BY SUSAN MERRELL
THEY SAY there’s no such thing as objectivity, even in journalism – one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
Language is revealing. No more so than in the recently released Wikileaks cables from the US Embassy in Port Moresby which must be proving to be a source of great embarrassment.
The cables display a profound disrespect and contempt for the Solomon Islands’ government. The intemperate language suggests disdain.
Robert Fitts, the US Ambassador is the author and, as there is no diplomatic US mission in Honiara, it is reasonable to assume that the US is using their ‘deputy in the Pacific’ – Australia as their source.
One cable, dated 22 September 2006, deals with the political situation in the Solomon Islands at that time. It was sent to Washington, Canberra, Wellington and Honolulu.
Under section headings An Odious A/G [Moti], An Erratic PM [Sogavare], Birds of a feather and An unpredictable parliament, the diplomatic cable slanders many prominent members of Solomon Islands’ political society including the then prime minister and members of his cabinet.
The arguably libellous accusations stand as justification for the writer to canvass ways to influence the then upcoming vote of ‘no confidence’ against the prime minister while maintaining an official position of not interfering in the political affairs of a sovereign nation.
Many of the assertions in the cable are, at best, widely inaccurate, suffering from egregious omissions - the assertions coming from a jaundiced and self-interested viewpoint. At worst, there are lies and distortions of the truth.
The cable fires its first bullet at Julian Moti. It’s widely known that Moti who had been appointed attorney general of the Solomon Islands just days before this cable was written has been fighting charges of child-sex tourism in the Australian courts since his arrest in Brisbane 2007.
There’s a plethora of evidence that this charge was to remove Moti from political influence. With the release of this cable it has become even more evident. The cable uses increasingly pejorative adjectives to describe Moti saying: “In a region strewn with dubious characters, Moti is particularly odious.”
On what do they base this? The cable makes four accusations in support.
Firstly, Fitt accuses Moti of “in 1994 […] pressing the then Governor General to bring down a government which was trying to assert control over Malaysian/Chinese logging companies which had retained Moti.”
Whereas, the truth of the matter is that Moti only ever once represented a logging company and this was in an industrial dispute. In this matter, he appeared with Dr Gavan Griffith, former Solicitor-General of Australia. Moti’s position was, in fact, anti-logging, not pro-logging as the cable suggests and in this, he often found himself at odds with his political allies.
In a sworn affidavit dated 27 March 2009 he states: “Notwithstanding my friendship with many leaders of the […] Government, I did disagree with a number of policy decisions made by the Government in relation to logging…” The year in question was 1995.
Secondly, referring to the charges of the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997, the cable says, “he [Moti] beat the rap” on a technicality, as if that was illegal or immoral while the cable studiously ignores the questionable actions of the prosecution in their desperation to have Moti removed from political influence in the Solomon Islands.
The Australian authorities were not deterred from prosecution even knowing that in 1997/1998 the alleged victim had lied in a sworn statement. They even went as far as to obtain an indemnity against charges of perjury. Ariipaea Salmon claims that the family were coerced into co-operating with the Australian prosecution and their testimony coached.
Furthermore, as I write, the High Court of Australia is considering whether to grant Moti a permanent stay of prosecution because of an alleged abuse of process that had Australian authorities “conniving and colluding” in his illegal deportation in 2007.
Justice Heydon, one of seven judges hearing the appeal of former Attorney General Julian Moti, conceded that although Moti’s 2007 illegal deportation from the Solomon Islands was a decision of the Solomon Islands’ government, Australia failed to fulfill its mandated role (under RAMSI).
“We [Australia] went to the Solomon Islands in order to restore the rule of law,” he said. “What happened on 27 December [the illegal deportation] did not involve the Australian Government participating in a process of restoring the rule of law.”
As for the cable’s assertion that subsequent to the Vanuatu court case Moti was “…made unwelcome in Vanuatu.”
This is simply wrong as Moti retained property interests in Vanuatu where the sometime lessee was the Vanuatu government.
In an affidavit sworn by Moti on 3 June 2009, Moti speaks of visiting Vanuatu as late as March 2006 and meeting with two government ministers and other political affiliates. This scenario does not suggest Moti was “unwelcome”- in fact, quite the opposite.
Thirdly, the writer notes Moti’s nationalistic and anti Australian political stance, calling Moti “resentful”.
The underlying assumption of the whole cable is that anything that is anti-Australian/RAMSI is wrong because the interests of the Solomon Islands should be subjugated to those of Australia/America.
Lastly, the cable expresses the fear that Moti’s first task would be to defend the two politicians, Charles Dausebea and Nelson Ne’e that were then in jail charged with inciting the riots that had their roots in the elections earlier that year.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that both were acquitted of the charges when witnesses, paid by the prosecution to testify, failed to appear in court. It was in the best interests of Australia/America to compromise Dausebea as according to the cable Dausebea was the only Solomon Islands’ politician that would take on RAMSI “head on.”
Moreover, in another Wikileaked cable of 20 April 2006, the same Robert Fitts writes, “Some 180 Australian troops and police arrived in Honiara April 19. Resident Americans tell us that troops did not deploy to the areas affected until the late hour and general exhaustion had quieted the havoc.” Why didn’t they?
There were unsubstantiated rumours at the time that RAMSI deliberately let the riots happen.
Certainly, the riots justified Australia sending even more troops to the Solomon Islands which was pure serendipity considering that yet another Wikileaked cable from the same source dated 27 April 2006 contained a note saying: “…members of the most likely new government are indicating that it might reverse a number of Solomon Islands foreign policies, switch recognition from Taiwan to Beijing for example.”
Their intelligence was correct and it explains much. Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands would have been the worst-case scenario for Australian/American interests and it was under consideration by this government.
The cable’s next salvo is reserved for Manasseh Sogavare, then Prime Minister and the Solomon Islands’ parliament.
In this section no punches are pulled as it spells out what it believes to be the corrupt nature of Sogavare and how his political manoeuvrings, especially the push to negate RAMSI’s influence, had been designed to perpetuate that corruption.
The cable describes Sogavare as a “con” it calls his initiatives “loopy” and says that: “his [Sogavare’s] government earned a reputation for casual corruption that was notable even by Solomons standards.”
In the most disrespectful of language the cable describes the Solomon Islands cabinet as “odd ducks.” It says that although Foreign Minister, Paterson Oti talks responsibly, he, in practice, “…waddles along the same as the PM.”
The cable states the belief that the only reason that the Solomon Islands parliament wants to loosen its ties with RAMSI is in order to perpetuate corruption – to “…regain the freedom of the cookie jar…” Then ominously, the cable goes on to say that it’s “Time to speak”.
And why was it time to speak? It was because the US wanted to influence the outcome of the upcoming vote of no confidence against the Sogavare government – to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign nation.
Source: Solomon Star - 31 August 2011