Soldiers in harms way: Don’t ask, don’t tell

Philip Poupin/NZH 21-01-2010

Good on the New Zealand Herald for publishing this picture of two NZ SAS soldiers in Kabul.

And cheers to the Dominion Post for going for it again today.

It’s a Kiwi version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and really quite pathetic that the Defence Minister is upset about this image. He’s said that identifying the soldiers puts them in harm’s way. Presumably because now those pesky Taleban can put a name or a face to the troopers.

That’s just bullshit. These guys wander around Kabul in heavy body armour, armed to the teeth and ready to take potshots at anyone who looks remotely suspicious. That’s about 90 per cent of the population in the reasoning of the occupying forces.

Let’s be clear about this; these SAS troopers are in harms way because of a series of political decisions taken in Washington and Wellington.

What’s actually more interesting is that we only found out about Kiwi military involvement in the recent fire-fight in Kabul because of a story in the New York Times. No statement from the New Zealand government, just a deafening silence from Wellington.

NYT Kabul correspondent Dexter Filkins reported the actions of the SAS in his 18 January story about the Kabul fire-fight. Then he blogged about his surprise that most New Zealanders had no idea about it.

The attack on the Central Bank in downtown Kabul this week revealed many things about Afghanistan. But one of the more surprising things it brought to light was that New Zealand is at war.

New Zealand? At war?

Who knew?

Not a lot of New Zealanders, apparently. The news that a team of commandos from New Zealand had joined Afghan soldiers at the scene caused a sensation in the little country off the coast of Australia.[Kiwis in Kabul]

Apart from the typically patronising tone (little country off the coast of Australia) this is quite amusing.

Prime Minister John Key only confirmed the details of the NYT story two days later under pressure from Press Gallery reporters. Even then he did so reluctantly and insisting it was right to maintain secrecy.

What do these fools think is going to happen? Does anyone seriously think that the Taleban have got time to seek out and read New Zeland news media online, or even the New York Times for that matter?

Key also made ridiculous comments about the Kiwi soldiers not being in harm’s way or doing any harm to anyone else:

“To the best of my knowledge they weren’t involved in particular instances that caused harm.”

He did not believe any New Zealanders had caused harm either.

So, Prime Minister, what are the SAS boys doing in Kabul? Making sandwiches? The whole point of the SAS is to cause harm. In fact, mayhem, destruction and targeted “decapitation strikes” are the order of the day for these secretive soldiers.

The long-standing convention of not publishing identifying marks or faces of SAS soldiers that the Herald has breached is actually bullshit too.

Why would the media go along with the idea of hiding the faces of SAS soldiers on active duty?

Given that the whole argument for having New Zealand troops in Afghanistan is that it is in the nation’s public interest – a dubious argument at the best of times – then doesn’t the New Zealand public have the right to know what the soldiers fighting in their name are doing and who they are?

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” convention is just an exercise in keeping the news media in line. It is part of the whole myth that the news media MUST take the side of the nation state in matters of national interest.

The presence of Kiwi troops in Afghanistan does nothing to advance the public interest of ordinary New Zealanders. The whole justification for them being there – to fight global terror – is spurious.  It certainly isn’t an argument accepted by everyone and the media has a responsibility to be critical of the deployment, the strategy and the politics behind it.

Historical footnote: I’m currently working on a research project with a postgrad student, Josh, looking at the media’s coverage of New Zealand deployments to Afghanistan going back to 2001.

The secrecy has always been there. In 2001, then Opposition leader, Bill English, criticised Labour for not revealing more details about the first SAS deployment. Then, as now, Kiwis found out details from the overseas media, and even from official US military announcements.

Today, the same issue, but the shoe’s on the other foot.

It’s also interesting that the defence force is scrambling to cover its embarrassment over having the “Jusus Saves” superscopes on its rifles.

It’s not beyond the pale to suggest that the government is making such a fuss over the photograph in order to draw attention away from this other interesting story.

Who knew…we had God on our side.

This is my favourite version of this powerful Dylan classic.

9 Responses to Soldiers in harms way: Don’t ask, don’t tell

  1. mooksool says:

    LOL – Our God can kick your God’s faggoty ass!

    If enough hue and cry can be made about Willie’s pic, then maybe people won’t ask why the fuck we’re there in the first place eh?

    And if our job as Anzacs is now to take on right or left wing nutbags, why aren’t we in Mindinao, or Aceh, or Burma (hey, don’t all of those folk buy weapons from a really large local supplier).

    As an individual you are far more likely to be harmed, maimed or evicted by a State run apparatus rather than “terrorists”. Just ask the 2 million or so displaced subsitence farmers of the Swot Valley which appeared to be a ‘homework’ test for the Pakistani military set by their big brothers.

    So publish the pictures, and ask the questions and keep asking the questions until someone in the Beehive can tell you why we’re really there, instead of the jingoistic, simplistic ‘fighting the good fight’ bullshit.

    The onus is on the media to get this right after their deplorable ‘here, let us help you with that’ apporach during the fictitious WMD Iraq incident.

    Peace out.
    p.s. Willie looks quite rugged eh?

  2. mooksool says:

    What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies right to our faces.

  3. Dave Paki says:

    Oh come on. Don’t use this as an excuse for pushing your anti-war sentiments.

    They are SAS troops. Not regular army. A little bit like the difference between uniformed police and the armed offenders squad. And I’m sure you know full well that media aren’t allowed to do anything that would identify a member of the AOS.

    The question of whether publishing the photos was ethical and whether the New Zealand public has a right to know what the NZ Army are doing in Afghanistan, are two very separate arguments. You’re not realising this, makes me question your ethical judgment.

    And isn’t it a little ignorant to think that the insurgents don’t use the internet and naive to think that publishing identifying photos won’t increase the chance of Apiata and his family being targets at some stage?

    And can you really blame the Government for our lack of awareness about what’s happening in Afghanistan? Seems to me low budgets at our major media organisations is more to blame.

  4. Dave, it was John Key who named Willie, taking the moral high ground “I’m not going to lie to the New Zealand media”.
    Why shouldn’t I push my anti-war sentiments? It’s not like I’m alone in thinking that way.
    How are the issues of the photograph and knowing what the SAS are up to different? Aren’t they both about disclosure and speaking to the newly-minted “Honest John” Key’s commitment to the truth?
    I agree the Kiwi media could do a better job. In this case, they got it right.
    BTW: you want images of Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan, check this out.

  5. Dave Paki says:

    I’ve already stated why identifying elite forces is wrong, but consider this: how often do you see images that clearly identify members of the Navy Seals,Delta Force, Russian Spetznaz and British SAS?

    Have you forgotten that members of these forces are human beings? Do you think that their fighting in a tax-payer funded war forfeits their right to some basic safety constraints such as not being identified?

    Apiata will be at even greater risk because the head-of-a-war-hero would make a pretty decent trophy. Further, because of the pics, he’s more likely to be a target on home soil. Do you really think that’s fair to him?

    I can’t calculate exactly how much risk has been created by publicising the photos, but neither can you. Therefore, arguing that it was right to publish is ignorant of Apiata and his family’s lives.

    Using the photo issue as a segway to complain about how little the New Zealand public is being informed about our involvement in the war is wrong in my view because it clouds the issue. It also suggests that if you’re opposed to the war, you should be in favour of publishing the photos. That’s a clear logic meltdown — they are mutually exclusive issues.

  6. Dave, there’s only a logic meltdown if you somehow think you can separate the individual “Willie Apiata” from the offensive military role the Kiwi SAS is involved in in Afghanistan.
    Let’s not forget that Afghanistan was invaded and a legitimate government overthrown by occupying military forces.
    Let’s not forget that this happened nine years ago.
    You might have seen this in today’s Herald, basically a plea for the New Zealand media to “get behind” “our” boys in Kabul. This is a recipe for political quietism and giving in to the military mindset.
    Frankly, fuck that.
    The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are not the actions of war heroes, “Our Willie” is caught up in a conflict of global significance. He has a choice – as do all the volunteers fighting in these occupying forces – he can always leave the army and join this group (for example).

  7. Dave Paki says:

    I’m not sure if you’re taking the piss, but I’ll respond anyway.

    I agree that we should have access to a greater level of information about New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan and I question our sending troops there. I also have no interest in supporting any plea to “get behind our boys” when we don’t even know what exactly we’re expected to support.

    However, I’m not going to let my opinions on these issues cloud my judgment on whether it was ethical for our major media sources to publish those photos.

    The funny thing is, I suspect Apiata’s pic is the best PR our defense force has had in a long time.

  8. Not taking the piss Dave, always happy to discuss.
    I support the publication and naming in this case because it is a step in breaking down the convention that the media doesn’t challenge the military on operational issues.
    Remember WMDs. If the news media had been more sceptical and challenging on that military version of events, perhaps there would have been no invasion of Iraq.

  9. Clint says:

    you mean the news media that ignored the scandal in bengazi , you mean that media or do you mean the media that is getting there heads chopped off by these ISIS nut bags. Put your ass in harms way and then you can talk otherwise your just talking out your ass. Its a different story when your in a elite unit because we already have a price on our heads and now you dumb asses have given them more intel for what selling more news papers. You forget it is us (soldiers) that sacrifice our life family and time to give you the rights you so flaunt in the name of free press. Give us little respect and honor for our sacrifice and leave our pictures and names out of rotation, our families have already given up a lot they don’t need the media to put them in the spot light or harms way. SUPPORT THE BOYS THEY’RE THERE SO THOSE NUT BAGS AREN’T HERE.

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