NO DE­FENCE

Nicky Hager is a North & South con­tribut­ing writer.

North & South - - Contents - BY NICKY HAGER

In an ex­clu­sive spe­cial re­port, in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Nicky Hager re­veals dis­turb­ing al­le­ga­tions of some­thing rot­ten at the heart of the New Zealand De­fence Force.

War is hell. Sol­dier­ing is not for sissies. But is a de­fence force that reg­u­larly cov­ers up and de­nies wrong­do­ings among its ranks – from war crimes and sex­ual abuse to drunk­en­ness and bat­tle­field sou­venir­ing – op­er­at­ing above the law? In this ex­clu­sive in­ves­tiga­tive re­port, NICKY HAGER re­veals a cul­ture of im­punity within the New Zealand De­fence Force.

There’s a for­mer Spe­cial Air Ser­vice (SAS) mem­ber sit­ting at my din­ing ta­ble, Welling­ton Har­bour be­low us, look­ing like he’s not cer­tain yet about whether com­ing to meet me was a good idea. It is our first meet­ing af­ter he very cau­tiously made con­tact a few weeks ear­lier. He says he en­joyed his time in the mil­i­tary and had left without feel­ing much con­cern about what had gone on there. Lots of things seem nor­mal when you’re in­side the or­gan­i­sa­tion, he says, that look bizarre once you’re out.

Then he saw the pub­lic­ity about the book I co-au­thored with Jon Stephen­son, Hit & Run, which de­scribed the death and in­juries of chil­dren dur­ing a New Zealand SAS raid on two Afghan vil­lages. He started think­ing about other things he’d ex­pe­ri­enced in Afghanistan. He wants to talk about them. “The book came out,” he says. “I bought it and looked through.” When he saw thenChief of De­fence Force Ma­jor Gen­eral Tim Keat­ing on TV re­spond­ing to the al­le­ga­tions, in his opin­ion Keat­ing was ef­fec­tively ly­ing to the pub­lic. “I felt re­ally un­com­fort­able.”

Keat­ing had fronted the me­dia on 27 March 2017, six days af­ter the book was pub­lished. He de­nied ev­ery­thing. The SAS hadn’t even been in the vil­lages de­scribed in the book, he claimed. How­ever, there had been an SAS raid that night in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion, he said, where noth­ing went wrong, where they had the “best in­tel­li­gence”, the raid was “ex­e­cuted with pro­fes­sion­al­ism”, there was “no ev­i­dence” of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and the con­duct of every­one in­volved in­clud­ing the coali­tion air­craft was “ex­em­plary”.

See­ing Keat­ing’s pub­lic re­sponse to Hit & Run “was the end”, says the for­mer SAS mem­ber. “We’re sup­posed to be a mod­ern, demo­cratic coun­try. It was a joke.”

Then he re­mem­bered other things that had gone wrong dur­ing his years in the SAS – and that ev­ery sin­gle time they, too, had been cov­ered up.

“The SAS is the ex­treme end of think­ing they’re above the law, that they don’t have to be ac­count­able to oth­ers,” he says. “We can say we never com­mit­ted war crimes, but we have.”

He has an­other Afghanistan in­ci­dent on his mind, not just the Hit & Run one.

The in­ci­dent oc­curred dur­ing the same 2004 SAS de­ploy­ment that led to Wil­lie Api­ata be­ing awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross. The SAS con­tin­gent was lo­cated in­side a US spe­cial forces base at Kan­da­har air­port, in the south of Afghanistan. “The boys would go out on 14-to 21- day mis­sions. While they were out, the sup­port staff had lit­tle to do.”

On this ill-fated oc­ca­sion, while the SAS troop­ers were out on pa­trol, the US spe­cial forces found them­selves short of medics and asked for an NZSAS medic to take on a raid. The SAS com­man­der

agreed to the re­quest. A medic named Cor­po­ral B (name with­held for pri­vacy rea­sons) was as­signed to pro­vide med­i­cal sup­port for a raid on an Afghan vil­lage.

There are very strict rules about what med­i­cal staff can do in war. A medic is a pro­tected per­son un­der in­ter­na­tional law, a non-com­bat­ant, which car­ries an obli­ga­tion not to take part in hos­til­i­ties. As New Zealand De­fence Force (NZDF) lawyer Lieu­tenant Colonel Larry May­bee wrote in an in­ter­nal re­port about a dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tion: “Med­i­cal per­son­nel are only to be re­quired to per­form du­ties which are con­sis­tent with their pro­tected sta­tus un­der the Geneva Con­ven­tions and Ad­di­tional Pro­to­cols.” Specif­i­cally, a medic can only ever shoot in self­de­fence or to pro­tect wounded peo­ple un­der their care. These are very im­por­tant and long-stand­ing rules of war.

As the US forces ap­proached a com­pound in the vil­lage, some peo­ple in­side started shoot­ing at them. Cor­po­ral B joined the US forces in fir­ing back, killing two of the shoot­ers.

This was not at all what a medic should do – as the SAS com­man­ders later con- cluded; it wasn’t self- de­fence be­cause he had the op­tion not to take part in the fight­ing, which was part of an of­fen­sive op­er­a­tion against the vil­lages. En­gag­ing in the as­sault went di­rectly against the NZDF rules for a medic and the Geneva Con­ven­tions.

But it was worse than this, be­cause chil­dren had joined the adults in try­ing to de­fend the com­pound. When the US team moved for­ward, they were met by the sight of the dead bod­ies of two boys, aged about 12 or 13. The chil­dren re­minded Cor­po­ral B of his own sons, who were a sim­i­lar age. He was cer­tain he had shot the boys and “it re­ally dam­aged him. He was think­ing, ‘Shit, I’ve killed kids’... He was in an aw­ful po­si­tion,” says the exSAS mem­ber sit­ting at my din­ing ta­ble. “He came un­stuck.

“He came back to Kan­da­har and was a mess. He was an­gry at [the SAS com­man­ders] for send­ing him into that and, when it turned to cus­tard, for turn­ing on him.” In the weeks fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent, the US forces wanted to give Cor­po­ral B a medal for help­ing, they said, to pro­tect their troops. But the SAS said no to this. They were think­ing of court-mar­tialling him – ar­gu­ing that, as a medic, he wasn’t sup­posed to be shoot­ing peo­ple as part of an as­sault. “The US was say­ing Sil­ver Star, the NZDF court-mar­tial and [Cor­po­ral B] was think­ing about the boys,” the ex- SAS mem­ber tells me.

In re­sponse to ques­tions from North & South, an NZDF spokesper­son de­nied of­fi­cers had con­sid­ered court-mar­tialling Cor­po­ral B. The EX-SAS mem­ber, how­ever, is em­phatic that they did.

This was a dif­fer­ent kind of mess to the Hit & Run raid. The is­sue here re­lated to the role of a medic – and, in this case, it was chil­dren with guns who were killed, not in­no­cent civil­ians. What they have in com­mon is that both in­ci­dents should have been faced squarely and in­ves­ti­gated prop­erly. In­stead, it ap­pears both were cov­ered up.

In Aus­tralia, an of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion is cur­rently un­der way, headed by New South Wales judge Paul Br­ere­ton, into many al­le­ga­tions of un­law­ful ac­tions by Aus­tralian spe­cial forces. The in­quiry was in­sti­gated by the Aus­tralian mil­i­tary, which has pub­licly called on mil­i­tary

staff to come for­ward with any fur­ther al­le­ga­tions.

In con­trast, NZDF is cur­rently spend­ing mil­lions of pub­lic dol­lars try­ing to fight the govern­ment’s Hit & Run raid in­quiry, and its ac­tions fol­low­ing the Cor­po­ral B in­ci­dent were truly bizarre.

A cu­ri­ous thing about our De­fence Force is how much ef­fort it puts into its pub­lic im­age, far be­yond a nor­mal govern­ment agency. Bad news is nearly al­ways hid­den, while 50-60 pub­lic re­la­tions staff pour out flat­ter­ing sto­ries, which are of­ten the sole source of in­for­ma­tion on mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions – mean­ing most of what we see of De­fence has been care­fully scripted by NZDF it­self to make it look good. In the pe­riod af­ter the Cor­po­ral B in­ci­dent, the SAS was in the midst of a cam­paign of self-pro­mo­tion, in­clud­ing a TV se­ries on New Zealand’s “most fa­mous”, “most revered” fight­ing unit, and had plans for a movie and book about Wil­lie Api­ata’s Vic­to­ria Cross.

It would be the same with the medic and dead chil­dren. An ap­par­ent breach of rules be­came a PR op­por­tu­nity. In­stead of court-mar­tialling Cor­po­ral B, they de­cided to give him a medal. On the same day Api­ata’s VC was an­nounced, 2 July 2007, an un­named SAS sol­dier re­ferred to – for na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons – as “Cor­po­ral B” was given this coun­try’s sec­ond-high­est medal, a New Zealand Gal­lantry Dec­o­ra­tion. It was the same Cor­po­ral B – but there was no men­tion of dead chil­dren, the Geneva Con­ven­tions or that he was a medic.

Prime Min­is­ter He­len Clark said Cor­po­ral B’s award was “for dis­play­ing out­stand­ing courage and lead­er­ship, and ac­cept­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary risks... tes­ti­mony to the ded­i­ca­tion, skill and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the NZSAS”. It seems very un­likely she had been told about the ear­lier plans for court-mar­tial, or about the shot boys. The NZDF press re­lease said, “For op­er­a­tional rea­sons no fur­ther de­tails will be re­leased.”

Cor­po­ral B had left the SAS and NZDF by the time of the award. He had quit within months of the de­ploy­ment, up­set and dis­il­lu­sioned. The EX-SAS mem­ber at my ta­ble was dis­gusted by the whole thing. “Courage, com­mit­ment, in­tegrity,” – the NZDF’S es­poused val­ues – “they’re joke words and no one will be held to ac­count over them,” he says. “I’m pleased to be out. There was so much crap.”

Ac­cord­ing to this source, the SAS in Afghanistan con­stantly broke the rules, in all sorts of ways, and got away with it. There was a cul­ture of im­punity, of be­liev­ing they weren’t bound by the same rules as other New Zealand sol­diers. This was the case on op­er­a­tions, but also in many other ways.

It started, he says, with the SAS at­ti­tude to coali­tion-wide rules about al­co­hol. All troop-con­tribut­ing coun­tries in Afghanistan, a Mus­lim coun­try, had a strict ban on al­co­hol in the early stages of the war. Nearly ev­ery unit obeyed the rules. But the SAS fla­grantly ig­nored them.

When sup­plies were flown from New Zealand on large pal­lets, the outer layer of the pal­lets would be boxes of ra­tion packs, made up by a firm at Lin­ton. But most of the load, hid­den in­side the ra­tion packs, the source says, was “beer, spir­its, ev­ery­thing. You name it, it was in there. The [SAS] unit or­gan­ised it all.”

The SAS per­son­nel drank “shit­loads” – the cul­ture is “drink and drink and drink like there’s no to­mor­row”, he says – and al­co­hol was also used “as cur­rency to barter with the US troops”. The SAS hosted “huge piss-ups with al­lied troops” at its com­pound.

“It was a bla­tant slap in the face to the fact we were in a dry theatre of op­er­a­tions. Amer­i­cans weren’t al­lowed it [al­co­hol]. Other New Zealand troops weren’t al­lowed it.”

The NZDF told North & South “small quan­ti­ties of Nzsas-branded wine and spir­its, brought and paid for pri­vately by Pa­pakura Camp Mess mem­bers, were taken into Afghanistan for con­sump­tion and used as gifts for coali­tion part­ners and friends”.

An­other ex­am­ple: “badged” SAS troop­ers were en­cour­aged to see them­selves as su­pe­rior to other troops, in­clud­ing SAS sup­port staff (“sup­por­t­ies”). One time, ac­cord­ing to this source, an SAS sup­port staff ma­jor in charge of SAS ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions and other tech­nol­ogy in Afghanistan (a po­si­tion called “S6”) made a de­ci­sion the SAS troop­ers did not like. “The guys came in from a mis­sion and had a party on base and got shit-faced drunk.” One of them, a more ju­nior of­fi­cer, picked a fight with the ma­jor and “punched him to the ground. He threat­ened to kill him,” the ex- SAS mem­ber says.

“If you as­sault some­one above you [in rank], and es­pe­cially ma­jor or above, you lose your job straight away.” But when the ma­jor went to the SAS com­mand­ing of­fi­cer and com­plained, the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer re­fused to charge a badged mem­ber of the SAS. Nei­ther would the more se­nior SAS boss at the US Ba­gram head­quar­ters north of Kabul.

“This doesn’t hap­pen. There should have been dis­ci­pline.” The ma­jor was “very un­happy. It did not go with his view of the De­fence Force.”

In­stead, he claimed, the SAS bosses in­structed the ma­jor to keep quiet about it and paid for him and his part­ner to go on an ex­tended course in the UK, where he was from. “But it was re­ally just a hol­i­day for most of the time. The ma­jor knew it was a deal to shut him up.”

The EX-SAS mem­ber says he saw se­nior NZDF of­fi­cers re­peat­edly keep­ing things quiet and buy­ing peo­ple off in this way. (Both the SAS com­mand­ing of­fi­cers men­tioned here were later in­volved with the Hit & Run cover-up.)

An­other ex­am­ple, from a dif­fer­ent Afghan de­ploy­ment when the SAS were based at Ba­gram Air Base: again there was bul­ly­ing of the SAS sup­por­t­ies by SAS troop­ers. “This sup­porty [a ‘log­gie’, mean­ing lo­gis­tics] was in Ba­gram and the SAS guys had threat­ened to kill him.” He didn’t re­port it be­cause the com­man­der of the unit in Ba­gram was SAS. He was so wor­ried about vi­o­lence that “he spent the whole de­ploy­ment sleep­ing un­der some­one else’s bed”. The worst thing was “every­one knew it and noth­ing was done”. The SAS com­po­nent com­man­der in charge was the same SAS of­fi­cer who a few years later com­manded the Hit & Run SAS raid.

An­other source, some­one who trained SAS per­son­nel, told me a cul­ture of “com­rade­ship” means these sto­ries never usu­ally come out. The “war­rior brother­hood” means they will pro­tect each other and hide any­thing that looks bad. “You know, what hap­pens on de­ploy­ment stays on de­ploy­ment... Pro­tec­tion of the in­sti­tu­tion is more im­por­tant than ac­count­abil­ity.” This per­son also says, “There are some amaz­ing SAS of­fi­cers”, but not all. “Some act like the SAS ap­pli­ca­tion form has boxes that say, ‘I’m an ar­se­hole’, ‘I don’t be­lieve in ac­count­abil­ity’, ‘I’m a bully’ that need to be ticked to get the job.”

Two more ex­am­ples point to a cul­ture of im­punity. The first is that sol­diers are not sup­posed to take tro­phies from the bat­tle­field. The In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity

As­sis­tance Force rules in Afghanistan stated, “We will never col­lect unau­tho­rised sou­venirs.” The NZDF rules of en­gage­ment card for Afghanistan ended: “Do not steal. Do not take tro­phies.” But the SAS troops “do this all the time”, one of the for­mer SAS mem­bers says, re­flect­ing a be­lief they don’t have to obey the same rules as other peo­ple.

At the SAS head­quar­ters at Pa­pakura, there are many weapon sou­venirs from Afghanistan – “ma­chine guns, mor­tars, Kalash­nikovs” – hid­den when of­fi­cial in­spec­tors come through. The mes­sage was that if the se­nior staff were tak­ing sou­venirs, every­one could.

An­other NZDF rule is about not pay­ing money to in­form­ers (“hu­man in­tel­li­gence”), since this so eas­ily com­pro­mises the qual­ity and ac­cu­racy of the in­for­ma­tion re­ceived. But pay­ing sources was a stan­dard part of SAS op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan, ac­cord­ing to one for­mer SAS mem­ber. A lo­gis­tics of­fi­cer called “S4” looked af­ter a stash of tens of thou­sands of US ban­knotes, “bribe money” handed out to SAS troop­ers go­ing on pa­trol.

In pay­ing for in­for­ma­tion, the SAS was fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of the US mil­i­tary and CIA forces in Afghanistan (in­deed, it may have been the US mil­i­tary that pro­vided the large wads of ban­knotes handed out to the New Zealand SAS troop­ers). Buy­ing in­for­ma­tion could sound jus­ti­fied, but it has of­ten been a cause of poor in­tel­li­gence that led to the wrong peo­ple be­ing killed.

An NZDF spokesper­son told North & South no such fund ex­isted.

The EX-SAS sources who shared these sto­ries are part of a suc­ces­sion of for­mer NZDF and SAS staff who have made con­tact with me, in all man­ner of in­ge­nious ways, since Hit & Run was pub­lished. Their mo­ti­va­tion has been con­cern at see­ing bad things cov­ered up.

Ex­actly the same is­sues are be­ing raised in Aus­tralia. For­mer in­fantry sol­dier and now Flin­ders Univer­sity as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor Ben Wad­ham wrote last year about al­leged un­law­ful killing of chil­dren in Afghanistan and the Aus­tralian spe­cial op­er­a­tions task group’s “code of se­crecy”: “a cul­ture of no-re­port­ing, cover-up and de­ceit”.

Wad­ham listed three “key in­flu­ences”. First, the “no­to­ri­ous but highly se­cre­tive ‘kill-cap­ture’ strat­egy of the Afghanistan war” that “re­sulted in reck­less and avoid­able deaths”. (This in­volved US com­man­ders au­tho­ris­ing the killing or cap­ture of cer­tain Afghans by bomb­ing, drone at­tack or spe­cial forces raids, of­ten when the tar­get was not ac­tively en­gaged in fight­ing.) Sec­ond, a “cul­ture of im­punity”, where sol­diers would sim­ply claim dead civil­ians were in­sur­gents, as NZDF is do­ing with Hit & Run.

His third cat­e­gory seems very dif­fer­ent but ac­tu­ally goes to the heart of a messedup mil­i­tary cul­ture, in both New Zealand and Aus­tralia: “in­sti­tu­tional abuse within

the forces”, mean­ing drug abuse, binge drink­ing, sex­ual as­sault, vi­o­lence and bul­ly­ing – again ac­com­pa­nied by “a cul­ture of cover-up and de­flec­tion across the chain of com­mand”.

It was these prob­lems, es­pe­cially sex­ual vi­o­lence, that were on the mind of a re­cently re­signed mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who also made con­tact and agreed to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle.

You may have seen the news sto­ries: the De­fence Force has a cam­paign un­der­way to deal with sex­ual abuse in­volv­ing its staff. The cam­paign, known since 2016 as Op­er­a­tion Re­spect, was ini­ti­ated in 2014. It aimed to “tackle in­ap­pro­pri­ate and harm­ful sex­ual be­hav­iours” and promised a “zero tol­er­ance ap­proach”. Tim Keat­ing, de­fence chief un­til June this year, fronted the cam­paign, invit­ing any­one who had been vic­timised to “come for­ward and you will be taken se­ri­ously”.

It would be “the ac­tions of your lead­ers, not our words, that will ul­ti­mately show the whole De­fence Force how com­mit­ted to this is­sue we are”, he said.

How­ever, the mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who con­tacted me believes the com­mit­ment is more “cos­metic” than real. He gave var­i­ous ex­am­ples from be­fore and dur­ing NZDF’S anti-sex­ual abuse cam­paign.

In re­cent years, the of­fi­cer says, but be­fore the ac­tual cam­paign, a se­nior NZ Army fig­ure was known to reg­u­larly phys­i­cally as­sault and some­times hos­pi­talise his wife. He was hon­oured and pro­moted dur­ing this time, be­fore leav­ing the mil­i­tary with no con­se­quences for the al­leged crimes. The of­fi­cer was dis­gusted that “every­one knew and no one would do any­thing”.

Then there was Jack Steer, the 1990s NZ Navy frigate com­man­der ac­cused of telling 19-year-old sailor Larissa Turner, in front of male crew­mates, that she had “nice tits”.

Turner claims to have suf­fered con­tin­ual sex­ual ha­rass­ment from var­i­ous per­son­nel dur­ing that six-month de­ploy­ment to the Mid­dle East. Back in New Zealand, she laid com­plaints against a num­ber of crew mem­bers, in­clud­ing Steer, and af­ter four years, got a com- pen­sa­tion pay­ment. How­ever, none of those in­volved was found guilty of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and the De­fence Force kept it all quiet for years. Steer rose through the navy ranks, Turner did not. She left. In 2012, Steer be­came Chief of Navy and worked his full term.

When news of the sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions be­came pub­lic, af­ter Steer’s ap­point­ment, NZDF sup­ported him in brush­ing it off. Steer told me­dia he ac­cepted he had made mis­takes but that he was a dif­fer­ent per­son to­day. How­ever, in May 2015 – a year into the De­fence Force’s cam­paign against sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse – Steer is al­leged to have con­firmed his at­ti­tudes while speak­ing as Chief of Navy to mid-level of­fi­cers at an NZDF com­mand course. A stu­dent asked him whether, if he had his time again, he would do any­thing dif­fer­ent. Ac­cord­ing to a source who was present, Steer looked out at the room­ful of fu­ture NZDF lead­ers and said, “I wouldn’t have had that bitch Larissa Turner on my ship.”

Then there’s the story of Hay­ley Young, a navy ma­rine engi­neer in her early 20s who loved her job but says she was raped

in 2009 while posted by the NZDF on a Bri­tish war­ship and then suf­fered years of sex­ual ha­rass­ment on New Zealand ships. Her navy friends warned her that speak­ing up would make her the “next Larissa Turner”: ca­reer sui­cide. So she kept quiet. But even­tu­ally it be­came too much. She left the navy in 2012, send­ing a long let­ter called “My Story” to the cap­tain of fleet per­son­nel and train­ing.

The cap­tain wrote a re­port say­ing that her ex­pe­ri­ences high­lighted “a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of fail­ings on our part, across many en­vi­ron­ments and many ranks, in­clud­ing some of our COS” [com­mand­ing of­fi­cers]. “It sad­dens me to read the as­pects of when she asked for as­sis­tance but did not re­ceive sup­port.”

De­spite that re­port, the NZ Navy con­tin­ued to not give Young sup­port and did not even ap­proach the Bri­tish Navy about the rape al­le­ga­tions, not want­ing to ruf­fle al­liance ties. (When a fe­male NZ Army cor­po­ral was raped by a US sol­dier on a peace-keep­ing mis­sion in Egypt in 2001, the re­sponse was sim­i­lar. The sol­dier was given a “writ­ten rep­ri­mand”, NZDF kept the in­ci­dent quiet. “It would be in­ap­pro- pri­ate for New Zealand to raise the mat­ter fur­ther with the US mil­i­tary,” an NZDF le­gal of­fi­cer wrote in an in­ter­nal NZ Army minute.)

The navy had done al­most noth­ing to help Hay­ley Young but, al­most un­be­liev­ably in­com­pe­tently, 18 months af­ter leav­ing NZDF, she learned the navy was us­ing her face, without ask­ing her, on thou­sands of brochures and posters pro­mot­ing NZ Navy ca­reers to young women. Re-trau­ma­tised, she wrote a let­ter of com­plaint. Her let­ter was not even ac­knowl­edged for months. She found a lawyer and lost in court over the De­fence Force’s use of her face, but has con­tin­ued the fight – so far suc­cess­fully – on the main is­sue of NZDF not pro­vid­ing her with a safe work­place.

The point here is that for four years, NZDF has used its vastly su­pe­rior re­sources in court pro­ceed­ings to fight her ev­ery step of the way – the same four years as NZDF’S sup­posed cam­paign to stop sex­ual vi­o­lence.

The NZDF brass, of course, don’t want sex­ual vi­o­lence oc­cur­ring, just as they don’t want war-time civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. Op­er­a­tion Re­spect, in­tro­duced af­ter a se­ries of em­bar­rass­ing pub­lic scan­dals, in­cluded some use­ful changes, no­tably three-hour sex­ual ethics work­shops and a sex­ual as­sault re­sponse team. But if se­nior of­fi­cers won’t take ac­tion when abuse does oc­cur or, worse, work to shut down the vic­tims, it per­pet­u­ates a cul­ture of im­punity. Young’s lawyer, Jol Bates, told Stuff: “It is hard enough for

If se­nior of­fi­cers won’t take ac­tion when abuse does oc­cur or, worse, work to shut down the vic­tims, it per­pet­u­ates a cul­ture of im­punity.

vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence to come for­ward without such tac­tics be­ing em­ployed to pre­vent a case pro­ceed­ing.”

The re­cently re­signed of­fi­cer pointed to one more case, in 2015 – the same year the NZDF re­leased a damn­ing re­port on sex­ual abuse in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

The story con­cerned a woman work­ing in a civil­ian role at Ohakea Air Force Base, near Palmer­ston North. It was a Fri­day so­cial event, with a lot of drink­ing, for staff of one of the units on the base (“to build esprit de corps”, the of­fi­cer said). As the event be­came more drunken, two of the men de­cided they would go af­ter the woman col­league. One came up in front of her and grabbed her by the breasts at the same mo­ment as the other came from be­hind and ground his pelvis into her, pin­ning her be­tween them.

The woman did come for­ward – mak­ing a com­plaint to her unit com­man­der – but she was not taken se­ri­ously. Her com­man­der re­fused to take ac­tion. The same thing hap­pened when she went to her com­man­der's boss. Noth­ing. The two men who had as­saulted her had spe­cial­ist skills – “at-risk trades” – which meant that if dis­ci­plinary ac­tion oc­curred and they were sacked, they might be hard to re­place.

The woman tried again, and again – base com­man­der, com­po­nent com­man­der, air force deputy chief – and at each level, ac­cord­ing to the re­cently re­signed of­fi­cer, the com­man­der ei­ther re­fused to find any­thing wrong or failed to make a de­ci­sion and re­ferred it up­wards.

The woman had pur­sued the proper chan­nels, mak­ing a for­mal com­plaint, and the De­fence Force lawyers had con­cluded that there should be prose­cu­tion. Even­tu­ally the lawyers took the mat­ter to the Chief of Air Force, Air Vice Mar­shal Mike Yard­ley, pre­sent­ing him with a for­mal re­port say­ing a sex­ual as­sault had oc­curred. But like the oth­ers, Yard­ley re­fused to let them take ac­tion. Peo­ple in­volved say he re­sponded that what had hap­pened was just a bit of fun. The le­gal staff were not at all happy that “keep­ing planes in the air was the pri­or­ity” over sex­ual as­sault, the re­cently re­signed of­fi­cer says.

This wasn't quite the end. The lawyers tried one more time, tak­ing the is­sue to the top: Chief of De­fence Force Tim Keat­ing. How­ever he, too, re­fused to act, telling them curtly it was a sin­gle ser­vice is­sue – mean­ing he would not over­rule the air force of­fi­cers' de­ci­sion.

An NZDF spokesper­son told North & South ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion had been taken “in ac­cor­dance with the es­tab­lished poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place at the time”. No fur­ther com­ment would be made “be­cause to do so may breach the com­plainant's pri­vacy”.

As Keat­ing said at the launch of Op­er­a­tion Re­spect, the ac­tions of the lead­ers, not their words, ul­ti­mately show the whole De­fence Force how com­mit­ted to this is­sue they are. As with the ex­pe­ri­ences of Larissa Turner and Hay­ley Young, sto­ries like the Ohakea one get

around. The of­fi­cer spo­ken to for this ar­ti­cle believes this case sends the wrong mes­sage. “If a com­man­der says we are not go­ing to deal with grab­bing breasts, it al­lows all sorts of other be­hav­iour. By not deal­ing with it, it ef­fec­tively says it’s okay. It’s the same as the Afghanistan thing. Keat­ing turned his back on this.”

Fur­ther ex­am­ples of sex­ual abuse within NZDF ap­pear reg­u­larly in the news and many oth­ers re­main se­cret. “I know I’m the very tip of an ice­berg.” Hay­ley Young told North & South.

What’s be­low the sur­face in­cludes the abuse of gay men, and peo­ple be­lieved to be gay.

On a drunken Fri­day night party at RNZAF Base Auck­land in When­u­a­pai, in about 2006, an army of­fi­cer work­ing as a nurse in the base med­i­cal cen­tre went to the of­fi­cers’ mess for a drink. He was a coura­geous man who had once res­cued a se­nior of­fi­cer’s fam­ily from a men­tally un­well per­son wield­ing a knife.

Con­vinced a male nurse must be gay, a drunk air force pi­lot started abus­ing him and then grabbed him by the balls. The nurse, feel­ing ex­tremely vi­o­lated, punched the pi­lot. How­ever, when the case went to trial, the pi­lot was ac­quit­ted and the nurse was fired by NZDF for punch­ing the of­fi­cer.

If that was bad, the fol­low­ing story is truly ter­ri­ble. It’s about Ethan Hall, a 20-year-old sol­dier at Lin­ton Mil­i­tary Camp, who died af­ter fall­ing from a build­ing in cen­tral Palmer­ston North in 2010. News re­ports char­ac­terised him as a fun-lov­ing dare­devil who’d fallen while hors­ing around on the build­ing, and coro­ner Carla na Na­gara found there was no ev­i­dence he de­lib­er­ately jumped to his death.

In her of­fi­cial re­port, she noted that Hall’s birth mother, Karen Hall, had raised con­cerns that “some­thing sin­is­ter” hap­pened that night, based on her be­lief he had been a vic­tim of bul­ly­ing in the army. Hall’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer con­firmed the young sol­dier had been as­saulted in the bar­racks some 18 months be­fore his death and the per­pe­tra­tor had been dealt with. “He fur­ther stated there had been no fur­ther in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence or bul­ly­ing against Ethan,” wrote na Na­gara in her re­port, “and con­firmed that the in­ci­dent was con­sid­ered iso­lated.”

News sto­ries at the time of Hall’s death re­ported he had given ev­i­dence in court-mar­tial pro­ceed­ings the pre­vi­ous month against three sol­diers who had “in­ter­ro­gated” him while burn­ing his leg with a gas burner.

The real story, Hall’s for­mer col­leagues say – kept quiet by the De­fence Force – was a shock­ing case of abuse. The three sol­diers be­lieved Hall was gay and had tor­tured him by hold­ing him down and scorch­ing his leg. Af­ter this phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, Hall was very un­happy, not cop­ing, these col­leagues say. He still had to live around his tor­men­tors: “At school you can go home, in the army you can’t es­cape it.” They be­lieve he com­mit­ted sui­cide. NZDF was more com­fort­able with the happy dare­devil story.

The prob­lem wasn’t the three young sol­diers in­volved in the abuse, says one of Hall’s col­leagues, it was the NZDF “cul­ture of vi­o­lence” they had ab­sorbed. “If you’re any­thing other than ma­cho, heavy drink­ing, sleep­ing with any­thing, then you’re sus­pect. Their in­stinct was to seek re­venge on him for [so they be­lieved] be­ing gay.”

The first in­gre­di­ent in this un­healthy mix is a very out­moded at­ti­tude to sex, in­clud­ing women be­ing viewed as group sex­ual prop­erty. When an of­fi­cer vis­ited the 5th Bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters in Whanganui af­ter an ex­er­cise sev­eral years ago, for in­stance, the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer pointed out a woman present and, the vis­i­tor told North & South, said he must meet her, ad­vis­ing, “She’s the unit bi­cy­cle, every­one’s had a ride.”

When a highly dec­o­rated SAS of­fi­cer got mar­ried, he ac­knowl­edged his wife in his groom’s speech, say­ing, “[She] used to be well known to the unit be­fore I fi­nally got her.”

Then there’s the story of a fe­male army of­fi­cer who, very drunk, was “ser­viced” by of­fi­cer af­ter of­fi­cer on a bil­liard ta­ble in a Lin­ton Mil­i­tary Camp mess. All these sto­ries, which are en­thu­si­as­ti­cally told, re­in­force at­ti­tudes to women. “You wouldn’t have that, widely known, in most govern­ment agen­cies,” ob­served a male of­fi­cer who wit­nessed some of these in­ci­dents first-hand.

A sec­ond key in­gre­di­ent is al­co­hol. De­fence spokes­peo­ple are quick to say NZDF prob­lems with binge drink­ing (and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence) are part of New Zealand-wide prob­lems. But NZDF has a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem with both, a num­ber of sources told North & South. So­cial life on mil­i­tary bases re­volves around drink­ing or pre-load­ing in messes (of­fi­cers’, sergeants’ and “bag­gies’”) where they serve ex­tremely cheap drinks. A drunken war­ship party was de­scribed as “packed with peo­ple and beer bot­tles ev­ery­where, like a trashy night­club”. An of­fi­cer con­cerned about the binge drink­ing cul­ture says many per­son­nel “drink ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day night to a point where they can’t re­mem­ber a por­tion of the evening”.

In Auck­land, the SAS got spon­sor­ship from a beer com­pany when it re­dec­o­rated its Pa­pakura Army Camp mess with schist on the walls, stuffed an­i­mal heads and large leather couches; a pseudo gen­tle­men’s-club look and “so bizarre”, ac­cord­ing to one for­mer SAS mem­ber. NZDF con­firmed that “Lion Brew­eries pro­vided sup­port for the es­tab­lish­ment of the Pa­pakura Camp Mess all-ranks bar”. The spon­sor­ship in­cluded fridges and “post-mix equip­ment”.

Mess func­tions “are renowned for still go­ing at four or five in the morn­ing; it’s an aw­ful cul­ture,” says the for­mer SAS mem­ber. “You can’t train peo­ple to be ag­gres­sive, have al­co­hol and then go home and not have do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.” He named SAS mem­bers who had com­mit­ted se­ri­ous acts of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence that had been hushed up.

Add to this a sex­ist and ho­mo­pho­bic cul­ture, a sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity and im­punity, and no ef­fec­tive mech­a­nisms for ac­count­abil­ity, and it’s in­evitable bad things will hap­pen, at home and over­seas, the for­mer SAS mem­ber says. “Com­pared to all the rest, not fronting up on Hit & Run is just nor­mal. It’s in­grained from day one that we’re dif­fer­ent,” he says.

An­other fac­tor is un­treated men­tal health prob­lems, a huge is­sue af­ter 17

years of de­ploy­ments to Afghanistan and Iraq. The in­sid­ers say there are large num­bers of peo­ple un­well and suf­fer­ing – cre­at­ing “a tick­ing time bomb”. These prob­lems of­ten have to be dealt with by young unit of­fi­cers: “Three to six months af­ter a de­ploy­ment, you start to see peo­ple with al­co­hol prob­lems, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, drugs, fi­nan­cial prob­lems, af­fairs, sui­cide, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. For a sol­dier to tell you this stuff – it's gone pretty pear-shaped,” a for­mer army of­fi­cer says.

“There's a joke that if you picked up Joint [Forces] Head­quar­ters and shook it, it would rat­tle be­cause of all the an­tide­pres­sants peo­ple were tak­ing,” this for­mer of­fi­cer says. Of course, that's not at all funny. It's a cost never con­sid­ered when gov­ern­ments send troops to far­away war zones. And like ev­ery­thing else, it is mostly hid­den af­ter­wards.

A re­cur­rent and gen­uinely sur­pris­ing com­plaint heard from many NZDF staff is the lack of care they re­ceive from their em­ployer. One of De­fence's many se­crets is the num­ber of its ac­ri­mo­nious dis­putes with staff, ac­cord­ing to a cur­rently serv­ing mid-level of­fi­cer with his own long-run­ning dis­pute. Like­wise, the for­mer SAS trainer says, “NZDF doesn't care about the peo­ple who work for them... When they come home, anger man­age­ment and PTSD [ post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der] are treated as their per­sonal prob­lems.”

If NZDF is bad at hid­ing prob­lems, it is good at pub­lic re­la­tions. In Au­gust, it was cho­sen as the 2018 Supreme Win­ner of the Di­ver­sity Awards, given out by an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Di­ver­sity Works NZ – based on in­for­ma­tion NZDF had pro­vided about it­self. In the sub­mis­sion, de­fence chief Tim Keat­ing said: “Few or­gan­i­sa­tions in New Zealand have so de­lib­er­ately and forthrightly set about tack­ling in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iours... In­deed, I think we lead many oth­ers in New Zealand in this space.”

That's not what the Ohakea woman thought, nor Hay­ley Young. They'd been ne­glected and mis­treated dur­ing the years of Op­er­a­tion Re­spect. A pre­vi­ous de­fence chief, Rhys Jones, funded an in­ter­nal LGBT group called Over­watch. That de­served a di­ver­sity award. But, ac­cord­ing to the re­cently re­signed of­fi­cer, the next de­fence chief, Keat­ing, was con­ser­va­tive and un­sym­pa­thetic. He cut back the fund­ing, for in­stance with­draw­ing fund­ing for Over­watch con­fer­ences.

There's a fi­nal, cu­ri­ous, as­pect of NZDF cul­ture. In camps, of­fi­cers' houses are in dif­fer­ent streets from NCOS and sol­diers. The wives and part­ners don't usu­ally mix with other ranks, ei­ther. In the of­fi­cers' messes, there are three-course din­ners, some­times sil­ver ser­vice, while lower ranks get lower-qual­ity meals. Se­nior staff are paid roy­ally (more than 1600 were paid more than $100,000 in 2017) but, other staff be­lieve, most don't work very hard, leav­ing lower-paid staff to pick up the slack.

“It's like the English gen­try,” the re­cently re­signed of­fi­cer says. “De­fence, as a cul­ture, is the last ves­tiges of the class sys­tem in New Zealand.” Se­nior of­fi­cers are ac­cus­tomed to be­ing saluted and de­ferred to, not be­ing ques­tioned and get­ting their way. The pub­lic pays for this “sep­a­rate lit­tle world”.

We are get­ting closer to why a cover-up cul­ture ex­ists in the NZDF. An­other staff mem­ber in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle was a woman in a skilled NZDF civil­ian (non-uni­form) job. She de­scribes find­ing a quite se­ri­ous prob­lem that needed fix­ing and ad­vis­ing her boss. His im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion, she says, was to say, “You need to bury that.” Her boss then ex­plained that point­ing out a prob­lem could get her, and him, in big trou­ble.

She re­alised, she says, that an en­vi­ron­ment of fear ex­isted, where it was much eas­ier to hide things rather than to face up to them: se­nior peo­ple be­lieved that if they didn't know about a prob­lem, they couldn't be held re­spon­si­ble. “If some­one says ev­ery­thing is fine,” she says, “it lets peo­ple fur­ther up off the hook.” But, “if you take the ini­tia­tive you ex­pose your­self. I've never been in an en­vi­ron­ment where I had to watch my back so much.”

Mil­i­tary se­crecy, in this cul­ture, be­comes very use­ful to hide mis­takes, or just medi­ocrity. “If some­thing goes wrong, it's de­nied,” she says, “or you blame some­one else, that clas­sic thing that man­age­ment books say is toxic in an or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

“Yes,” she con­cludes, “thank god New Zealand doesn't have any se­ri­ous se­cu­rity threats...”

An­other of­fi­cer says much the same: “No one wants any­thing bad to come to light on their watch, so they ig­nore, cover up... The cul­ture is, rather than con­front some­thing, we try to cover up with re­wards or shut­ting peo­ple up.”

A fur­ther fac­tor that con­trib­utes to an en­vi­ron­ment of fear in­side the De­fence Force is a se­cu­rity plan, adopted un­crit­i­cally from the US mil­i­tary, called the In­sider Threat Pro­gramme. In­tro­duced by US agen­cies af­ter whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den's rev­e­la­tions, it is de­signed to de­tect pos­si­ble fu­ture whis­tle-blow­ers by mon­i­tor­ing their be­hav­iour – yet an­other rea­son not to speak up or dis­agree, lest you're tagged as a pos­si­ble threat.

If that's the goal, it isn't work­ing. I have had more present and for­mer NZDF staff ap­proach me in the past year than the rest of my ca­reer com­bined. These are thought­ful peo­ple who are not happy about the cul­ture and cover-ups ex­plored in these pages.

So, here is an al­ter­na­tive whis­tle-blower pre­ven­tion pro­gramme for the NZDF lead­er­ship. It's sim­ple. The way to stop whis­tle-blow­ers is to earn their re­spect. Act with in­tegrity. Treat your staff well. Show the pub­lic re­spect. Tell the truth.

That's all any­one wants. The ex- SAS man, the one who told the story about Cor­po­ral B, stands up from the din­ing ta­ble to mark the end of our talk. “I hope some­thing in that was use­ful to you,” he says. He shakes my hand, then pauses. “The rea­son I'm talk­ing to you is I hope it will change.” +

New Zealand De­fence Force per­son­nel on the Treaty Grounds at Wai­tangi.

Squadron Leader Leon Fox dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in 2017 to ad­dress al­le­ga­tions in the book Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Mean­ing of Hon­our.

A US troop-car­ry­ing Chi­nook he­li­copter takes off at night in Afghanistan. In 2004, a New Zealand Spe­cial Air Ser­vice medic ac­com­pa­nied a US spe­cial forces team on an ill-fated raid against an Afghan vil­lage.

Then- Chief of De­fence Force, Ma­jor Gen­eral Tim Keat­ing, ad­dresses al­le­ga­tions in Hit & Run on 27 March, 2017 in Welling­ton. Right: Rear Ad­mi­ral Jack Steer, New Zealand’s Chief of Navy 2012-15.

For­mer NZ Navy engi­neer, now wine­maker, Hay­ley Young at her Napier home in April. She suf­fered years of sex­ual ha­rass­ment on New Zealand ships and says she was raped while posted by the NZDF on a Bri­tish war­ship.

From left, New Zealand Rear Ad­mi­ral David Led­son, re­tired, Chief of Navy Rear Ad­mi­ral Jack Steer, Chief of Army Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tim Keat­ing, Bri­gadier Peter Kelly, Act­ing Chief of Army, and Air Vice-mar­shal Mike Yard­ley Chief of Air Force, salute dur­ing the com­mem­o­ra­tion of the cen­te­nary of the start of World War I in Welling­ton, 2014.

Aus­tralian De­fence Force per­son­nel march dur­ing a wel­come home pa­rade in Townsville for troops re­turned from over­seas ser­vice. An of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion is cur­rently un­der way in Aus­tralia, in­sti­gated by the mil­i­tary, into al­le­ga­tions of un­law­ful ac­tions by Aus­tralian spe­cial forces, in­clud­ing var­i­ous cases of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties..

An NZDF cam­paign, now known as Op­er­a­tion Re­spect, was ini­ti­ated in 2014 to take a “zero tol­er­ance ap­proach” to in­ap­pro­pri­ate and harm­ful sex­ual be­hav­iours”.

Top: The New Zealand De­fence Force’s main base in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Prov­ince from 2003-2013. Twenty-one ro­ta­tions of per­son­nel worked there, in­creas­ingly un­der threat of road­side at­tack. “Three to six months af­ter a de­ploy­ment, you start to see peo­ple with al­co­hol prob­lems, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, drugs, fi­nan­cial prob­lems, af­fairs, sui­cide, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion,” a for­mer of­fi­cer says. Above: A New Zealand sol­dier with the NATO-LED In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force (ISAF) on pa­trol in Band-e-amir in Bamiyan Prov­ince in 2008.

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