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Langdon and Hicks, two sides of the Afghanistan coin

They're quite a pair, these two South Aussie boys- mercenaries abroad, serving in defence of the sovereign rulers of Afghanistan.  The differences between David Hicks and Robert Langdon start at the point where one man gets his government's assistance, and the other its castigation.  The one getting support has admitted to and been convicted of, shooting a co-worker four times in the head and chest, then tossing a grenade into the truck bearing the body in order to disguise his actions.  The one who was repatriated for further incarceration after a plea bargain by Cheney was never even been accused of having committed a violent act.

I can't help wonder if the recent public silence about David Hicks might be due to a little cultural guilt?  I t's only because Hicks'  former lawyer Stephen Kenny is taking "compensatory funds" to Kabul for Langdon that David's name has re-entered the media's radar.  Otherwise there appears to be nobody interested in the fact that The Commonwealth of Australia and the State of South Australia are both guilty of knowingly incarcerating David Hicks when he was at the time of his arrest not guilty of any crime under Australian law.  Legally, you'd like to think it was "the elephant in the room" in any discussions of legal ethics, something that a display of moral integrity might rectify.  But no.. it's old news, and too hard.

There's an easy way to demonstrate impartiality in clemency when dealing with people in such situations- Australia could imprison Robert Langdon for whatever time the Afghan court system sentences.

You get the whiff, reading the January reports in theOz about the matter, that the Australian Government might be interceding not so much out of concern for the ex-soldier than a need to minimise the negative publicity of an Afghan Murdering Aussie Mercenary.  The watering-down of the case details in reports of Kenny's departure today suggest that the approach is working.

Just so we're all clear on what Langdon's confessed to have done, here's a brief extract from the January 27 Australian:

In court, Langdon, who was the expatriate team leader, admitted killing Karim but said he fired in self-defence because the Afghan guard was reaching for his pistol.

"He reached across, and I am ex-military, so it was like bang-bang-bang-bang.............................

Langdon's claims of diminished responsibility were undermined by an admission that he had tried to cover up the crime by throwing a hand grenade into the truck containing Karim's body.

Langdon ordered the convoy's Nepalese and Afghan guards to fire into the air to fake a Taliban attack in which it would appear Karim had been a victim.

After telling the guards to continue on to their destination, Langdon returned to Kabul, emptied $US10,000 from his local bank account and bought a ticket to Dubai, but he was arrested at the airport as he tried to board the flight.


 It's not a great look for our country when a soldier who's been highly trained at the taxpayers expense utilises his skill to murder a native ot the country that Austrlalia's armed forces have invaded and occupied.   The Afghanis certainly won't be impressed, and hopefully neither will many Australians.

The care of the media management in this scenario suggests an awareness that public support for continued Australian participation in Afghanistan is tenous, and possibily a signifigant federal election issue. 

The irony, from a Sourh Australian viewpoint, is that while it's widely known that Adelaide boy Hicks is hated in the country electorates, the support for  the ex-digger Port Augusta boy La ngdon will undoubtedly be huge.  This will no doubt be a major factor in any decision Rudd makes as polling day looms. 

Some may call such an approach democracy at its finest, but if you consider this situation a propoganda sideshow in the prolonged invasion of a foreign state, everything starts to look more than a little tacky.



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Goose walked over my grave.

It's not just that Richard has found the "coathanger" by which we gain access or hook into an real undestanding of the current  Afghanistan situation, incidentally diametrically opposed to the narrative we get from our tabloid media and press, that surprises me, so much as his capacity to do this not just here, but with a number of issues over the past.

So, a country is caught up in big power politics, gets traumatically disrupted, and then insult is added to injury as racist slurs against the more exotic cultural traits are brought into play, activated by stress, are proffered as reasons for further egregious interventions.

As Baruch Kimmerling more or less said on Lateline some years ago, what goes on in places like Afghanistan, Palestine,etc, is not good for the suffering masses in these placers, or the souls of we Westerners who benefit from the world order, particularly we who are knowingly complicit as to the means by which the injustices are entrenched, but fail to act decisively enough in opposition,  after the likes of Bonhoeffer and Niemoller.

No Geoff

DAvid Hicks was nothing more than a bumbling wannabee who didn't hurt a soul.

 Langdon is a cold blooded murderer.

Serving the sovereignty of the realm, or the coin?

I've been doing a bit of late-night skimming into the background of Langdon's employers, and if I'm right, Geoff, then Langdon's crew were more about being hired goons for the local warlords than defenders of the country.  It seems that Four Horseman Industries) is registered with US authorities as acting for the Sherzai brothers. One of these (according to the Globe and Mail) was making a million US$ a week as Governor of Kandahar through "import duties" that permitted opium to pass through Southern Afghanistan en route to Iran.

As far as I can tell, Four Horsemen were basically paid to act in U.S. interests before the Yanks hit the ground., being paid by monies received from the CIA and U.S. special forces.

The impression I'm getting is that the warlords are acting in their own interests, believing that the local situation may revert to pre-invasion days once the U.S. leaves.  If and when that happens though, the business bigwigs have their own armies of highly trained private soldiers to do whatever's required.

It appears (and yes I'm generalising) that much of the NATO work outside of Kabul has involved taking control of areas from such warlords and their mercenaries.  If NATO''s retreating to safe cities, that means that it's folks like Langdon who are out in the countryside maintaining law and order.

The question, I guess, is which side Langdon's employers are on, if any but their own.

Langdon's bosses got rich off the opium trade, Hicks' bosses got rich off the opium trade.  State Sovereignty seem less of an issue here than trade control.

While thinking Marilyn's succinct assessment might be close to the mark, (Hicks would've loved to be someone in Langdon's position) you're probably right in the notion of this bloke flipping his lid in the line of duty.   However, the question of whether Langdon's motives were more/ less noble than Hicks is undiscernable.  

Both of them in "love jobs" or not, Langdon was probably much better paid.  The latter, as an elite mercenary, surely made a few quid more than the genuine "Diggers" over there fighting for a cause. 

One man's mercenary is another man's professional

Richard, I admit to knowing little about the circumstances of Langdom's employment and also will do some digging when I get a moment.

I don't believe I am under any illusions. I am aware that there are private "security contractors" employed throughout Afghanistan and Iraq and that ultimately many of these are paid by foreign, especially US, military and intelligence services. I am also aware that there have been  some controversies about ther role, control and rules of engagement.

That aside, I have no objection in principle to the employment of former military and intelligence personnel by these contractors.  But, as I say, your comments have prompted me to look at this a little deeper.  

A little boost?

Geoff, there's a good piece here (right hand column) in Stars and Stripes, and here's that Globe and Mail piece.  Rummaging for the Sherzais led me to this piece "K is for Kandahar" on a site called Roll Call which gave the relationship. 

Here's the page for The Four Horsemen International, apparently named not for Apocalyptic signifigance but for the tirelessness of its founders.. um, yeah, whatever..  I haven't gone back through their trainers, the Sparta Group and the various mercenary outfits they're involved with, and that's where I think things could get interesting.

Given that the Northern Alliance were paid bounties by the U.S to capture the likes of Hicks.  I'm now beginning to think that much of this whole war has been played by human chess pieces, each move funded by the U.S. Government.

Internal issues aside (yegods, what a lot to set aside) this sort of stuff re-raises the question of how much modern warfare is being conducted not by armies of sovereign states but by soldiers on corporate payrolls.  I know we've bounced around such thoughts in the various discussions of Hicks, but a few years down the track I'm really beginning to wonder if State armies are the true actors in these theatres, or if the blokes and women wearing flags are only their to beautify the marquee at the entrance.

A maybe-telling quote in the Stars'n'Stripes piece:

Staff Sgt. Matthew Roberge said his initial impression of Afghanistan is better than that of Iraq.

“I think it’s a lot more favorable here,” he said. “[Afghan people] want to work hard and do it themselves. We just have to give them a little boost.”

Charlie Wilson's war

Richard and Geoff, get hold of a copy of Charlie Wilson's war - book or DVD - and then you will know what a delusion this madness is.

I'll take your elephant and raise you seven

Legally, you'd like to think it was "the elephant in the room" in any discussions of legal ethics, something that a display of moral integrity might rectify. -- Richard.

Just off the top of my head :

  • Neither committed crimes under Australian law at the time of their arrests. That's because in both cases the crimes were committed outside Australian criminal jurisdiction and with no special Australian legal provision extending that jurisdiction to these crimes at that time.
  • Both received Australian government assistance of a sort with their foreign legal difficulties. As I understand it, the government is faciliating the payment of "blood money" to the family of Langdown's victim, a payment that is entirely lawful under Afghani law. The other secured a lawful deal with the aid of Australian authorities that lawfully allowed part of his sentence to be served in Australia.
  • One is under sentence of death. The other never was. This difference alone demands a much elevated Australian legal and ethical response irrespective of where the crimes were committed. 
  • One was engaged in supporting terrorist forces that had murdered, among others, Australian citizens. The other unlawfully killed a fellow combatant in the course of a lawful military engagement against those or allied terrorist forces. 
  • Both were accused of committing violent acts, although in Hicks case, he was convicted of some crimes while other charges were dropped. That is the nature of "plea bargains". Plea bargains are lawful, ethical and common in both Ausralia and the US. They do not involve the US VP although in both cases, in particular Hicks, there were Australian representations at the highest political levels. 
  • Participation in a multinational force engaged in putting down a vicious criminal insurgency in a country, at the behest of that country's lawful authorities, does not amount to the invasion and occupation of that country in any legal or ethical sense.
  • Hicks is a tool. As far as I can make out, the other guy is just another bloke who cracked in a moment of extreme pressure and fear in combat conditions that you actually have to experience to understand and appreciate. It's still a crime of course but there's a lot of it about.

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