At long last, a bit more openness about the SAS

I’ve welcomed

the government’s move

to let us know something about what the SAS is doing in Afghanistan. For eight years we’ve had to rely totally on leaks in the foreign media, or what Kiwi journalists like Jon Stephenson have been able to dig up. For eight years I’ve peppered New Zealand ministers and Defence chiefs with questions, only to get the standard reply that ‘we don’t comment on the SAS’. So it is great to finally get a result.

Mind you, we won’t always be getting the gospel truth. The Defence spindoctors will be prettying up the stories to make their people look good. Which is why Guyon Espinor’s blog on the TVNZ site today, headed

“Media cooperation over the SAS compromises us all”

,  is so valuable.

As Guyon points out, ‘if the media signs up to a “cooperation” deal with the defence force we are also signing up to the purpose of the war and the way that war is conducted. It is a war that has now dragged on for nearly a decade – nearly as long as World War I and II combined – with no end in sight.’

The Defence Force chiefs don’t fully understand democracy, as evidenced by their communications director

Shaun Fogarty’s opinion piece in the NZ Herald

(January23). He claims that one of the reasons for keeping the identities of SAS soldiers secret is to stop New Zealanders protesting against their families. Now, I have yet to hear of demonstrations here against family members of soldiers or public officials, on any political issue. Such protests would be repugnant to New Zealanders. But to start censoring for such reasons would be to go down a slippery slope. Logically, it would be followed by a ban on mentioning the names of other state servants engaged in implementing controversial policies. Where would it end?

We absolutely need an independent media which, in the words of Guyon Espiner, might find out things ‘outside the comfort zone of the military and their political masters’.