A post by the father of a full-time National Servicemen (NSF) asserting that his son and his counterparts had been threatened by a superior to keep quiet about alleged dog abuse in an army camp has gained traction on the Internet, yet many on this bandwagon have leaped to their own conclusions in the absence of an established version of facts. Unfortunately, in its perceived eagerness to address the accusations the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is unfortunately guilty of fuelling greater suspicion with its poor clarification.
The father, Mr. Simon Spencer, claimed that a Warrant Officer had thrown a truncheon to chase the dogs away, and that a “[Lieutenant Colonel] brutally hit an innocent dog in the presence of the [national servicemen], as a demonstration of ‘how it is done’ in order to ensure that the strays would not dare to approach the army camp in [the] future”. On the other hand the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF explained that an investigation had been conducted, and “concluded that the allegations [of dog abuse] were unfounded”. Moreover these findings “were shared with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) who agreed that there was no dog abuse committed”.
The NSF in question, who has been hailed by some as a whistle-blower, has been charged for taking an unauthorised video in an army camp, and for disclosing information to persons outside the organisation. The video showed a dog hung with ropes in a camp toilet.
It should be reasonable to presume that the AVA did not consider this act to be abusive to the animal. The accusation of dog abuse against the Lieutenant Colonel is not backed by video evidence, but instead based on the accounts of a number of NSFs and substantiated by a representative from the animal welfare group Animal Lovers League. Against this context the reply from MINDEF and the SAF seemed almost dismissive, with the unrealistic expectation of having the final say on the matter. They might not have to shoulder the blame for the supposed abuses per se, but they are guilty of exacerbating the lack of clarity on this episode.
Read in another way, the official response means that the NSFs and the individuals from the League were either lying or grossly exaggerating the events that transpired.
One should not expect MINDEF and the SAF to reverse its decision or even provide more details of its investigation, although what is of greatest importance is how NSFs – buried way down the hierarchy – can have a voice when something goes wrong. The misplaced anxiety to condemn the NSF for using his video camera and subsequently sharing the video clip ignores the anecdotal regularity of different transgressions and the unreliability of the oft-cited chain of command, especially in the hands of inept and self-serving commanders. At the moment there is no other constructive recourse at the disposal of the NSF.
So the main question is: what should a NSF do – in similar circumstances – to do what is right, without contravening military regulations and stepping on the toes of his superiors?
With the amount of attention MINDEF and the SAF cannot expect the public to be satisfied with its present conclusions. For example, the AVA concurs that there was no abuse. Does this mean that there were absolutely no physical actions against the strays, or that the acts did not – in AVA’s professional opinion – constitute abuse? We might want to keep these incidents and its soldiers on a tight leash, but in this instance some autonomy and more detailed clarifications are what we need.