This week I have been entertained by the governments response to a comment made by the Australian Federal Police Chief’s comment, after the Madrid train bombing, that Australia’s role in the Iraq war could mke Australia a greater terrorist target.
Of course this is common sense.
However it is election year, and comments like this freak out the government. Check out the headlines as the story unfolded:
March 14, 2004
Spain’s role in the US-led coalition of the willing had increased its likelihood of being a terrorist target, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty said today.
Two hundred people died and close to 1,500 were injured when 10 bombs detonated by remote control tore through trains during the morning rush hour in Madrid on Thursday.
Mr Keelty was commenting shortly before reports emerged that al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Mr Keelty told the Nine Network that if the bombings were the work of Islamic terrorists, it raised serious issues for those involved in the Iraq war.
“If this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing … it is more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq,” Commissioner Keelty said.
“And I don’t think anyone has been hiding the fact that we do believe, ultimately, that one day whether it be in one month’s time, one year’s time or 10 years’ time, something will happen [in Australia] and no one can guarantee it won’t.
“And I think there is a level of honesty that has to exist here as to what the problems are here, not only in Australia but in the region.”
More detail in this link
Those comments then caused a storm!
March 15, 2004 – 5:05PM
John Howard says Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war has not increased the risk of a terror attack in the nation.
The Prime Minister also said there was no direct link between Australia and the bombings in Madrid……
Mr Howard also challenged Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, who on Sunday said the Madrid bombings may have been linked to Spain’s support for the United States in the Iraq war.
Mr Keelty also said Australia would probably one day be the target of a terrorist attack.
Mr Howard said Mr Keelty’s comments were “not a conclusion I would have reached” but denied he had lost confidence in the police commissioner.
“He’s in charge of operational police matters and the question of this analysis is not something that comes directly in that area,” Mr Howard said.
John Howard has rejected suggestions by the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, that the Madrid bombings may be linked to Spain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq, if they proved the work of Islamic terrorists.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that it was “far too early” to make conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks.
Mr Keelty’s views – which implied that Australia could be at greater risk of terrorist attack as a result of its role in Iraq – were also dismissed by the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, who said the comments were “fairly simplistic”, “inappropriate”, and unsupported by evidence.
Mr Howard said Mr Keelty’s view was not a conclusion he would have reached, and that different countries, irrespective of the stance they had taken on Iraq, had been the subject of terrorist attacks.
He said he retained confidence in Mr Keelty and that it was perfectly possible for him “to reach a different view from somebody on an issue without lacking confidence in that person’s overall ability to do his job”.
However Mr Howard also appeared to rebuke Mr Keelty, saying he was “in charge of operational police matters and the question of this analysis is not something that directly comes in that area”.
A terrorist attack on Australia was inevitable, and the nation was clearly more of a target because of its alliance to the United States, a senior FBI counter-terrorism expert said today.
The assessment of the FBI’s executive assistant director of counter terrorism John Pistole backs comments by Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty that, if Islamic extremists were behind the Madrid bombings, it was likely because of Spain’s pro-US position on Iraq.
The remarks by Keelty, whose views are supported by terrorism experts, clash with those of Prime Minister John Howard, who insists Australia’s involvement in the war against Iraq have little bearing on its standing as a terror target.
Mr Pistole, in Sydney to address a counter-terrorism summit, was asked today on Sydney radio if Australia’s involvement with the US-led Coalition of the Willing made it more of a terrorist target than other western nations.
“I think it does, clearly from the perspective of being a good target in Iraq,” Mr Pistole told 2UE.
AUSTRALIA was under threat from terrorists because of its national identity, not because of troop deployments, Defence Force Chief General Peter Cosgrove said today.
General Cosgrove today sided with the government, which has rejected the view of Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty over potential terrorist threats to Australia…..
General Cosgrove said today that while he often agreed with Mr Keelty’s point of view, he did not share his attitude to this particular issue.
The leader of opposition Labor Party, Mark Latham, says he is disturbed by reports that the Australian Federal Police commissioner, Mick Keelty, was harangued by staff from the Prime Minister’s Office after weekend comments on terrorism.
Mr Keelty said the Madrid bombings were likely to be linked to the country’s involvement in the war against Iraq, and that could make Australia a more likely terrorist target.
‘The Australian’ newspaper says Mr Keelty was chastised by senior members of Mr Howard’s staff after making the claim.
Mr Latham says the police commissioner should be given the respect he deserves.
“If the head of our Australian Federal Police has got something to say about the safety and security of the country we should listen,” he said.
“To have intervention calls haranguing him from the prime minister office is totally inappropriate,” he said.
THE nation’s top police officer today backed away from comments suggesting Australia was a bigger terrorist target because of its backing of the United States-led war against Iraq.
The views of Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty – made in the wake of the Spanish train bombings which killed around 200 people – have been at odds with the federal government.
Prime Minister John Howard insists that the threat of a terror attack is not heightened by involvement in the war.
Mr Keelty late today issued a statement clarifying comments he made on Sunday.
“I regret that some of my words have been taken out of context,” he said.
A senior member of Prime Minister John Howard’s staff has been accused by the Opposition of trying to intimidate Australia’s top police officer, Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty.
On Sunday Mr Keelty suggested that Australia’s involvement in the war on Iraq could have increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack at home.
Mr Keelty was reportedly telephoned by Mr Howard’s chief-of-staff and chastised for contradicting the Government’s position that the war did not increase the risk of such an attack.
Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said that if Mr Howard’s chief-of-staff, Arthur Sinodinis, had sought to politically intimidate the commissioner then the staffer’s position had become untenable.
Mr Rudd said the federal police was Australia’s top counter-terrorism agency and what had happened was enormously disturbing.
“Mr Keelty is a professional… the Australian people have confidence in professionals who simply tell it like it is and don’t stick to a political script,” Mr Rudd said.
“This is a most disturbing development as far as the real war on terrorism in this country is concerned.” …
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has backed away from comments in which he appears to accuse Australia’s top policeman of expressing Al Qaeda propaganda.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has issued a statement to clarify his views on the Madrid bombings.
The Government has spent three days criticising Mr Keelty for saying that if Al Qaeda was behind the Madrid attack, then it was likely to be linked to Spain’s support for the Iraq war.
Yesterday, Mr Downer, trying to defuse the row, made comments that made it worse.
“He is just expressing a view which reflects a lot of the propaganda we’re getting from Al Qaeda,” Mr Downer said.
Labor says the Government has placed Mr Keelty under extraordinary public pressure.
Homeland security spokesman Robert McClelland says the situation is outrageous.
“I think Alexander Downer should quite frankly go and take a cold shower,” Mr McClelland said.
“He should not have been put in this position where he had to issue any statement in any way shape or form.”
Later Mr Downer told the ABC’s Lateline program his comments were misinterpreted.
“In no way was I intending to reflect on Mr Keelty,” Mr Downer said.
“He is an outstanding Australian.
“He’ll go down in history as one of the great police commissioners and I certainly have no intention of reflecting on him and his professionalism.”
And Mr Downer has welcomed Mr Keelty’s statement in which he says his comments have been taken out of context.
Mr Keelty now says terrorism seeks to attack Australian values regardless of our involvement in East Timor, Afghanistan or Iraq.
He says he does not want the row to detract from the work of the AFP.
The Foreign Mininster Alexander Downer has dismissed claims that he suggested the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty had fallen victim to al-Qaeda propaganda.
At the same time Mr Keelty is playing down remarks he made after the terrorist bombings in Madrid.
He says a suggestion that they were the result of Spain’s support for the war in Iraq and Australia was more at risk as a result have been taken out of context.
He says terrorism will seek to attack the values central to Australia ‘s way of life, regardless of the nation’s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan or East Timor.
Mr Downer has gone out of his way to heal any rift between Mr Keelty and the Federal Government by praising his efforts in the fight against terrorism.
He says he’s done a wonderful job and is an outstanding Australian.
Criticism of Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty by the government was un-Australian, a Labor frontbencher said today.
Prime Minister John Howard criticised Mr Keelty for saying the Madrid train bombings may have been linked to Spain’s involvement in the Iraq war.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had accused Mr Keelty of falling victim to al-Qaeda propaganda.
After Mr Keelty clarified his remarks, Mr Downer said Mr Keelty would go down in history as one of Australia’s great police commissioners.
Labor homeland security spokesman Robert McLelland said the government’s criticism of Mr Keelty had been outrageous.
“Cabinet minister after cabinet minister has lined up to take a potshot at him because of the comments that he’s made,” Mr McClelland told ABC radio.
“That is entirely un-Australian and I think that the pressure he has been put under is quite outrageous, quite frankly.”
PRIME Minister John Howard today praised Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty despite their differences over the links between the terrorist attack in Spain and the war in Iraq.
Mr Howard said Mr Keelty did his job extremely well.
“I have total confidence in the police commissioner, I think he’s doing an excellent job,” the Prime Minister told radio 5DN in Adelaide
JOHN HOWARD’s office urged Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty to issue a clarification on Tuesday following three days of political controversy over his weekend remarks linking the Madrid bombings to Spain’s presence in Iraq.
The Australian understands a statement issued by Mr Keelty late on Tuesday, where he said his original comments were taken out of context, was made after a request from the Prime Minister’s office.
Mr Howard’s office last night refused to comment and directed media inquiries to the AFP.
An AFP spokeswoman last night declined to comment.
The Australian also understands that Mr Keelty was so concerned about the effect of government attacks on his reputation that he seriously considered resigning.
AUSTRALIAN Defence Force chief Peter Cosgrove has assured Police Commissioner Mick Keelty of his total support in a bid to heal a rift which threatened relations between Australia’s top two security agencies.
General Cosgrove contacted Mr Keelty yesterday to clarify comments he made about the police chief’s interpretation of intelligence on the terrorist threat after a barrage of Government criticism had left the commissioner contemplating resignation……
he television comments had prompted a telephone call from prime ministerial adviser Arthur Sinodinos immediately after the interview. Prime Minister John Howard then cast doubt on Mr Keelty’s judgment and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer accused him of spreading al-Qaida propaganda. They later praised him and said he had their total support.
Senior police officers are understood to have been shocked at the Government’s unprecedented behaviour towards a police commissioner.
At a meeting in Sydney yesterday, state police commissioners drafted a statement condemning the politicisation of national security but dropped the reference at Mr Keelty’s request.
Mr Howard rejected suggestions the Government had put pressure on Mr Keelty.
One of Australia’s most senior former police chiefs has backed Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty.
Bob Falconer, a former police commissioner in Western Australia and deputy commissioner in Victoria, says Mick Keelty was right to say that if Islamic extremists were responsible for the Madrid bombing, then it was more likely to be linked to Spain’s support for the Iraq war.
Mr Falconer told Alexandra Kirk, as Australia’s top policeman the Federal Police Commissioner must be able to speak freely and frankly on the dangers facing Australia without political approval
John Howard and Mick Keelty shook hands twice to bring public closure to a spat that still leaves questions over political interference in policing……..
But Mr Howard said no “improper” contact had been made, and denied suggestions he was politicising the issue of terrorism.
“That’s a claim I would completely reject,” he said.
“I have been very careful to respect the operational independence of the AFP.
“I have not sought in any way to influence the advice the AFP or ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) give me.”
Mr Keelty would continue to be free to “express his views as he sees fit”, Mr Howard said.
However, a former WA police commissioner suggested this week’s political storm might hinder Mr Keelty from doing so.
“The next time he or others might be less free and frank in their professional capacity and more prone to have to check out their views and position on things with the government of the day,” Bob Falconer told ABC radio.
“And then that means there’s a possibility that it’s some sort of political manipulation of the commissioner’s point of view.
“I think the troubling thing to me is the inference that Mick Keelty has got some sort of smack behind the scenes and has then had to readjust his statement.”
The federal Opposition called on the government to “butt out” of policing matters.
“The police have to be independent of party politics,” Labor leader Mark Latham told 3AW radio in Melbourne.
“If you start playing politics with Australia’s security you weaken it and if police are not independent it just creates a lot of confusion and uncertainty about what sort of information we are actually receiving.
“If someone like Mr Keelty has something to say to the Australian people he has to say it without fear or favour.”
Entertaining Satirical Comment from Please do not adjust your reality set, normal service will resume:
It was reported earlier this week that Mick Keelty, the Federal Police Commissioner, believed the war in Iraq has made Australia more of a terrorism target. Keelty asserts, and the Herald accepts, that he was not aware at the time of the Government’s new prohibition on stating the bleeding obvious
The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, was quoted this week calling Keelty “a moron who is in the pocket of terrorists”. Downer now asserts, and the Herald accepts, that he had not realised at the time that Keelty was back in the pocket of the Government. He now believes the commissioner to be, instead, “a genius without peer in the world of policing”.
The Madrid train bombings were probably carried out in reprisal for Spain’s support of the Iraq war, says the US ambassador to Australia, Tom Schieffer.
Mr Schieffer also suggested that the attack was part of an al-Qaeda attempt to split the nations of the West and undermine commitment to the war on terrorism.
The concession that the attack could have been a reprisal over Iraq puts the ambassador at odds with the Prime Minister, John Howard, by echoing comments a week ago by the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty.
PRIME Minister John Howard today confirmed he and members of his office talked to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty about his comments on Spain’s terrorist attack and the Iraq war.
But Mr Howard said there had been nothing improper about the conversations with Mr Keelty…..
Mr Howard said he along with other members of his staff had spoken to Mr Keelty after he expressed his view on Channel Nine’s Sunday program on March 14.
“There were discussions last week between myself, my chief of staff, the secretary of my department and the commissioner,” he told Parliament.
“Those discussions arose from the commissioner’s interview on Channel Nine on Sunday the 14th of March, 2004.
“There was nothing at all improper about those discussions.
“They respected fully the operational role and the independence of the Australian Federal Police.”
So he was lying earlier when he said they didn’t.
Opposition leader Mark Latham today launched a furious attack on Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in Parliament, calling him a “rotten lousy disgrace” for likening federal police chief Mick Keelty’s comments to al Qaeda propaganda.
“You disgrace, you rotten lousy disgrace,” he said, before withdrawing the comment. He also said prime minister John Howard’s actions were a disgrace to his high office. …
Mr Latham moved to censure Mr Howard for compromising the the public standing and independence of Mr Keelty and failing to rule out further political interference with the AFP in the future.
He also accused the government of jeopardising national security by playing politics with Australia’s federal police.
But Mr Howard denied suggestions the government did not respect the Australian Federal Police and the role of the commissioner.
“I hold the Federal Police Commissioner in high regard,” Mr Howard said.
“Let us put aside any suggestion … that I as Prime Minister or anybody else in this government is anything other than respectful of the AFP.”
He said Mr Keelty was not rebuked, and faced no improper contact from the prime minister’s office or department.
“The AFP commissioner was not rebuked. The AFP commissioner was not treated improperly,” Mr Howard said.
“The AFP commissioner made a statement.
“There has been no muzzling of the AFP commissioner.”…
Mr Latham said Mr Howard had compromised the role and independence of the AFP commissioner and compromised the right of the Australian people to know the truth.
He said Mr Keelty had been punished by the government for telling the Australian people that the government’s policy on Iraq had made the country more of a terrorist target.
“That’s the thing this prime minister didn’t want the Australian people to be told by the commissioner: that while Australia was a target at the time of September 11, his government’s policy on Iraq has made things worse,” Mr Latham said.
Mr Latham said Mr Howard had reacted to Mr Keelty’s comments by trying to manipulate the truth.
“That’s the reflex action of someone whose been in politics too long,” he said.
“Someone who’s been in politics playing an old style of manipulating and trying to control the truth and the flow of information at any cost.”
Under fire in Parliament yesterday, Mr Howard confirmed for the first time his staff had spoken directly to Mr Keelty about last week’s comments.
But he refused to disclose what was said and denied carpeting the Australian Federal Police commissioner.
“There has been no muzzling of the AFP commissioner,” the PM told Parliament.
MR Muscle-Up re-emerged, as we knew he eventually must, at 3.17pm in the House of Representatives.
“You are a disgrace, you are a rotten, lousy disgrace,” roared Mark Latham.
His opprobrium was directed at Alexander Downer who, during last week’s fiasco over Mick Keelty’s public musings on terrorism, made the idiotic statement that the police chief had been “expressing a view that reflects a lot of the propaganda we’re getting from al-Qa’ida”.
The Foreign Minister’s refusal to publicly retract this appalling choice of words – apparently Downer apologised to Keelty in private – prompted Latham to emerge from his slumber.
“What a disgraceful thing to say about a good man,” he railed during a censure motion against the Prime Minister.
Earlier, Latham had fired eight straight questions at John Howard, trying to corner the PM into revealing all. Howard stonewalled, insisting his conversations with the police chief were confidential.
Later, the PM would describe his chat with Keelty – rebuked by Howard’s office minutes after last Sunday’s TV interview and browbeaten into releasing a clarification – as a “normal, natural thing”.
If the Labor leader had shown glimpses of antsiness in questions, the censure motion had Mark Lithium reverting to something approaching trademark Latham.
The Opposition Leader twice berated Howard as acting like “someone who’s been around too long”.
After “the folly of Iraq”, the doctrine of pre-emption espoused pre-war by the Coalition was “hidden away in the attic like a mad uncle”.
“This is a government of control freaks out of control,” seethed Latham. “They can’t stomach the truth.”
As historic blasts go, this registered low-to-medium on the Lathameter, but after the lassitude of recent months it seemed almost volcanic.
AUSTRALIAN Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty did not tender his resignation at any time last week, Prime Minister John Howard said today.
But Mr Howard would not answer directly a question by Opposition Leader Mark Latham as to whether he, or his office, was aware Mr Keelty was considering his resignation.
“At no time did the commissioner tender his resignation,” Mr Howard told Parliament.
You would think a government determined to introduce democracy to Iraq could tolerate a little dissent in its own backyard. Free and fearless speech is a hallmark of democracy. It is under totalitarian regimes that people dare not express their real opinions…..
…The Government’s humiliation of Mick Keelty this week was about politics, pure and simple, not national security. Here was a Prime Minister behaving badly in the cause of self-interest, not the public interest. If you’ve forgotten what a political leader coming apart under the remorseless mental pressure of evolving defeat looks like, think about John Winston Howard these past three months.
It all began with the accursed Mark Latham, of course. The bizarre pantomime of Keelty’s persecution is only the latest in a string of prime ministerial mini-disasters and lousy judgements since Latham’s ascension on December 2 rudely knocked Howard right out of his political comfort zone. ….
You can see what got up Howard’s nose.
He hated the bit about Iraq. Most people think Keelty was doing no more than stating the obvious. That is, quite simply, that Australia’s support for the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq – forget about the issue of the Government’s breathtaking mendacity and duplicity over motive – heightened the risk that sometime, somewhere, within Australia, we’d cop a terrorist bombing, too. Unlike Australia, Spain did not send troops until after the invasion. And then, like Australia, it sent only a symbolic force.
Keelty’s reasoning was unexceptional. It just wasn’t very politic, now our Prime Minister is in electoral trouble and seemingly, with a huge bucket of money in each hand, getting more desperate each passing week as the published opinion polls get steadily more buoyant for Latham and his mob. Latham’s soaring personal standing in particular has Government sphincter muscles in spasm everywhere.
It took another 48 hours, until publication of The Australian on Tuesday, before we learnt about Sinodinos’s phone call. That was the first we knew of Howard sooling his most senior adviser onto the man his Government had appointed AFP commissioner three years ago. And when this column phoned Howard’s senior staff spokesman, Tony O’Leary, later that day, he confirmed Sinodinos had phoned Keelty about the Iraq remark – a “potential media problem”, he called it – and said Sinodinos had made the call only after a “conversation” with Howard.
Later that day a Canberra source asserted Howard’s office had again been “heavying” Keelty over the phone at the Sydney terrorism conference, if we can aptly call it that. Keelty apparently was told, very firmly, to stay away from the press. What we still didn’t know was that Howard’s people also had been hugely busy insisting Keelty issue a “clarifying” statement. In other words, they apparently wanted him to lie about it. What other “clarification” could “they” possibly have meant?
Keelty issued “his” clarifying statement late on Tuesday afternoon. Only it was not his statement. I’m told it was drafted either by the Prime Minister’s office or by staff of the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, before being “vetted” by Howard’s office. Whatever, Keelty was told he was to issue the statement without amendment. It was extraordinarily demeaning….
Talk about grovelling humbug. None of Keelty’s words had been “taken out of context”. All that had happened is that, in telling the truth, Keelty had contradicted his Prime Minister. Shocking. Howard has been shrilly asserting since Sunday that Australia’s military and political support for the US in Iraq had nothing to do with the threat to Australia as a terrorist target, heightened or otherwise. Good heavens, no. Now the police chief who dared to suggest on national TV that the Prime Minister has no clothes was dutifully back on the same song sheet as Howard and his Government, even including that quick-footed politician in uniform, General Cosgrove.
All happy mates together again.
In Adelaide on Thursday, where Howard, with the inevitable bucket of money, went wandering like a lost sheep most of the week, he got tackled on ABC local radio by the one issue that had been hounding him right across the media since the weekend.
Q: Prime Minister, did your office urge AFP Commissioner Keelty to issue a clarification over his remarks linking the Madrid bombings to Spain’s involvement in Iraq?
Howard: I’m not going to comment.
Why not? – Because I’m not commenting on it.
You can’t say whether Mr Keelty’s statement on Tuesday was made after a request from your office? – I don’t have any comment on those matters. He made a statement, the statement speaks for itself. I really don’t have anything further to say.
But isn’t it legitimate for Australians to know whether there was any pressure applied from a political office on a law officer? – Look, I can assure you there has been no improper communications in relation to the role of the Police Commissioner. We totally respect his complete authority and independence in relation to confidential operational police matters.”
But if you don’t tell us whether or nor that contact was made …? – I am telling you there has been nothing improper.
Very clever. Brave, too. Note how precisely Howard chose his words. The entire episode smacks of the most ham-fisted and desperate of his prime ministership. Talk about a career in crisis.
PRIME Minister John Howard has denied pressuring Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty into making a statement clarifying his comments linking the Madrid bombing to Spain’s support for the war in Iraq.
Mr Howard has confirmed his office had contact with Mr Keelty following his comments but denied that equated to putting political pressure on the country’s top policeman.
Opposition Leader Mark Latham unsuccessfully moved to censure Mr Howard in parliament over the row with Mr Keelty.
But Mr Keelty has called for unity in the fight against terror.
In a speech to a Sydney security conference, Mr Keelty avoided the row and made no mention of the impact of Iraq on terror threats to Australia.
He said unity between the government, police and business was the key to fighting terrorist threats.
“The power of a united front will ensure that future generations will read about terrorism in their history books rather than in their daily newspapers,” Mr Keelty said.