Herald profiles Mitchell

Claire Trevett profiles :

Monday was a very good day for Mark Mitchell — he was promoted to Defence Minister and his runaway dog Stig was found after five days AWOL.

Mitchell made a video for his Facebook page to mark the occasion. He spoke of the privilege and honour of being in Cabinet but spent most of the time talking about the return of Stig, a black Labrador his family had since it was a puppy in 2011.

Pets are family, and losing one (even temporarily) is awful.

Mitchell, 48, is a genial, unassuming bloke who looks like a big softie. Do not be fooled. A former police Dog handler, he spent 14 years in the Police Force, dealing with the Mongrel Mob in Gisborne and getting painfully acquainted with the blade of a samurai sword in Rotorua.

He quit in 2003 and intended to pursue a gentler career training polo ponies. Instead he ended up in the Middle East, working in the volatility of Iraq in 2004 straight after the invasion of Iraq by US-led forces.

All up he spent eight years in the Middle East, first working for a British contractor providing security to the Coalition Provisional Authority and training Iraqi security forces. …

Mitchell eventually set up his own security firm based in Kuwait but working across the Middle East and further afield, where he developed expertise in kidnap and ransom negotiations, as well as extricating hostages.

This almost understates what Mark did. He set up the Threat Management Group of Agility Logistics, and grew it from eight to 500 staff. He was involved in over 100 hostage negotiations. Might be a useful skill if National ends up in coalition with NZ First!

That time in his life has attracted criticism from some, including Auckland Peace Action spokesperson Virginia Lambert who said Mitchell had been a “mercenary fighter during the bloodiest period of the US occupation”.

“Mark Mitchell not only went freely and willingly to fight in an illegal war of aggression, but he made a profit out of it. It is disgusting,” she wrote in a press release after the announcement of Mitchell’s position.

Such comments frustrate Mitchell, who says he was not a mercenary and has no qualms now about the work he did. “I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done. I’m… quietly proud, I’m not someone that shouts it from the rooftops — I’m a Kiwi after all. But I’m proud of the difference we made in people’s lives in terms of their security and ability to get on with their lives.”

He points to work he did such as opening mass graves with scientists from the Hague gathering evidence for the war crimes trial of Saddam Hussein. “When you’re opening mass graves and you’re finding the remains of babies clinging to mums, it’s a pretty clear reminder of the atrocities which were taking place. That was a very, very tough job for everyone involved. Instead of questioning why we were there, all it does is provide more resolve in terms of knowing there had to be changes made.”

Protecting scientists working to gather evidence of war crimes is something a peace group should be praising.


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