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July 9, 2007 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]


Being involved in Afghanistan, where 5,000 civilians have been killed since 2001 and where the opium trade has increased by 25 per cent, means it’s important to control perception. That perception is all the more important because we happen to live in a democracy.

We should expect our leaders to provide substantial reasons for why we as a nation would intervene. These reasons were reiterated in a recent speech Defence Minister Phil Goff gave at the University of Auckland.

Goff said our troops were deployed under a United Nations mandate in 2001, when the Taliban regime refused to act against the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda which it hosted and which was responsible for the murder of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

“But our major effort in Afghanistan today is through the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) … It assisted in voter registration and the election process through which Afghanistan held its first ever democratic elections for a president and parliament,” says Goff.

Now six years later Afghanistan is, in democratic terms … a shambles.

In 2004 only three per cent had registered to vote, with the ratio of men registered to the number of women being ten to three.

In this context it is hardly surprising that the recent awarding of the Victoria Cross medal to a Kiwi SAS solider Willy Apiata was such a well-oiled PR machine.

Apiata was awarded the VC, the supreme military award for valour in the Commonwealth, last month at a ceremony announced by the Prime Minister.

There is little doubt that Apiata deserves recognition for his action. However the details surrounding why he received the VC leave a number of questions as to what our involvement in Afghanistan actually is.

Reading more like a chapter from The Man Who Would Be King, the New Zealand Herald began its description of Apiata’s actions with a commando-like tone which continues with a description of the actions that led Apiata to gain his VC.

In total disregard for his own safety, Apiata carried his wounded comrade across 70 metres of broken, rocky and fire-swept ground while he was serving with the Special Air Services in Afghanistan in 2004.

These scant details were pretty much all we have been told.

Other questions of secrecy concern the citation presented as part of Apiata’s ceremony which made it clear that one of our SAS troops was barely conscious and close to death after suffering arterial bleeding.

But back in June 2004 when the battle happened, our defence force told us that two SAS soldiers were being treated after a “firefight” and that their conditions were satisfactory.

Some things need to be kept secret but when we are far less informed about what is going on than other countries like Australia, then how much we can trust our defence force is hard to ascertain.

In a country where innocent people are captured, tortured and sent off to the American detention camp in Guantanamo Bay to be imprisoned without trial, that’s all the more concerning.

One of the few accounts to have revealed what we are doing comes from military officers who did not agree with the secrecy, leaked internal papers and the efforts of the ombudsman’s office, revealed in an article by Nicky Hager in 2003.

In that article Hager describes how SAS soldiers directed air attacks by “illuminating” targets with pulsing infrared marker beams – invisible to the naked eye, but clear to the incoming aircrafts’ sensors.

Undoubtedly these actions have led to killing but of whom?

If you were to ask Helen Clark that question, you’d get no answer.

When she was asked on 11th of March 2002, whether the SAS had killed anyone in Afghanistan, she said she would “not get into a hypothetical debate” and that such facts would not normally come to her attention.

Silence and servile journalists ill serve the victims of war. While I honor the bravery of Apiata we must realise that in war accountability is essential; without it we are little more than brutes.


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