No Refuge in the Regiment

The Special Air Service Regiment as a glorified cult of assassins

On 2 July 2012 SAS Sergeant Blaine Diddams, a 40 year old, husband and father of two, was shot in the chest while on a capture and kill mission in the Oruzgan Province, Chowa Valley, Afghanistan. It was his 7th tour of "duty" and the tour record gave rise to doubts about his sanity.

Was the Special Air Service Regiment being over used? Neil James of the Australian Defence Association, the lobby group and think tank for generals, was quick to say yes.

Mr James said the elite SAS regiment had suffered a disproportionate number of casualties compared to the rest of the Defence Force, because there were no alternatives.

''One of the reasons people are having to do, in our opinion, too many tours, is there aren't enough of them and the reason there aren't enough of them is the defence budget is too small,'' Mr James told AAP.

What a twist in logic! The death of this professional killer does not lead to questioning the efficacy of these lethal SAS missions, nor to considering the madness and anguish it brings to the soldiers who get addicted to doing them.

Rather to it leads to demands for more military spending on more SAS and the creation of more SAS units to share the load.

Contrary to what Mr James says, there are alternatives to violence and for those of us who want peace and an Afghanistan left to the Afghans to sort out, this self interested lobbying by the military must be resisted.

More SAS means more deaths, for victims and perpetrators, with no end to the killing in sight. Spending on the SAS is no path to peace anywhere, ever.

Let's consider the nature of the SAS beast. Australian taxpayers, and this includes everyone who pays GST, pay for their training, salaries, pensions and other benefits. Yet the SAS Regiments swear allegiance to the British Queen and take their orders from US Joint Special Operations Command.

Over and beyond that SAS troopers have a deeper and more binding loyalty: that's the loyalty to other SAS mates and to their Regiment. And by association it is a loyalty to similar regiments of similar cultures: British, New Zealand, Canadian, US and so on. And also loyalty to the band of brothers who have retired from the regiments but maintain links as freelance security service providers.

Amongst other Defence service people the SAS troopers are known snidely as "chicken stranglers" and "snake eaters"; this being a very Australian way of bringing their elitism down a notch or two. But it is also reflects a deep distrust, because the SASR are about as far as a military force can get from the citizen solidiers of Anzac and Kokoda legend.

The SAS are the cream of professionism in soldiery. They exist as an army within an army in a time of the corporatisation of armies and the corporatisation of war. The difference between a big buck mercenary doing security for a resource grabbing corporation and a soldier of the Queen, is a letter of resignation.

SAS identities and operations are declared to be state secrets which in effect puts them beyond Australian law and beyond international law. In March 2012, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that troopers of 4 Squadron had been operating in Africa, specifically Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya. No doubt following US special forces there.

The source seemed to be an ASIS leak which signals how serious the concern was in spook land. Defence Minister Smith denied that SAS troopers were operating "at the outer reaches of Australian and international law" but did not confirm or deny the operations in Africa.

So there it is writ plain: the SASR has gone feral.

Though few in number compared to regular army (4 Squadrons each of about 100 soldiers plus a signals unit), the SAS Regiment yields of enormous influence in Defence. The former Governor of Australia, Major General Michael Jefferies AC CVO MC as was a former SAS commander and so too is the present Secretary of Defence, the shadowy Major General Duncan Edward Lewis AO, DSC, CSC who was also PM Howard's War on Terror adviser.

When PM Gillard announced at the G20 Nato meeting in Chicago, the drawdown of Australian troops from Afghanistan next year, she excluded the SAS. These she promised will stay on at least another 10 years to continue capture and kill operations.

How can peace, democracy and poltical stability be established when foreign murderers occupy the land exercising a divine right to kill?

Since the costly disaster of the Iraq invasion, 'Shock and Awe' deployment of masses of conventional troops has fallen from favour. Instead covert special forces operations have become central to the new way of the new wars of the US empire.

The big success story for the new warfare is the forced regime change in Libya and the destruction of it as an independent, welfare state funded by state owned oil revenues. For its speed of victory and economy of force, this style of war is now considered exemplary.

Here is how it goes: special forces (including Australian SAS say rumours neither denied nor confirmed) act covertly to train and support local mercenaries as shock troopers - 50mm machine guns mounted on new pick-up trucks as in Libya. These move fast and create civil mayhem by murdering police officers and all who oppose them. With the support of drones and missiles from the air, these lightly equipped forces are able to smash the national army where ever it tries to hold ground.

All in the context of civil society of course. No remote battle fields these. They happen in the suburbs and the slaughter of civilians in massive.

"Blurring" of the responsibility for the attack is an essential part of the tactic. This keeps the peace makers off balance and confused. Who are these mercenaries who appeared from nowhere? We will never know because it is a state secret. And all the while the Murdoch media blitzes with propaganda of Empire.

In Syria since March we have been witnessing this style of war again. In the name of regime change the Israel-US alliance is leading the assault by supplying arms and training mercenaries. We know British SAS are engaged there and likely Australian SAS are too.

We need to understand that this is what these rotational Marines are preparing for in Darwin. In one sense this is an extension of "interoperability" training which has been the theme of the Talisman Sabre war games in Shoalwater Bay over the past 9 years.

Come time for a regime change or some other regional war goal, the assault force will be a relatively small number of Marines mixed with special forces units from a variety of strategic allies. Although this will be a war of the US empire, there will be a blurring of responsibility and also a distribution of the costs.

Yes, you got it. This way we Australian tax payers will get to pay for US wars. The War in Afghanistan has cost Australians over $7.6 billion and it aint over yet.

So back to the SAS cult of secrecy: why are its operations secret? Why is the knowledge of the aggression of SAS operations in foreign lands, where the Australian government has no declared war, considered a threat to national security?

The answer is that knowledge - as in truth - is no threat to national security but public shaming is a threat to the SASR and its institutional image as men (and women) of honor.

The SAS is a glorified cult of assassins. Nothing new about this - such assassin cults come and go through out history. But there is nothing honorable about them.

Hear the bitter truth here: the SASR is operating without accountability in a Boys' Own blood frenzy. As with a savage dog off its leash, it is the duty of every peace aspiring citizens to rein it in.

Like the invincible Achilles, SAS troopers are taught to believe that they are favoured of the gods and can live beyond the moral law of mere mortals.

But "infallible is karmic law, ever impartial, just and sure ..."

In other words, what goes around comes around, in this lifetime and in future lifetimes. This might be sudden death as with Sgt Diddams or life-long in the wretched suffering of PTSD symptoms - depression, substance abuse, suicide, insomnia, night terrors and so on - maimings of spirit.

Whatever, it is a burden that must be carried by the families and communities striving to live in peace at home. For the broken no refuge in the Regiment.

No time for that! After the solemn parades, the muffled drums and the contrived grief of Regimental funerals, it's off chasing the next kill. Death, not welfare, is its raison d'etre.

Graeme Dunstan
11 July 2012
This essay was orginally posted as part of the Mission to Darwin blog 22 June to 11 July 2012


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