It’s likely that some time this week Bill English will announce that there will be no inquiry into operation Burnham. That’s a pity, because it means that the NZDF will never clear its name. 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. Avoiding an inquiry is what you do when you have something to hide. (See this rigorously detailed piece by Selwyn Manning on Kiwipolitico for the many inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the NZDF’s various statements.)
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.
In an excellent weekend piece Audrey Young makes many points that Bill English would do well to consider:
SAS inquiry would signal a new era of civilian scrutiny of NZDF
The Government will be missing a golden opportunity when, as is likely next week, it rules out an inquiry into the 2010 New Zealand Defence Force raid on two villages in Afghanistan.
It will be putting short-term political interests ahead of more important longer term interests, including its own.
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.
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. That confidence is not unconditional and it has not been enhanced by either the accusations by the authors or Keating’s handling of them.
An inquiry which Defence welcomed and fully co-operated with could not lessen that confidence and could enhance it, if its mistakes are owned.
Public confidence in overseas deployments is not the only consideration but it is a vital one.
The public deserves to know what happened rather than be bystanders in the current public relations war over the book.
The Government and Defence believe that Hager and Stephenson’s error over the co-ordinates of the village location has completely undermined their claims.
It has not. Keating, after blasting the authors for getting the location wrong, got the right location of the raid but the name of the village wrong. Despite his insistence that two villages 2km away from the raid were Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, they were actually Beidak and Khakandy. Both the authors and Keating were wrong about something.
But actually what NZDF probably fears most is civilian scrutiny and the possibility that it could become normalised. And in that respect, the Government has ignored its own interests in denying 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.
That’s a strong and important argument, and 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.
Update: And there it is – no inquiry.
No inquiry into Afghan raid claims – PM https://t.co/Z8Qs5Cf9iG
— RNZ News (@rnz_news) April 3, 2017
"The Chief of Defence Force is independent; he wasn't involved in the operation.'
— Toby Manhire (@toby_etc) April 3, 2017
PM's decision to not have #HitandRunNZ inquiry is very disappointing. But legal action is going ahead & there is more to come. Stay hopeful
— Hit & Run (@hitandrunnz) April 3, 2017