Article – Annemarie Thorby
Day ten of the Operation 8 trial was dominated by the evidence of a serving army officer giving his views on whether video evidence showed military training taking place.Operation 8 – Day Ten: The Military Expert
Day Ten: Monday 27th February
by Annemarie Thorby
Day ten of the Operation 8 trial was dominated by the evidence of a serving army officer giving his views on whether video evidence showed military training taking place.
It was pointed out during the day that the SAS had been hired out to business people for bonding exercises using military-style training exercises.
All details of the army officer’s identity and work were suppressed following discussions in chambers.
The Military Expert
The first portion of his evidence was him proving his expertise, knowledge and skills.
He told his life story: when he had joined the army, what specialist training he received and where he had served.
There was also testimony on competitions he had entered and the prizes and awards he had won, including a detailed description about the array of medals across his chest.
He gave evidence about minor tactics, weaponry skill, the structures of platoons and rifle companies and the order of command.
Then he began to talk about Operation 8.
He was ordered to go to Taupo in September 2009 and then spent three days analysing video shown to him by Aaron Pascoe.
Pascoe is the officer in charge of Operation 8. He said that Pascoe asked him to look at footage and comment on the ‘relevance and bearing to military tactics’.
He said there were a number of clips shown that he had made no comment on.
To set the scene, the officer gave some background details on military tactics.
He said, ‘patrolling can be conducted on foot, in vehicles, on boats and in urban, jungle or other settings. The key part of patrolling is having procedures to ensure people are able to respond quickly to a threat group’.
He said, ‘there are a number of components to patrolling. The key ones are maintaining a low detection profile’.
He explained that in a close setting, for example the jungle, communication must be done non-verbally.
Another important issue was how to maintain formations, for example, how soldiers ‘posture’ on ground. He said they should not be all bunched up, so there is no target.
The jury were asked to refer to a specially prepared Operation 8 ‘Military Reference Book’.
The first video was played and the officer pointed out some hand signals, such as raising your open palm to shoulder height means ‘halt’ in army language, pointing two fingers at your eyes which means ‘I’m going to do some reconnaissance,’ and pointing with your fingers crossed which means an ‘obstacle.’
The January Videos
The officer pointed to one person on the first video clip and said that based on his ‘professional skills and judgement that person is using hand signal’.
The officer again explained how important it is in the military to communicate non-verbally as in a jungle setting noise carries and those in the video were ‘using formation appropriate to the terrain’, such as walking in single file.
He said, ‘to be impartial there were inconsistencies with military groups’.
He said ‘there was a lack of camouflaging, that they were also carrying equipment that was not camouflaged, that not all the people had weapons, and that there was no scanning’.
However they were `walking through the bush in single file and there was some large spacing between them’. There was also a time they dropped to the knees and squatted.
The second January clip also supposedly a person using hand signals.
The first of the June clips showed, the officer said, ‘someone scanning their arcs’.
He was asked to clarify this and explained that the arc was ‘to the immediate front, side arcs out protecting the flanks, the rear arc protecting the rear. Your rifle moving with the eyes so if the target appears you can engage it immediately’.
In another June video it was again only one person scanning, and there was only weapon. It was being held incorrectly.
The September videos consisted of more people using hand signals and doing arcs. The officer said that this video ‘gives a better example of how we patrol tactically military’.
He again explained the meanings of some of the hand signals and said that a clenched fist in ‘military speak’ refers to a group operating a machine gun but ‘noted that there was no machine gun in this group’.
A further video showed a group standing around and talking before they do something.
He pointed out how one person dropped to the ground and gave a signal before the group moved. He said their activities were inconsistent, the group were close together and several times people used their right-hands to make hand signals.
He reiterated that when using hand signals, ‘you must communicate with your non-master hand. Your master hand always stays on the weapon. You must have your weapons in a high state of awareness.’
The next September footage was described by the officer as difficult to see. He said ‘the images are from a distance and the image a little blurry so it is difficult to see and to make out the details’ and he could not be conclusive as to what it was.
He said the ‘choice of clothing and camouflage was certainly not consistent with that used in the military’.
At this stage the court stopped watching every video clip and the officer only described them.
Many times he pointed out how some things were consistent with military practice but others were not, so he could not be conclusive.
He also spoke about the subjective nature of some of the clips.
For example, when the prosecution said that the next clip was of a person bringing up the rear of a patrol, the army officer agreed but said it was ‘slightly subjective’.
The manner of the person, he said ‘is consistent with the last person patrolling at the rear of the patrol but we are shown no patrol’.
The clips of the people allegedly throwing ‘Molotov cocktails’ were also not shown.
Instead the officer spoke about the clips and also described part of them as subjective not definitive.
These are the videos showing people in various manoeuvrings around one of three vehicles.
The officer again said a lot of it was inconsistent and inconclusive as, for instance, the footage ‘doesn’t give a wide span view so we cannot see it all’.
The officer said the man aiming with a gun over the bonnet was a very clichéd image. It would not be done in the military.
There was a lot of questioning about one section in which a person is moving with another in close contact, towards one of the vehicles.
The officer said that, ‘due to the camera angle it is very difficult to be conclusive as to what they are doing. It cannot be seen if the person is a detainee, a hostage or a VIP.’
He said ‘the relationship between the two people cannot be conclusively stated’.
When talking about the ‘unarmed combat’ the officer said it was consistent with what is done in the military, but it is not unique to the military.
A number of civilian groups trained in these skills and historically the army used civilians to train them. He said,’now the world is a 360 degrees battle field’. It is not, he said, ‘like WW2 when we had a front, back and sides’.
Since 2008 everyone in the army was trained in hand-to-hand combat.
He reiterated that hand-to-hand combat ‘is not unique to the military, they are universal and applied by a wide range of organisations’.
After the lunch adjournment more of the October footage was shown and again the officer said some of the activities were consistent with military procedures and some not.
At one point during the video someone fumbles and appear to be having difficulties with their gun, the officer said this ‘person is not consistent with the army.’
Another time, someone lights a smoke and the judge said he supposed ‘having a smoke on the job is not consistent with the military?’
The officer replied that it would ‘lead to a rapid performance appraisal’.
The first person to lead cross-examination was Tame Iti’s lawyer, Russell Fairbrother.
Fairbrother asked a range of questions, including asking if the police had selected the clips and the officer had then looked at them.
The officer said this was correct and he had not looked at any other material .
Fairbrother then asked about the SAS training in 2010 of Direct Capital, a group of business people.
The officer said he ‘did understand that the business leaders were given exposure to SAS weapons but he did not know the details’.
As to military hand signals and such, Fairbrother asked if you could see some of these activities in movies, in Forrest Gump for example.
The officer said it could be learnt from a wide range of resources.
Fairbrother then asked the officer about his deployments in East Timor. The officer was there ‘during the referendum when East Timor got autonomy from Indonesia’.
The officer agreed with Fairbrother, that despite East Timor’s history of colonisation the indigenous culture had stayed strong and that the Indonesian government of East Timor had been supported by both Australia and New Zealand.
The officer described the then Indonesian government as totalitarian and said that the Indonesian government had tried to ‘win hearts and minds’ in an autocratic situation.
He also said that ‘with regards to the laws of the land’, people must comply with a democratically elected government.
When Fairbrother asked if the officer had met Jose Ramos Horta, the officer said no.
Fairbrother pointed out that Ramos Horta was the youngest man to speak in the UN, had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign to fight Indonesia and, after successful elections had helped form the government. That he had gone from a position of exile of fighting the approved government of East Timor, to being the leader of East Timor.
Fairbrother then returned to questioning about the video footage from the camps and the shots of the two people supposedly throwing Molotov cocktails and what possible interpretations could be given to the exercises around the vehicles.
He also asked questions about work in places like Iraq and what criteria the army use when seeking recruits.
The next lawyer to cross-examine was Jeremy Bioletti, who asked the officer if he had any problem with the lack of context in the videos.
The officer explained that there was not a real problem as he ‘had years of experience’ so he did not need the context to look at it. But the officer did say there was ‘no way one can infer what the aim or object of a patrol is’.
‘We cannot not know the intent.’
He also talked about working in the personal protection industry in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. A person can earn about $300,000 a year he said or $500US a day. He said that ‘provided you live and not die, you make a lot more money than working at Woolworths’.
Bioletti then talked about specific shots in the video footage and again the officer said that what was happening was consistent with low level military operations.
When asked about the tactics of one person and how military they were, the officer said that the person had short hair.
Urs Signers’ lawyer, Chris Stevenson was next to question the officer.
Stevenson said the officer had used the term ‘rudimentary’ on a number of occasions when talking about the video footage and asked the officer to look once more at still images of a particular clip.
The officer said it was a good example and the only consistency was the use of non-verbal communication.
He went on to say that there were definitely arm signals but not conclusively military in nature, there was only a similarity. He said ‘to be fair, it appears to be’.
Mr Stevenson then asked ‘if a lot of this, for example the ‘halt signal’ is in the public market?’ The officer said it was.
Mr Stevenson then asked for clarification about the three days the officer spent viewing the footage at the Taupo station in September 2009. The officer said there were a number of clips that he had been shown that were not significant, they showed no military training.
Mr Stevenson also asked about the SAS training for wealthy business people.
In the questions it came up about how the business people had ‘used weapons to shoot at human targets’ and that the men were ‘locked in a dark room and the SAS came in with guns to take out the targets’.
The officer said that the organisers were admonished by the military and ‘that there was good spin-doctoring on why it was good team building activity’.
The last defence lawyer to cross-examine was Val Nisbet.
Nisbet again asked about viewing the video footage and the officer said he had had no connection with the case before seeing the video footage however he had been aware of the case.
He said someone ‘would have to live in a world of naivety if they didn’t know of it’.
He said the three days spent in Taupo to view the footage were not full days and in reality it would have taken only one and a half days.
In re-examination the officer said he had no formal qualification in close personal protection work. He had only done some informal training and had experienced it as a client whilst deployed overseas twice.
The Exhibits Officer
The last half hour was spent with one of the Exhibits Officer once more being recalled. This time he had to go through a book and identify each photo of each exhibit.
Things that he identified included photos of spent shells, photos of beer bottles, photos of beer cans and photos of cardboard targets with supposed bullet holes in them.
At the end he confirmed that ‘as the Exhibits Officer I had all the exhibits, uplifted and labelled and secured in a police vehicle under my command. I received assistance from two others. Obviously with the stove – they assisted me to disassemble that I guess.’
Court adjourned at 5pm and continues.