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The SAS Culture

March 8, 2018

When I was younger I dreamed of being in the army. I wanted to be the guy who saved the innocent child by shooting the crazy bad guy. I wanted to help people by doing the hard work no one else wanted to. Serve my country, protect the innocent, be the good guy. Anzac, G.I. Joe- you name it. I wanted the adventure, the excitement and to spend my life as I saw it at the time, doing the best I could to do the right thing.

As I got older and considered my career in the military, I spent most of my childhood wanting to be a fighter pilot. Influenced by Top Gun, and wanting to do the most exciting thing possible, I thought shooting down pilots in dark helmets with faceless visors would be the most exciting, greatest good I could do with my life.

I was never committed enough at school to get the required marks, and getting my pilot’s license was something well beyond my working class family’s comprehension (and possibly means). So I started dreaming of intelligence. Being a spy, James Bond, cool, sophisticated, confident- killing the bad guys one martini at a time (I had my first martini at 33).

Once I was in the army, doing officer training, what we wanted to do when we finished training was the biggest conversation amongst cadets. A lot of cadets wanted to join the Special Forces. I had mucked around, failed uni and worked at woolworths for a few years between school and going to ADFA (university and the army). So I was a little more realistic about what being in the Special Forces meant- extra work when having a job in the army was good enough. Trying to join the SAS would require hard work and determination. I felt completely unmotivated. Yet, when a guy came and gave a talk at ADFA about the SAS and Special Forces; I admit it triggered something in my mind. Maybe I should try and join?

These guys not only get the excitement, they do the greatest good- kill the hardest to reach bad guys. It was the culmination of all of the movies on the Anzac Legend, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone stories (or Story) I had ever watched and seen. More than that, maybe I would be missing on truly living if I wasn’t doing secretive missions, sniping bad guys trying to hurt innocent Australians (and maybe others). The SAS were the best of the best.

They were the epitome of the good guy. Moral, upright defenders of all that is just in the world. What a way to spend my life.

Around the same time as the SAS presentation, I was doing some training near Canberra. I was enjoying myself immensely. We pushed ourselves physically, learnt a lot and were living life to it’s fullest. After walking up a particularly steep hill at the end of a navigation exercise, I caught my breath and we rested for a bit. I felt so happy to be there- so alive.

I looked down at my rifle and realised, not for the first time, the irony that I was enjoying life so much and here I was training to take someone else’s.

Usually I could tell myself that they were the bad guys, I was the good guy, but sitting there, staring at my rifle, that line held no truth for me anymore. It was the first time that I doubted the morality of killing anyone for any reason.

Something about it just seemed wrong.

It was on the same exercise I learnt to use a claymore mine. My feelings were confirmed as I realised that I didn’t ever want to use that weapon on anyone.

Even if they were planning on killing me.

All of the following ten years of university, teaching and living in Christian Community I learned that the Australian Military was never, in my life time, involved in defending Australia.

We were an attacking army that invaded and killed people for their resources.

Throughout that decade, I still thought of the SAS as the good guys. I don’t know why. Some residual hope in my head that those who I perceived to be the best of the best were decent people.

On October 2nd 2014, I learnt the brutal truth. I had read a lot of stories and allegations of the SAS in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I knew SAS 4 Squadron that trains on Swan Island were intimately connected to US Special Forces through the Joint Special Operations Command, even being ordered around by and taking part in US missions. I know JSOC had committed water torture, illegal imprisonment, illegal battle field executions. I knew they hooded and cuffed people for no reason.

But in my heart of hearts, I believed Australian SAS soldiers couldn’t be involved in these horrendous crimes.

Whilst peacefully protesting the killing of innocent people, an SAS soldier crashed tackled me to the ground, my last illusion was shattered.

I was bound, hooded and tortured by an SAS soldier.

I had read a lot about these things, but not until that point could I understand the feeling of fear, terror and hopelessness was the apex of Australian military training. This is what we were doing to people in other countries, just because we could take what we wanted. There was no honour here. No glory, no justice and no righteousness. There was just power and pain.

On August the 12th, Maurice Blackburn will be representing myself and 2 others at a civil case to sue the Commonwealth for the way we were treated that morning. I am luckier than most of the victims of the Australian SAS. I have a chance to hold my captors to account.

Along with other members of the Swan Island Peace Convergence, I will speak the truth of the bloody fruits of the SAS before a court and the Australian public. Most of us believe the lie that we need a military, or that, even if our leaders are misleading, the troops are just doing the best job they can. Because of this lie I have faced ridicule, with people close to me saying I copped what I deserved and should even have been shot for the crime of trespass.

But the truth is as clear to me as that day 13 years ago, staring at my rifle. Killing and hurting people is wrong.

Ignoring that basic truth has created a culture in the SAS of impunity, torture and violence against people who never did anything to us. I will speak that truth for many others who have wrongfully found themselves at the receiving end of an SAS weapon or boot.

I will speak for the humanity in all of us who know, deep down, that things could be different.





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  1. thanks for sharing a glimpse of the journey you’ve been on, from soldier to peace activist. I’m very interested to learn about the progress of your civil case.

  2. What would be helpful to you at this time Greg?

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