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.