Hager’s presentation to Operation Burnham inquiry

RNZ – Operation Burnham Inquiry: Hager accuses Defence Force of spin and lies

Journalist Nicky Hager has launched a scathing attack on the Defence Force during a presentation to the Operation Burnham Inquiry, accusing it of not telling the full truth about its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Inquiry, which is investigating allegations that six civilians were killed in Afghanistan during a New Zealand-led raid in 2010, and the military covered up what happened is holding a public hearing in Wellington today.

During his presentation Mr Hager spoke about the military and political context of events covered by the Inquiry, but said there was a gulf between what the New Zealand Defence Force does and what it chooses to tell the public and Parliament.

“NZDF seems to believe it is entitled to hide news that might not be welcomed by New Zealanders and to bend the facts whenever necessary to avoid criticism or scrutiny … not just mistakes made in war, but toxic foam used in bases, the scale of sexual abuse in the forces and much more.

“NZDF almost never admits mistakes until utterly forced to, and even then they will minimise and spin the news. Reputation trumps being up front.”

@Economissive:

Nicky Hager’s presentation to Operation Burnham is quite a read:

Operation Burnham public hearing 22 May 2019

Nicky Hager: the military and political context

The bit about false redactions to protect national security should be hard for the Inquiry to ignore….

Particularly as some of the names have been disclosed already:

This thread has a lot more coverage:

Website: Inquiry into Operation Burnham

Hager, Stephenson, Keating respond to Operation Burnham inquiry

Nicky Hager:

Hit and Run inquiry decision welcomed

Nicky Hager has welcomed the announcement today of an independent inquiry into civilian casualties during the August 2010 NZSAS raid in Afghanistan – Operation Burnham – the subject of the 2017 book Hit and Run.

“This is very, very good news for New Zealand,” he said. “It is vital that, as a country, we can face up to incidents where our military does terrible things.”

He said good people have been chosen for the inquiry, the terms of reference are broad and resources have been allocated so it can do a proper job. “It feels like the start of a sound and thorough process.”

“There have been years of cover up by the NZSAS and senior military staff ever since the raid – intended for insurgents – killed and wounded 21 civilians, most of them women and children. Even after we wrote a whole book setting out what had happened, the New Zealand Defence Force continued its denials. It is an intolerable situation when the military tries to cover up its own misdeeds.”

“The obvious answer was an independent inquiry and so we warmly welcome today’s announcement.”

“International law says that countries have a legal obligation to conduct an independent inquiry whenever there are credible allegations of civilian casualties. The New Zealand Defence Force and government refused to do this for seven years. At last another government is doing the right thing.”


Jon Stephenson:

The full story from Henry will be on Stuff.


And another reaction:


Operation Burnham inquiry warranted ‘in the public interest’

Attorney General David Parker announced this afternoon that there would be an inquiry into Operation Burnham, the attackn in Afghanistan that has been criticised in the book Hit & Run.

“In deciding whether to initiate an inquiry I have considered material including certain video footage of the operation. The footage I have reviewed does not seem to me to corroborate some key aspects of the book Hit & Run.

“The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village.

“However, the material I have seen does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised by the authors.

“In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted.”

The inquiry’s terms of reference include:

  • The allegations of civilian deaths.
  • The allegation that NZDF knowingly transferred a man to a prison where he would be tortured.
  • The allegation that soldiers returned to the valley to destroy homes on purpose.

Approval for Inquiry into Operation Burnham

Attorney-General David Parker has today announced a Government Inquiry will be held into Operation Burnham and related events.

The operation undertaken in Tirgiran Valley, Afghanistan, by NZSAS troops and other nations’ forces operating as part of the International Security Assistance Force took place on 21-22 August 2010.

It was the subject of the book Hit & Run by authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson which contained a number of serious allegations against New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel involved in the operation.

“In deciding whether to initiate an inquiry I have considered material including certain video footage of the operation,” says Mr Parker.

“The footage I have reviewed does not seem to me to corroborate some key aspects of the book Hit & Run.

“The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village.

“However, the material I have seen does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised by the authors.

“In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted.”

Commissioning this inquiry does not mean the Government accepts the criticisms of the actions of SAS forces on the ground, although their conduct is squarely within the inquiry’s purview and will be thoroughly examined.\

The inquiry, established under s 6(3) of the Inquiries Act 2013, will be undertaken by two persons of the highest repute, former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer. As required by statute, it will act independently, impartially and fairly.

Given the classified nature of some information that will be made available to the inquiry, it is possible that two forms of report will be provided; one a public version and a second version referring to classified or confidential information.

Mr Parker said the inquiry would seek to establish the facts in connection with the allegations, examine the treatment by NZDF of reports of civilian casualties following the operation, and assess the conduct of the NZDF forces, including compliance with the applicable rules of engagement and international humanitarian law and the authorisation – military and, if any, political – for Operation Burnham.

It will assess the status – civilian or insurgent – of the Afghan nationals in the area of the operation.

It will also assess the extent to which NZDF rules of engagement authorised “targeted killings” and whether this was clearly explained to those involved in approving the rules of engagement.

The accuracy of public statements made by NZDF and the accuracy of written briefings to ministers about civilian casualties will also fall within the inquiry’s scope.

The inquiry will also be asked to examine whether NZDF’s transport and/or transfer of suspected insurgent Qari Miraj in 2011 to the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security in Kabul was proper given, amongst other matters, the June 2010 decision of the High Court of England and Wales in R (on the application of Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence.

The inquiry, in common with all inquiries under the Inquiries Act, has no power to determine the civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability of any person. However it may, if justified, make findings of fault and recommend further steps be taken to determine liability.

Inquiry_into_Operation_Burnham__Terms_of_Reference.pdf

Media_Q_and_A_Operation_Burnham.pdf

Little v English on Operation Burnham

In Question Time in Parliament today:

Question 1 – Andrew Little to the Prime Minister

Based on the advice he has received from the Defense Force and the Minister of Defence, does he know if any civilians were killed in Operation Burnham; if so, how many?

Draft transcript:


Operation Burnham—Allegations of Civilians Killed by New Zealand Troops, Ministerial Involvement, and Potential Inquiry

1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Based on the advice he has received from the Defence Force and the Minister of Defence, does he know if any civilians were killed in Operation Burnham; if so, how many?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): As I have said a number of times, it is possible that civilian casualties occurred during Operation Burnham. Allegations of civilian casualties have not, however, been substantiated. This has been on the public record since 2010.

Andrew Little: Did the Prime Minister personally authorise all individual operations in Afghanistan; if not, why did his predecessor need to personally authorise Operation Burnham?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The general procedure would be that the Government, in its capacity of civilian control of the armed forces, would set policy, including objectives of a deployment and rules that apply—for instance, rules of engagement about whether New Zealand troops are inside the wire or outside the wire, like in Taji, for instance—and then it is up to the Defence Force command to make operational decisions. When those are significant, one would expect that the Minister of Defence and/or the Prime Minister would be aware of them.

Andrew Little: Why did his predecessor need to personally authorise Operation Burnham?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: We would have to go back and have a look at what the technical aspects of the decisions were, but given that there had been loss of life in Afghanistan—that is, the loss of a New Zealand soldier and the possibility of more—it would unusual if the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence were not aware of the operation.

Andrew Little: Having seen some of the video footage from the operation, can he confirm whether the SAS or coalition forces received incoming fire from enemy combatants during the raid, or was there no return fire?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said yesterday, I do not intend to comment in detail on the video footage, other than to say that it confirms the facts as outlined by the Chief of Defence Force last week, and confirms, importantly, that New Zealand and coalition troops behaved consistent with the rules of engagement.

Andrew Little: Did either the New Zealand SAS or coalition forces cause the deaths of civilians during the raid?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As has been rehearsed many times, because of allegations that there were civilian casualties, an investigation was mounted quite shortly after the operation by the coalition forces. They were unable to substantiate civilian deaths. Further allegations have been made in the recently published book. It turns out that the recently published book talked about a series of events in a place where the New Zealand troops did not go. So that book does not substantiate civilian casualties. If there was substantial evidence of it, then of course we would be interested in what, if any, role New Zealand troops played in those deaths.

Andrew Little: How did 3-year-old Fatima die on the day of the raid?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: If one is to follow the narrative in the book, then the 3-year-old must have been in a different village, because the New Zealand troops did not go to the village talked about in the book.

Andrew Little: Why is he so opposed to an inquiry when Lieutenant General Tim Keating has said that he is open to one?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Having observed the Defence Force’s process and having viewed background material—including a small amount of classified material—I have come to the view that an inquiry into war crimes and misconduct is not required because there is no evidence that war crimes were committed, and the evidence is compelling that our troops conducted themselves professionally in accordance with the rules of engagement under legal supervision.

“The NZDF will never clear its name”

Another ‘NZDF bad, Hager & Stephenson impeccable’ post from Anthony Robins at The Standard in The NZDF will never clear its name – and neither will Bill English, plus another attempt to land all the responsibility on Bill English in election year.

The odds of Hager and Stephenson being wrong on the substance of Hit and Run are low, and if they were wrong the NZDF would be in a hurry to prove it. They aren’t.

That’s nonsense.

How can the NZDF possibly “clear its name” if Hit and Run is correct? By fronting up to any mistakes that were made, by apologising and taking whatever action is possible to acknowledge and compensate the villagers. That would be the decent thing to do, and the force would be strengthened by it, not weakened.

Why not run a campaign of NZDF bashing if it can help taint the Government? Like this:

… when Bill English ignores it and announces “no enquiry” he will have missed an important opportunity. Instead he will have forever tied himself to the perception of a shabby coverup.

Some will no doubt see this as shabby politicisation of a military event more than two elections ago.

I got involved in the following discussions, where personal attacks from the usual suspect OAB are allowed when their arguments and claims and assertions get challenged, but someone else speaking against the tone of the post gets slammed with a 3 month ban because they didn’t “prove that last assertion”, a demand that lprent knew couldn’t be met.

This not only cuts ‘Sam C’ out of the conversation but it also serves as a warning to others not to challenge the party/blog lines without risk of being silenced, while the resident troll can break their rules with impunity.

 

Operation Burnham update

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson got a lot of favourable media coverage initially after the release of their book Hit & Run, but after a counter by NZ Defence Force head Tim Keating revealed errors (from both sides) and created confusion, the fizz has gone out of the story.

I think that some sort of inquiry is still quite possible, but it is more likely to be due to the involvement of lawyers acting for the Afghan villagers rather than being compelled by the book.

Stuff knocks the stuffing out of Hit & Run in Below the beltway: The week in politics

UP

Chief of Defence Tim Keating:  His rebuttal of some key information in Hit & Run appears to have staved off any Government inquiry.

DOWN

Hager and Stephenson: some basic errors in Hit & Run have weakened their case for an inquiry into the book’s central allegation that innocent civilians were killed.

Steve Braunias lampoons them in Secret diary of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson

Nicky Hager

Every word in the new book I wrote with Jon Stephenson is 100 per cent absolutely correct.
Our central claim in Hit & Run is that the New Zealand SAS launched a revenge raid on a village in Afghanistan, and killed innocent civilians.
There is no room for error.
It’s more than a book; it’s an immaculate object, something to gaze upon with awe, and to be received as gospel truth.
I call it The Book of Nicky.

Jon Stephenson

I call it The Book of Jon.
But Nicky’s right, of course. The book is 100 per cent absolutely correct – and bear in mind that’s a modest estimate.
It follows that any criticism of the book is 100 per cent absolute bollocks.
There’s actually no point in the New Zealand Defence Force [NZDF] criticising the book, because everything they’ll say about it is wrong, and they’re going to look foolish.
Very, very foolish.

That’s just the beginning.

Audrey Young at the Herald: SAS inquiry would signal a new era of civilian scrutiny of NZDF

An inquiry would serve varying interests, but the villagers affected by the raids would not necessarily be top of the list.

An inquiry would almost certainly come down somewhere between potential “war crimes” as suggested by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their book, Hit and Run, and that of “exemplary” behaviour by New Zealand forces as characterised by the Chief of Defence Force, Lt General Tim Keating.

At the very least it would find some regrettable errors.

‘Regrettable errors’ are an unfortunate inevitability in wars.

It is certainly in NZDF’s own interests to have an inquiry.

Future NZDF operations rest on the confidence in which the New Zealand public has in them.

The Government and Defence believe that holding an inquiry would undermine the ability of the SAS to carry out future raids, fearful that every operation could be subject to an inquiry. (Well, shouldn’t it if it goes wrong?)

There has to be some effective means of holding our military to account, but they also need a degree of secrecy to operate effectively. Can both be catered for by an inquiry?

NZDF and the SAS in particular should be subject to more robust civilian and parliamentary scrutiny – perhaps even by the statutory intelligence and security committee.

An inquiry into the raids would be a good start for a new era of scrutiny.

David Fisher has a useful and fairly comprehensive summary in The complete guide to the NZSAS raid and the allegations civilians were killed

A point on this:

And what does NZDF say to all of this?

After almost a week’s silence, Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General Tim Keating called a press conference to deny the NZSAS had killed civilians.

The time taken for the NZDF to respond raised some eyebrows but:

  • Hit & Run, which had taken three years to put together, was a surprise attack
  • Keating was away in Iraq when the book was launched (by coincidence or be Hager design?) and didn’t return to New Zealand until the following weekend, after which he responded.

Fisher concludes:

Will there be an inquiry?

It’s highly likely. At its essence, there is a key difference between the claims in the book Hit & Run and NZDF’s position. Hit & Run says six civilians were killed, including a 3-year-old girl. NZDF says nine combatants were killed.

But the high likelihood of an inquiry stems from the involvement of the lawyers, Rodney Harrison, QC, Deborah Manning and Richard McLeod. New Zealand is signatory to international laws, which dovetail into our legislation, that are likely to give them the power to force NZDF into court.

At this stage, they are seeking a Commission of Inquiry with three commissioners, one of whom they say should be a senior judge. Mapp said yesterday “as a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out” and to front up.

What are the possible outcomes?

Compensation was said by Mapp to be appropriate under Afghan culture. However, the allegation of “war crimes”, if true, comes with significant penalties, including life in prison.

The Hit & Run authors also called for an end to the secrecy under which the NZSAS is able to operate. Further, they say former NZSAS commanders have gone on to senior roles in the military, creating an imbalance of power and a tendency to lobby for international duties that meet their skillset.

I think that an inquiry may be prudent – for the Government and for the NZDF – but I have doubts about whether it will be conclusive, and it is unlikely to satisfy Hager and Stephenson.

Operation Burnham update

Mote from Operation Burnham (the Afghan SAS attack allegations) today.

Whale Oil waded in to it with a number posts today. He led with an attack on Nicky Hager and Wayne Mapp in Another lie exposed by one of Nicky Hager’s own sources:

As for Wayne Mapp, this man is a traitor, along with Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. They are aiding and abetting the enemy, demanding inquiries and smearing our soldiers based on flimsy hearsay evidence from villages in a Taliban-controlled area and just wrong information like the location of the villages.

Nicky Hager stated categorically that it was “impossible” for him to be wrong.

The media keep on buying his stories, they take everything he says as gospel and yet here are two glaring lies or errors.

Wayne Mapp is an utter disgrace. He oversaw the operation, he was in Afghanistan at the time, he personally approved the mission, and all that is from his own words.

He was the minister at the time, he authorised the mission, he knew there were other casualties, and yet he did nothing. Worse he waited some seven years to then become a dirty little weasel and ratfink by becoming a source to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

Now he has the audacity to demand an inquiry based on nothing more than hearsay and a rehash of information he has held onto for seven years.

But Slater has made a fundamental error. Mapp didn’t authorise the mission. In his post at Pundit yesterday he said:

I had been fully briefed on the plan on the morning before it took place. Based on the briefing, and on the advice of the military professionals, I recommended that it proceed.

That seems fairly clearly not authorisation the mission, and Mapp clarifies in a comment:

But one point of clarification (it arises on another blogsite). The use of words “recommended that it proceed” is suppossed to indicate that I referred the matter up, though with a recommendation.

Hager and Stephenson’s book says that the Prime Minister had the final say and that fits with what Mapp has said. The PM is likely to have based his decision on the advice of Mapp and the Defence Force but had may well have signed off on it.

Hager makes some point by point rebuttals of NZDF claims, also at Pundit in Operation Burnham: the cover-up continues

The New Zealand Defence Force claims that it has replied fully to the allegations raised in Hit and Run. It hasn’t – and what it has said just continues its cover-up of what happened in Afghanistan.

The Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating presented the NZDF response to the book Hit and Run at a press conference on Monday 27 March 2017. For 45 minutes he and his colleagues suggested that everything in the book was incorrect.

Jon Stephenson and I, the authors of Hit and Run, have now had time to study the defence chief’s statements. Our conclusion is that the NZDF criticisms are wrong – with one exception – and that they have failed to address almost everything of substance in the book. This is what a cover up looks like.

He details a number of points, here are the headings:

1. The raid described in the book “is not an operation the NZSAS conducted”:  INCORRECT

2. The SAS raid was in a different village with a different name: INCORRECT

3. The SAS raid was about two kilometres from the position we gave in the book: CORRECT, BUT DOES NOT CHANGE THE STORY IN ANY SIGNIFICANT WAY

A major part of the confusion over where the attack took place and the differing claims was due to the book giving an incorrect location. It may not change things in a significant way but it caused significant disputes until this was all clarified.

4. The NZDF has now replied to the allegations in the book: INCORRECT

5. An ISAF investigation has already occurred, there is no need for another inquiry: A WEAK SELF-SERVING ARGUMENT

6. Keating said the insurgents may have used civilians as human shields; aircraft video showed insurgents were killed; the conduct of the New Zealand ground forces was “exemplary”; and so on: UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS AND SELECTIVE INFORMATION

7.  Lieutenant General Tim Keating told the press conference: “The ground force commander was an NZSAS Officer who controlled both the ground activities and provided clearance, after the appropriate criteria had been met, for any involvement of the aircraft. These elements were co-ordinated by an air controller in his location.” CORRECT AND IMPORTANT INFORMATION

His last point and commentary:

8. Finally, Keating told the press  that there were legal complications for having an inquiry: INCORRECT

This is not correct. We are not proposing an inquiry by the defence force about itself. The  government has the power to launch a full and independent inquiry at any time. We believe the NZDF is trying to avoid a full and independent inquiry precisely because some officers are scared of what it will show. But the issue will continue to fester, as it has for years, until that happens.

Graeme Edgeler responded to that in comments:

This is selective. I understood LTGEN Keating to be saying that there would be difficulties in requiring people to give evidence. An inquiry under the Inquiries Act could require people to attend and give evidence (subject to rights of silence, etc.), but it would not be able to, for example, require Afghan military personnel, or US military personnel to give evidence, which may be necessary to provide a full picture.

In addition it is likely to be difficult getting legally admissible witness statements from people from the attack area that can be cross examined. The area is now apparently in Taliban hands and Jon Stephenson didn’t visit the actual attack site because of the dangers involved.

It will be difficult determining who actually died in the attack, how they died and who was responsible for their deaths.

And other evidence will be difficult to tie to the attack. For example I think the photo of the cartridges that circulated this morning (it also had drink bottles in the whole photo in the book) was taken a long tome after the attack – it appears to be a collection of things that had been gathered purportedly from the attack scene but there is no evidence substantiating that, just claims from people from the area.

I really think it is unlikely anything substantial will be able to be determined seven years after the attack that occurred in an area still occupied by the Taliban.

It is important to hold military forces to account, but there are hints that obsessions may be more prevalent than balanced investigations on the part of Stephenson and Hager, and the NZDF will be reluctant to reveal any more than they have to to help their arguments.

There’s also a question of why Stephenson and Hager are trying so hard to ensure the Afghan, US and New Zealand military adhere to strict terms of engagement (fair enough for that) but seem to be taking the word of people from a Taliban controlled area, some of whom may be Taliban supporters or even combatants.

The Taliban has been notorious for their military tactics, and also for the abuses of human rights, especially of females and people who won’t comply with their extremely strict religious diktats.

‘Geopolitical analyst’ Paul Buchanan has added to the commentary at The Spinoff with An inquiry into the Hit and Run claims is now essential. And there is an obvious person to lead it

The bottom line is this: as a public institution in a liberal democracy, the NZDF is accountable for its actions to the New Zealand public. It can do so without compromising operational security. It must do so because now its professionalism and integrity are in question.

It has been suggested that the New Zealand Police conduct an investigation of the events that fateful August night. I disagree.

Instead, it seems reasonable to convene a Board of Inquiry chaired by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS). Although not usually focused on military operations, the IGIS has authority to look into all security-related matters and is the key oversight mechanism on matters of intelligence and security. With the widely respected inspector general, Cheryl Gwyn, as chair, a panel could be convened that involves a senior military judge, a retired High Court justice and perhaps an international jurist of some reputation and experience in such matters. They should have powers of compulsion under oath and be given access to all evidentiary material as warranted (beginning with the account and sources in the book as well as the NZDF response).

There should be plenty of evidence to sift through. Modern military operations involve the use of helmet and body cameras on soldiers as well as gun sight and other cameras on aircraft. Audio recordings of communications between ground and air forces likewise serve as real-time referents on how things unfolded from the vantage point of the participants.

But this would require the full cooperation of the US and Afghan militaries.