Not meeting the standard

Nicky Hager
Nicky Hager.
The standard for any Parliamentary inquiry must remain high in New Zealand.

Too often, the slightest allegations  lead to loud calls for the Government to come clean and hold an inquiry. If each such claim was acted upon, New Zealand would stagnate — overwhelmed by the weight of bureaucracy.

In some cases, however, inquiries are needed and not held, which can be genuinely distressing to families wanting answers.

Whether an inquiry needs to be held into allegations contained in a book co-written by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson has been a matter of recent debate. The authors allege in  Hit and Run that six civilians were killed and 15 wounded in an SAS operation in Afghanistan, in August,  2010.  The book maintains a young girl was an  innocent victim in the so-called botched raid. The book is said to contain details of each person, their name and family connections, and injuries, as well as details of precisely where they were when they were wounded or killed.

The issue became complicated when former National Party MP and defence minister Wayne Mapp outed himself as a source for the book. His troubled conscience got the better of him over the matter. Dr Mapp was on the ground when the raid took place more than six years ago but  only after watching Mr Stephenson’s 2014 film did he start to believe civilians were killed in the raid.

The authors said it was impossible they were wrong and they had relied heavily on unnamed sources within the armed forces for the details. The book was launched to great fanfare, timed exactly for television evening news. No detail was released before the launch and those there relied on press releases and a question and answer sheet provided at the Wellington bookshop.

The Ministry of Defence was not asked for its comments before the book launch, something no investigative journalist worth their salt would consider in normal circumstances.

So what are we to make of the claims made in a book which appears to be  aimed  at supporting a change of government?  Former prime minister John Key had all but disappeared on the day of the launch, having given his retirement interviews earlier the same day. He remained confident New Zealand troops acted properly in Afghanistan.

Mr Hager tried at the last election to smear Mr Key, and National, with his book Dirty Politics and now Hit and Run seems a continuation of the plan of releasing what is now disputed information to shore up support for the Left before the election.

Some information has  emerged since the book was published, calling into question the accuracy of details provided by Messrs Hager and Stephenson. It appears the men got the location of the attack wrong, but they dispute claims this detail detracts from the book. The authors say some of their sources are prepared to come forward if required. It is time for some of them to front up,  as long as they can do so in safety.

The Chief of the Defence Force,  Lieutenant-General Tim Keating says there is no evidence to back up claims in the book. Right from the start it was acknowledged civilians may have been killed.

The allegations are said to have caused distress to the families of the troops who have been accused of acting dishonourably, but  Prime Minister Bill English  has assured  those families there is no such evidence.

Hit and Run failed to meet the standard for automatically requiring an investigation at the highest level. Having watched parts of a Defence Force classified video of the raid, Mr English has ruled out an inquiry  and that is the correct decision,  unless verifiable evidence comes to light. 

Comments

This is a coloured and politically partisan Ed, whose premise is blinkered. Hager's work may be no less effective or accurate for being self serving razzmatazz.

Now that we know New Zealand SAS was not even in the area this book seller claims.....I would say sales of so called book will slump