Vernon Small points out that basically Prime Minister Bill English has said ‘trust me because I trust Tim Keating’ as his reasoning for not having an inquiry into the SAS attack in Afghanistan that was publicised by Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run.
In the Hit and Run case, in contrast, English has been over-cautious in keeping the military sweet, leaving too many questions unanswered.
Add to that his extraordinary claim that Keating was “independent” and was not part of the operation.
He was in essence saying “trust me, because I trust Keating”.
I don’t think that’s good enough, and neither does Small.
So where to now on this?
If Labour leader Andrew Little wanted to put English’s assurances to the test, he should ask to see the classified video.
As the leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition there could surely be no objection to a similar briefing to that given to English and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, especially if other non-elected Government officials have been privy to the footage. If English wanted to buttress his position, he should invite Little to view it.
As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Little – and presumably Winston Peters – ought to have the appropriate clearances.
It might help achieve the kind of “reconciliation” between the conflicting accounts that former defence minister Wayne Mapp said were possible.
That is a very good suggestion. Our Defence Force should be trusted not just by the Government but by the whole Intelligence and Security Committee, and to do that they need to see the same evidence that English has seen.
The Defence Force line is that they they use coordinates not village names, but it should not be beyond their ability to establish that the villages named in the book are in the area they identified.
You can see why they might be reluctant. Having achieved headlines saying Hager and Stephenson had the wrong location for the villages, they will fight to the last spin doctor standing to avoid a headline that reads: “Defence Force confirms its attack was on the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik identified in Hit and Run“.
In the larger scheme of things it may seem a minor point.
But it is that default to “spin” and a reliance on cute semantics that undermines English’s case – and his reliance on the Defence Force.
English hasn’t handled this decisively or convincingly. Everything can’t be revealed about our SAS and Defence Force as Hager and Stephenson want, but the public should have confidence in our military, and that requires more than the perception of one-sided spin.
I also agree with Small on the Key difference, our last PM is likely to have come up a better and more convincing way of dealing with and to the allegations.
I think the whole Intelligence and Security Committee, including Little and Peters, should see the evidence that English has based his decision on.
But English looks too dithery to deal decisively with this.