12 March 2012

Force protection should be considered with SAS secret squadron

Today's Sydney Morning Herald reports here that a secret squadron of Australian SAS soldiers has been operating in Africa doing work that was typically performed by officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service ("ASIS").

Many experts and commentators have spoken about this revelation today on television, radio, print media and blogs. Some have argued that there are serious concerns within the military community due to the fact that the squadron is operating in countries which Australia is not involved in war.

ASIS officers are legally able to carry false identity documents and are permitted to deny who they work for. Members of the ADF are not permitted to carry false identification or deny which government they

The war on terrorism is global and not necessarily confined to a geographical area. With that said, I do have concerns that this squadron's members are not being afforded certain legal protections by the Australian Government. It would appear that these soldiers would not be the subject of a Status of Forces Agreement.

The Geneva Conventions is four treaties which provide standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of victims of war. Whereas a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, is an agreement between a host country and a foreign country stationing its military in that country. SOFA agreements give military personnel rights and privileges in support of a security arrangement.

Some of the articles of the Geneva Conventions, which give soldiers a certain layer of legal protection, would prevent soldiers from carrying false documents and bar them from not declaring the country they work for. For example, under the Third Geneva Convention, in Article 17, a captive is "bound" to only give his name, rank, date of birth, and serial number when questioned. Thus this requirement would not afford our soldiers certain legal protections that officers of ASIS routinely enjoy.

Having once long ago been in the intelligence and cryptology community (some 20 years ago during the Cold War and the First Gulf War), I certainly appreciate and believe that having a special operations squadron able to operate in areas such as the Horn of Africa is important to Australia's commitment in the global war on terrorism.

But if the Australian Government of the day wishes to deploy soldiers attached to this special operations squadron outside a war zone or in a country which has no SOFA agreement with Australia then the Government should at least ensure that the soldiers have adequate legal protections such as those given to officers of ASIS or think twice prior to the deployment of soldiers unless their was a real, direct and eminent threat to Australia's national security that warranted it.

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