Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You either accept a rules based international order or you act like the NZDF

Nicky Hager's latest book "Hit and Run" seems to be following Nicky's usually excellent book marketing strategy. It starts with an accusation, usually followed by an angry denial and then weeks of to and fro until all the books are sold and the media loses interest. I wish my books could use that formula. But then I'm not the poster boy of the left, I'm just an annoying person who calls things as I see them.
So far Hager's main pressure point has been calling for some form of inquiry into 'war crimes' perpetrated by the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS). This article by Alison Cole [https://www.vice.com/en_nz/article/could-new-zealand-be-heading-to-the-international-criminal-court-for-war-crimes-in-Afghanistan] states that if New Zealand doesn't carry out an inquiry then the International Criminal Court can. This article from Martyn Bradbury in the Daily Blog [http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/03/27/latest-developments-in-hager-stephenson-nz-war-crime-allegations/] deals with the specifics of the case and relates the announcement by Deborah Manning and QC Dr Rodney Harrison that they will launch legal proceedings against the Government.
For many New Zealanders Edmund Burke's famous words "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us" about sums up their attitude to the NZSAS. They are a bit like the All Blacks but with guns. But no matter how capable the NZSAS troopers may be, like any military unit their actual performance depends very much on who leads them.
And that's the problem.
Because troopers wouldn't be talking to Hager and Stephenson if they were happy with the decisions that were made that night in the Tirgiran Valley. There is clearly something wrong and some people believe the rules were broken.
Does that matter? Afghanistan is famously known as a nation that lives for "hospitality and revenge" as part of the Pashtun code of Pashtunwali [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtunwali]. If the Kiwis didn't kick some arse they might lose mana. As one very large politician once said, "you can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs." Maybe the other guys (the US) were doing it too?
The problem is the US doesn't believe in the International Court and refuses to accept its jurisdiction. New Zealand is not the US,
Besides all of those reasons are very thin excuses. The NZSAS are not meant to act like some gang of heavily armed thugs. They are meant to be soldiers in the New Zealand Defence Force and the NZDFs main reason for being (direct from the NZDF website) is: "Acting in a lead role or in support of other New Zealand agencies, Defence contributes to the following national security interests:
◾A safe and secure New Zealand, including its border and approaches;
◾A rules-based international order, which respects national sovereignty;
Note that "rules-based international order". That rules based international order includes institutions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. That means for everyone, all the time. You can't just have a rules based order when it suits you. Nor does a rules-based international order get bent because of operational exigensies; because it might prove embarrassing; or because a particular military unit is the All Blacks with guns. A rules based international order goes from top to bottom, theoretical to particular, private soldier to brigadier-general. Either you serve a rules-based international order or you are no different to a bunch of Pashtun gangsters.
As is so often the case the response from Defence Headquarters is defensive, self justifying and highly evasive. They assume the role of defendant, police and judiciary. So far the most the general staff have had to say is that Hager and Stephenson got the names of the villages wrong. It turns out, so did the NZDF [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11827661]. Logically this is of no consequence,because it fails to address the core question of war crimes.
And this does matter. Why? Because as information technology increases the precision and reach of governments the vital question becomes who is following rules and being transparent and who isn't. Because with power comes the temptation to bend the rules (like the People's Republic of China which has a bunch of secret police who come in the night and drag people off to be tortured). If the NZSAS are going to start doing that regardless of the rules it matters.
That's why a proper independent investigation and proper judicial process (including the assumption of innocence) is necessary. Because if the NZDF can't be trusted to follow rules and be transparent when in Afghanistan then it can't be trusted at all. Because otherwise you don't have a rules-based international order - and its not much of a step before you don't even have a democracy. Because the only thing that seperates New Zealand from Fiji is that the NZDF is trusted to follow the rules and a key part of that is being open to scrutiny by those who police them. You can't have a rules-based international order unless you accept that you are subject to those rules and that you may be inconveniently investigated for breaching them.
So of course New Zealand should investigated potential war crimes. Either by an independent commissioner or by Police, if this falls within their legal jurisdiction.
I say this knowing nothing I say matters a damn to the NZDF. If you are happy to spend up large on misbegotten and overpriced war toys without any concern for the economic welfare of people of the country you serve simply to preserve your professional sense of self worth then you probably don't really give a shit about lying to protect officers who deserve to be outed. But next time NZDF readers are looking down their noses on the Fijian or Indonesian military perhaps they should just remember the rot always starts somewhere. Either you have principles or you don't. Either you follow the rules or you don't.

Postscript: And it  gets worse. It appears that the only report into the lessons learned by the NZDF in the Afghanistan campaign was shredded so the media couldn't get to it![ http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11825881]. I mean seriously? What is this? The defence force is being run like a citadel for its own self aggrandizement. No criticism is tolerated, no weakness can be admitted to, no officer held accountable. All so it can try and perpetuate this myth itself.  You can't have armed people acting like this! The entire headquarters needs investigation.