Theater of Cruelty

The defense must be opened

The secrecy surrounding Norwegian soldiers' missions abroad damages the Armed Forces.


[27. July 2007] These days, the Danish soldiers leave home from Iraq. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has promised that all the country's soldiers will be out of Iraq during August. The withdrawal occurs after seven Danish soldiers have been killed, and a strong debate surrounding the Danish contribution to the US occupation of Iraq. At the same time, Weekendavisen runs a series of interviews with the soldiers, reflecting on their own mission. So far, they have shown doubts about their own motivation and criticized participation as such.

A similar, Norwegian series is almost unthinkable. The Armed Forces' men and women in foreign service are met with strict guidelines and strong retaliation if they comment on the assignments they travel on, if their personal reflections in any way differ from those that come from the press spokespersons. Norwegian soldiers do not dare to speak out, for fear of being banned from further service. The problem concerns medical personnel, deminers and soldiers sent abroad by the Norwegian Armed Forces. We are not even asked by the special forces – we are not told who they are.

Today, a Norwegian family mourns the loss of a father, a son and a husband. It is tragic when soldiers end their lives in ambush attacks in Afghanistan. But no one should be surprised that the Norwegian special forces are being shot. When people still do, it is a result of the extensive secrecy.

We know that Norway sent special forces with the same war started, and that as part of the US invasion force they participated in Operation Anakonda, the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the mountains. We know that the dead Norwegian soldier has been on several missions in Afghanistan. What we don't know is what he did there. We do not know if the Norwegian soldiers have killed anyone in the years they have been in the country. Where they are, who they are fighting for and what they are doing is kept secret. We do not know how long they will be, what are the success criteria or what kind of mandate they are given. On the occasion of the death, the Armed Forces also used the opportunity to ask the press to screen Norwegian special forces on assignment.

This policy can do more harm than good for the mission. When young soldiers refuse to answer everyday questions, it is more suspicious than reassuring. When the Defense denies all mistakes, we journalists are increasingly keen to prove them. When the special forces' mission, location and enemies are kept secret, the Afghan people wonder if the soldiers are not only fighting suicide bombers and Taliban leaders, but may also be a danger to them. Free democracy requires open debate, especially about the use of force. It is time that openness also includes the Armed Forces.

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