • Workers the opportunity to bargain collectively;

  • The right to challenge their employer (in a cost free — to both parties — jurisdiction) if they believe they have been unfairly dismissed; and

  • Guaranteed safety net adjustments for those on lower wages.

    In relation to collective agreements, the evidence available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) and the University of Sydney, to name a few, suggests that workers covered by union negotiated agreements do do better than those on non-union agreements.

    In their paper Undermining the right to Collective Bar­gaining (Briggs, Cooper and Ellem) of Sydney University state that "non-managerial workers on registered individual contracts (largely AWAs) receive an average of 2% less per hour than workers on registered collective agreements". They also state that "AWAs give employers ‘flexibility’ in scheduling employees by removing loadings and penalties" and that "ordinary workers have less control over their working hours" which results in "greater difficulties in balancing work and family commitments".

    Unfair dismissal laws will be repealed under Howard’s legislation for employers with less than 100 employees which will affect ninety-nine per cent of private sector employees. The rights for employees in organisations with more than 100 employees and those employed in the Public Service to challenge unfair dismissals will be removed from the jurisdiction of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and employees who believe they have been unfairly dismissed will have to pursue their claims through the Industrial Magistrates courts, which is not cost-free and involves legal representation.

    Safety net adjustments will be left to the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) who will be hand picked by the government to make recommendations on future salary increases for the minimum wage and award wage increases. Under the current system the Australian Congress of Trade Unions (ACTU), employer representatives, and representatives from government negotiate an outcome through the AIRC.

    Since 1996 employer representatives and government have argued for far less than the ACTU have been successful in negotiating as the safety net adjustment and if the government and employer representatives had been successful Aussie Battlers on the lowest wages would be approximately $50 per week worse off.

    Tony Hall
    Kenwick WA

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