Apology over Kiwi soldier comments

Barbara Sumner-Burstyn. Photo / Michael Craig
Barbara Sumner-Burstyn. Photo / Michael Craig

A filmmaker has apologised after receiving death threats for posting inflammatory comments online about a dead woman soldier.

Academy Award-shortlisted documentary producer Barbara Sumner Burstyn said: "I was wrong. I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused with my comments."

Earlier, writing on Facebook, Sumner Burstyn accused Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker of "killing innocent people".

"Oh, so fallen soldier Jacinda Baker liked boxing and baking - did they forget she also liked invading countries we are not at war with, killing innocent people and had no moral compass," Sumner Burstyn wrote.

"She 100 per cent does not deserve our respect for her flawed choices. We are not at war. We are helping America invade another country for their oil. No more than that.

"Go to war, expect to be killed. You can't have it both ways - oh nice little career with the military and shock horror when you get blown up."

Her words attracted a vitriolic response from some comrades of Baker, who died this week in Afghanistan with two fellow soldiers.

The post went viral around the internet and last night more than 20,000 people had joined a Facebook group called "Sumner Burstyn give back your NZ Passport!"

Thousands reacted angrily to Burstyn's comments, calling them disrespectful and ill-informed about New Zealand's role in Afghanistan.

Other comments incited violence against Burstyn. The soldier who created the page, Ted Grainger, was prompted to calm the fury last night after threats were repeatedly left on the page by people including Defence Force personnel.

"Right people. No one on this site will advocate rape or murder. Context people. I will delete posts that are out of context and are what I believe is wrong. Rape is wrong ... don't post it."

Sumner Burstyn told the Herald on Sunday she was currently in Canada and did not know when it would be safe to return to New Zealand.

She feared for her safety and that of her family in New Zealand, who had to flee their home after her address and contact details were published.

She said the New Zealand police and Interpol were investigating the threats.

"The level of threat is very scary. They are threatening my life and that of my family while in uniform. Our peacekeepers who threaten rape and murder to someone who posts an anti-war message," she said.

"And to post my details and that of my family and threaten us all in such vile ways I think it is shameful and disgusting behaviour," she said.

Sumner Burstyn has shut down her Facebook page and changed her email address.

In an interview with the Herald on Sunday, she initially defended her comments as mild.

But late last night, she emailed an apology. "I was wrong. I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused with my comments," she wrote.

"I am especially sorry to the family, friends and loved ones of Jacinda Baker at this very difficult time. Please accept my most heartfelt apologies.

"People have said she was a special person. I am sure that is true. If so then she would not agree with the rape and torture, mutilation and murder threatened in these posts.

"Many posted as New Zealand military personnel. They have pledged to uphold very noble standards. These are not reflected in the brutality and viciousness of these posts."

A Defence Force spokeswoman said: "People are entitled to their own individual opinions and we leave it up to the public to judge whether it is insensitive to choose this time to criticise our fallen Defence Force personnel. Our people are grieving, as are the families of the three killed. They are yet to bury their loved ones."

An administrator of the Facebook group Kane Te Tai tried to explain to Burstyn the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team's role in Afghanistan.

"We may operate under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom but we have our own mission," he said. "My time spent in Afghanistan with the Provincial Reconstruction team did not involve me carrying out direct action missions against the Taleban or the Afghan people. How many civilians have we killed in our history? A big fat zero. We do not fight this war unless they fight us first."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 22 Oct 2014 06:23:25 Processing Time: 816ms