Monday, July 02, 2018

NZDF attempts to stop free speech

Shortly after Nicky Hager's book Hit and Run was released in March 2017, graffiti went up around Wellington accusing NZDF of war crimes and lying. And predictably, the SAS mafia running NZDF hit the roof and panicked over how to have it removed:

A series of emails released under the Official Information Act show staff swung into action after the slogans appeared overnight, in mid-March. One wrote: "They are prominent and are reported as being on there [sic] main gateways into the city centre."

Senior staff in the Office of Defence Force Chief, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, were directing moves to have the protests removed quickly. The email chain stretches over three days as staff tried to work out what to do. The chain shows them debating the nature of the signs and whether they constitute graffiti or handmade billboards.

Chris Hoey, Keating's director of co-ordination, wanted to lay a complaint with police. He requested staff photographers to be sent out to take photos of the "known sites" in Wellington "to support that complaint". Staff provided photos taken on their way to work instead.

But the military police advised they could only lay a vandalism complaint if the graffiti was on Defence Force property. An unnamed officer added: "I do not believe there is a complaint regarding the actual words."

Keating's chief of staff, Commodore Ross Smith, was also copied in the emails and on the second day of the graffiti blitz wrote: "It looks like the campaign has stepped up a notch ... Is there anything we can do?". Hoey forwarded it on adding: "Can we get rid of this one quickly?"

Only one staffer raises concerns, writing: "Dumb question, have we thought about the headline 'NZDF attempts to stop free speech' so is removal or attempted removal the organisation instruction?"

Hoey wrote back: "Yes it is".

For a bunch of people we trust with guns, they seem to be awfully thin-skinned. And for a bunch of people who supposedly "defend our freedoms", they seem to have no idea what those freedoms actually are. They seem to think that it is (or should be) a criminal offence to criticise them, and that its their function as people running the military to silence dissent and public criticism of their institution. Which is an awfully dangerous attitude for the military of a free and democratic country to have.

The good news is that Keating has now retired. Hopefully the new Chief of Defence Force will be establishing an organisational culture which shows greater respect for democratic norms.