Friday, September 09, 2011

The first cracks

The government's strategy in responding to Nicky Hager's Other People's Wars has been clear: slander the author and call it fiction, usually while admitting to not having read it. But now the first cracks are appearing. Last night, Media7 [video] interviewed Hager and former Defence chief Bruce Ferguson about the book. And he got a surprising admission from the latter that criticism from below about US treatment of prisoners may have been covered up. The full quote is on Public Address here:

It's probably a combination of both [a breach of duty and democracy in action]. My first, my gut reaction is very disappointed that people whisteblow with respect to the military. I do take Nicky's point though, there will be people who are concerned. In every war, again, soldiers will see things or be ordered to do things about which they are not happy.

It takes a very gutsy soldier, sailor or airman to go to the commanding officer and say "I don't want to do this". Now, until probably about 20 or 30 years ago it would probably end up with them being put in the slammer.

But if they get no traction from that and they still firmly believe in their views, I can understand, while not sympathising with them, I can understand why they may go further.

I would not ask Nicky for his sources because I know damn well he wouldn't give them to me. And actually it doesn't worry me anyway, because I'm retired.

I would always continue to be disappointed that people felt so strongly about it they couldn't go to their commanding officers. But they may well have done, and I would not have known that. They may well have gone to their commanding officers and the commanding officers, to use their words, covered it up. I would not see that.

Of course, Fergusson points the finger lower down, at unit commanders, but this can be only part of the problem. Because what we've also seen is a high-level coverup of the military's actions, spinning (to put it charitably; I would call it "outright deceit") the way it is fighting this war in order to retain public support. And that is something the Chief of Defence Force would be expected to know about. If they didn't, they're clearly not doing their job properly.

There's a difference between operational security to protect lives, and bullshitting the public (and apparently Ministers) to maintain political support. One might be acceptable in a democracy. The other clearly is not. The problem with our military is that is has begun to conflate the two. In the process, they have weakened oversight, accountability, and ultimately democratic control. The defence culture which has allowed this to happen is a dangerous one, and it needs to be eliminated if we are to protect our democracy.