Releasing the Black Hawk crash video was A Good Thing

[Update 13 April 2012: It turned out that the Black Hawk wasn’t a perfectly good helicopter after all. I will eventually update this post. Perhaps. But today I’ll be linking to this post because the Department of Defence has respected the wishes of the family and not released the Inquiry Officer Report into the death of Sapper Jamie Larcombe. I think that’s wrong for the reasons set out in this post.]

Frame grab of Black Hawk helicopter crash on HMAS Kanimbla: click for YouTube videoAn open letter to family and friends of those who died in the crash of the Black Hawk helicopter on HMAS Kanimbla, and to those who survived.

I understand why you didn’t want the crash video made public. Every time you see it, you’ll re-live that crash. And every time, you’ll feel that black void of horror creeping back up into your mind. The horror may stay with you for years. It’s pretty fucked, I know.

But despite the on-going pain it inevitably causes, I think it’s not only reasonable that such videos be made public, I think it’s essential.

In 1992, there was another accident. During an army live-fire exercise, an assault rifle accidentally discharged and a soldier died. A very good friend of mine was holding that rifle. And while both a military inquiry and a civilian coronial inquest agreed it was an accident and found my friend blameless, the post-traumatic stress and guilt stayed with him for years — to the point where it became unbearable and he hanged himself at the end of 1996.

His parents were devastated. I wasn’t too thrilled either, having cut him down from the tree in my back yard and, later, helped carry him to his grave.

Some of us reckon the army hadn’t taken proper care of one of their own. The 2005 Senate inquiry into the The effectiveness of Australia’s military justice system agreed.

As a direct result of Senate recommendations, the inquiry into the Black Hawk crash was headed by a civilian judge — the first time that’d happened. And that judge declared the video should be released. It was right and proper that he do so.

Secrecy provides a breeding-ground for corruption.

Secrecy can be used to cover up incompetence.

Secrecy is, of course, essential in many military operations. But when it comes to finding out why a perfectly good helicopter slammed into the deck of a ship and then dragged two fine men to their deaths, secrecy has no place. Justice needs to be done — out of respect to those men, and out of respect to every man and woman who chooses to serve the Australian people in the armed forces.

Justice not only needs to be done, we need to see that it’s being done — and that means putting the evidence on the public record.

I’m sorry you’ve had to re-live the disaster. I know even reading this letter will hurt. I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight too, having re-lived my own story. That’s the price of Justice. It’s worth paying.

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3 comments

  1. Cossie’s avatar

    The video should be public. The military should be encouraged to be accountable. We must remain sensitive to those families who have lost loved ones but they, and those who come after them, also have something to gain by such publicity. Families across Australia who have lost loved ones in military accidents or incidents all complain of the lack of transparency of military culture. Many struggle for closure while the ADF keeps a lid on things under the blanket of ‘national security’. Many also complain of their contact with the military, the immediate move to close ranks, peddle deception and act in generally unaccountable ways. There are numerous cases: Air Vice Marshal Peter Criss (Air Commander Australia) was summarily dismissed by Defence Chief Errol McCormack under dubious circumstances, as was Air Commodore Aerospace Combat; others too, Major Allan Warren is a flagship example of the collusion between military leadership and state executive, one man amongst a number who have been targeted and terminated through the avoidance of due process and within a culture of boys clubs and ‘protecting your mates’. At the soldier end of the hierarchy there are many cases of abuse and injustice, often ending in the death by suicide of good young Australian (generally) men: Nicholas Shiels was so poorly treated after a tragic mishap in a training exercise he eventually took his own life, high achieving Jeremy Williams was humiliated into suicide at Singleton and his case hidden under the haze of military investigations and so called justice, others too; Appleby, Hayward, Satatas, the list goes on. And given the chance the Military, even when told pointblank that their version of justice has failed, remains steadfast in the avoiding transparency. Namely by rejecting the 2005 Senate Inquiry’s recommendations for greater independence on the military justice system. Whatsmore, this opacity is building in a context of greater political deception and the increasing politicisation of the military, see Tampa (truth overboard), the removal of Lt Col Lance Collins from his intelligence role in the ADF, the political targeting of intelligence Officer Peter Wilkje for ‘telling the truth’ about Iraq — the list goes on. The military is radically unaccountable and often aggressive in tracking down those who don’t fit their square. Place this culture in the context of the growing culture of political deception and the implications are clear: democracy as we have known it is taking a beating. Accountability comes with transparency, letting the public know what is happening, showing videos like the blackhawk accident is a small contribution to that process.

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