It's too easy to call an inquiry just to put the questions to bed, so the Prime Minister has called it right. Why put people through the mill without incontrovertible evidence?

I don't want to be disrespectful to a fellow pundit, but to my mind Bill English has got it right by deciding not to hold an inquiry into allegations that New Zealand soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan. The evidential threshold just hasn't been met.

The ‘Hit & Run,’ exposè (a collaboration of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson) made claims which if true would worry many New Zealanders and opened up a call for a full and open inquiry. Forgive me for being cautious. 

Inquiries are like torture chambers to those being investigated; they should not be called unless there is incontrovertible evidence to justify the call. Holding a inquiry just to ‘clear up the issue’ is not justified. The default position should be that we back those from amongst us that serve and risk their lives for our country.

I do have one reservation; that is whether or not the NZDF were upfront in their statements on cilivian casualties. Having long said concerns about civilian deaths were "unfounded", the NZDF now says it appears there "may" have been some collateral civilian casualties that occurred during the overall raid. But that is one of those dreadful consequences that unfortunately occur around such actions; that is not what most understand as the deliberateness and hatefulness of a ‘war crime’.

Maybe its an age thing, but I am getting cynical of calls for inquiries anyway. Usually there is a hell of a smoke in these claims, but damn all fire.

In the Hit & Run case, the Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Keating, was overseas at the time the book was released with much PR hype just before the 6pm news.  There was no one about with the authority and knowledge to immediately answer the claims made in the book. After some days of media intensity, with different angles from different commentators putting different spins on the ‘evidence’, the Chief of the Defence Force returned and was genuinely grilled by the press.

I have seen cases before when the media have the blood up – that was all there. But I have to say Keating seemed totally on top of the subject, and was able to be specific and precise about where the book had it wrong. His responses were both substantial and credible.

Once he had spoken, the tone of the conversation quickly shifted. The continuing calls for an inquiry sounded increasingly desperate; hairs were being split all over the place. I heard one commentator saying the issue had been raised so we needed an inquiry to put it to sleep. That would justify an inquiry every time an issue was raised. OTT to the highest order.  

Like most New Zealanders, I hold New Zealand soldiers in high regard. Maybe it is a small country thing. Maybe its something in the water. But I am sure our soldiers instinctively behave better than soldiers from most nations on earth.

If soldiers everywhere adopted the New Zealand military culture, I feel very confident we would not see just horrible and dishonourable activities like the torture and prisoner abuse case that occurred at Abu Ghraib, when a relatively small group of US soldiers turned despicable in Iraq. Our soldiers are not perfect – nobody is – but I would like to see real evidence that something genuinely went wrong before an inquiry of any sort is organised. And after Lt-Gen Keating’s credible explanation of what occurred in Baghran Province, the real evidence necessary to justify an inquiry is not there.

And let's not miss that there is an irony here. From the politicians' point of view the easiest answer to a call for an inquiry is to agree – that quickly shuts down the issue. By the time it emerges from the convoluted inquiry process the world will have moved on and the personalities that might be held accountable if there really was a problem will be long gone. Or you get a Cave Creek type conclusion – the problem was caused by ‘systemic failure’; the whole system is to blame and no-one is accountable.

The hard thing to do in this circumstance is to say ‘no’ to the screams for an inquiry.  As it is so often the case, the hard thing to do is the right thing to do.   

Comments (21)

by Brent Jackson on April 05, 2017
Brent Jackson

I do have one reservation;

So the claim that our soldiers left the scene when there may have been injured and dying civilans does not concern you ?

I would like to see real evidence

What would you regard as "real" evidence.  There is plenty of evidence detailed in the book.  Have you actually read it ?

by Megan Pledger on April 05, 2017
Megan Pledger

WC said:

But I am sure our soldiers instinctively behave better than soldiers from most nations on earth.

~~~~~~

First off, that's not a lot to live up to. 

Second of all, that's easy to do when the nearest armed conflict is nearly 5000 km away.

Third of all, they weren't ordinary soldiers, they were elite soldiers who had been trained in the deadliest arts of warfare, acting a week after the death of a comrade.

Fourth of all, it really sounds a lot like white man's privillege talking rather than any objective fact.

 

 

by Ian MacKay on April 05, 2017
Ian MacKay

A bit puzzled am I Wyatt. Keating named the attack village in Operation Burnham wrongly. The book had a mapping area wrong but all the rest was claimed to be correct. The two villages were the ones that were attacked

Otherwise what were the areas where the book went wrong? " Keating seemed totally on top of the subject, and was able to be specific and precise about where the book had it wrong."

 

by Ian MacKay on April 05, 2017
Ian MacKay

Actually, if the police were shown evidence of an attack on a child or a dog, would they investigate it?

by Chris Morris on April 05, 2017
Chris Morris

Brent/ Ian

The book is not real evidence. Look at the detail shown on the aerial photos P64-67. They authors' sources (as the authors did not go there themselves)  have circled and labelled things like where the snipers were, which houses were attacked, where the helicopters landed and where people died. Now look at the village on Google Maps  where everyone admits the attack occurs (disregard the name as that is a red herring). Totally different layout.  That means everything the sources detailed is wrong.

If this was a criminal trial, no lawyer would be silly enough to submit it as evidence. The cross-examination would totally destroy their case. Why should an inquiry be any different?

by Charlie on April 05, 2017
Charlie

100% correct Chris

It's an unverifiable story in a book written by someone with a long history of political hit jobs timed to attack political parties not favoured by the author, close to general elections.

A real journalist would have asked for the input of the NZDF before publication but clearly that wouldn't do: Nicky's aim, as always, is to a write 'gotcha' and score a cheap political point.

The geography was wrong

The photo of the ammo was wrong

The local witnesses are currently under the rule of the Taliban and would have been in line for compensation and so are totally unreliable.

My experience of SAS troopies is that they don't sit in pubs and talk about operations. Maybe Nicky was talking to the camp cook?

 

by Ian MacKay on April 05, 2017
Ian MacKay

Charlie. The photo of the ammo was clearly known to be helicopter shells and never SAS cases, but of course Keating says they were never in that village so the shels never existed.

So the errors claimed apart from the map reference were???

by Anne on April 05, 2017
Anne

You should be careful what you say Charlie and Chris Morris. There's more evidence to come.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201839199

Some of it maybe more than you can cope with given your blind obeisance to authority figures but please make an effort.

 

by Chris Morris on April 05, 2017
Chris Morris

Ian

Making it really simple for you. H&S in their book show this photo and detail what happens in a number of houses.

https://www.google.co.nz/maps/@35.1789619,68.1511949,764m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

This information came from their sources. However, they now have been forced to admit the actual attack was here

https://www.google.co.nz/maps/@35.1789619,68.1511949,764m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

That means all the detail on which they base their case is wrong as the villages are totally different layout. They show Fatima dies about 30m SE of a house on the south bank of the stream just downstream from a valley junction.. The actual village where the attack occurred has NO house on the south bank of the stream and no valley junction so Fatima cannot have died there.  So yes, the shells were not collected from the village where fatima was supposed to have died as the SAS was never there.

I could detail all the other information in their maps that is wrong, like the supposed locations of all the injuries and fatalities, but there isn't enough time in the day to convince a true believer

 

by Chris Morris on April 05, 2017
Chris Morris

The second map reference is wrong (Copy and paste by shortcuts is not alway reliable). The village attacked is shown as

https://www.google.co.nz/maps/@35.1630441,68.1565057,764m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

And Anne, the sources would have been the same people who gave the wrong details on the photographic map, so their evidence has already been shown to have no credibility. All Mr Stephenson hasn't evidence, he just says information will come out - he hasn't got anything yet - he is still pursuing "leads". 

by MJ on April 05, 2017
MJ

Dratt. I had money on Wyatt Creech being the next 1990s National cabinet minister with a desire not to go to hell enough to work with the angels and Nicky Hager! Something about fishing regulation or something! 

You've cost me money sir. However, thank you for proving that like Bill English you are the person I thought you were, and not suprising me completely with a show of morality and desire for principled governance and democratic civilian control over our military!

I thought for a moment that writing for Pundit meant a desire to do what was right and not to be simply partisan. Thank goodness for cartoon villains. 

In fact you'd make Sir Joh proud! 

by Anne on April 06, 2017
Anne

@ Chris Morris

I'm sure you know there were two villages attacked, Khak khuday Dad and Naik. Hager and Stephenson have agreed the coordinates given them were 2km out, but It makes not one iota of difference to the susbtance of the story - just a distraction and cover-up technique being used by the Defence Force chiefs and Bill English. In fact the CDF, Keating in his attempt to distract ended up making a more revealing error. He claimed the attack took place in Tirgiran Village which does not exist. The attack actually ocurred in the two villages Hager and Stephenson claimed, which are situated in the 'Tirgiran Valley'. 

Thus it gives me, and most intelligent and open minded people, more confidence in the words of Stephenson and Hager than it does the CDF.

 

by Graeme Edgeler on April 06, 2017
Graeme Edgeler

Why put people through the mill without incontrovertible evidence?

I don't want to be disrespectful to a fellow pundit, but to my mind Bill English has got it right by deciding not to hold an inquiry into allegations that New Zealand soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan. The evidential threshold just hasn't been met.

Incontrovertible evidence is the standard for conviction. It's not the standard to start investigating!

I assume you wouldn't want police to apply this standard when investigating a murder. They find a body with a stab wound to the stomach, and the person has died from blood loss: no incontrovertible evidence it wasn't a suicide or an accident, so they shouldn't even investigate it to see if it was murder?

Why would you apply a lower to standard to starting an investigation into a war crime than you would any other possible crime? How can there be incontrovertible evidence of anything before you start investigating?

by Katharine Moody on April 06, 2017
Katharine Moody

@Graeme, exactly.

by Chuck Bird on April 06, 2017
Chuck Bird

Wyatt, I do not think you should apologize for having a contrary view.  Contrary views will give credibility that Pundit is not some left wing blog that does not like contrary views.

Graeme asks, “Why would you apply a lower to standard to starting an investigation into a war crime than you would any other possible crime?”  I should think that is obvious.  I do not think the police have a right to shoot someone who throws down their weapon and runs away.  War is different.  I am sure our SAS are not gang raping females including young girls.  If they were I would be concerned. 

Analogies are always but I will give you one.  Most of us agree that the police should not ill-treat a prisoner to get information.  However, in war when you are dealing with evil people  the same rules do not apply.  If you knew their side had hostages I say you do what you need to to find out where they are.

 

by Graeme Edgeler on April 06, 2017
Graeme Edgeler

I am sure our SAS are not gang raping females including young girls.  If they were I would be concerned. 

But not concerned enough to investigate, because, if they were, that would be a war crime. Which would mean even if a video of it occurring was released, we wouldn't start an investigation because a video is not "incontrovertible proof" (could just be acting and special effects).

I agree war is different. Many things that would be criminal if done by police in NZ are not criminal if done by SAS soldiers on missions. I am not advocating investigating those things which we allow them to do, and which the law of war and international humanitarian law allow them to do. That would be stupid.

I am saying that when considering whether to investigate the things we *have* forbidden SAS soldiers from doing, we shouldn't expect to have incontrovertible evidence to be available before starting an investigation. This is a moronic standard to apply.

Most of us agree that the police should not ill-treat a prisoner to get information.  However, in war when you are dealing with evil people  the same rules do not apply.  

Humane treatment of detainees is an absolute. Feel free to try to change this law, but please do not tell me it is not the law.

by Chuck Bird on April 07, 2017
Chuck Bird

Graeme, I would not try to tell you or Andrew what the law is.  What I am arguing is how the law should be applied.   Discretion is often used by police or judges in whether to charge of convict.  If a group of terrorists got hold of nerve I think NZ and its allies should turn a blind eye on interrogation methods.  You may have a different view and you are entitled to as I hope I am as well on this forum.

We have a law against abortion in this country except in certain circumstances.  One of those circumstances is the mental health of the mother.  The vast majority of abortions are performed on these grounds.  Everyone knows that the vast majority are not mentally ill or will become mentally ill if they do not have an abortion.  Therefore many people are likely to have committed a serious criminal offence.  Some people think they should be prosecuted.  Do you? 

My point is that there are cases when common sense and discretion should be used.  In this case our Prime Minister is using his discretion taking all things into account including the time since the incident and international alliances.

by Richard on April 07, 2017
Richard

Chuck,

Are you seriously suggesting that it is not a good idea to investigate a possible war crime because it happened some time ago (i.e. because NZDF didn't investigate properly at the time) and because it would harm our international alliances if we investigated war crimes? If our allies are harmed by war crime investigations, we seriously need to think about whether we are on the right side.

Also, you seem to be conflating "investigation" with "prosecution". Prosecution depends on the result of the investigation. And an inquiry wouldn't directly lead to a prosecution anyway; at best it would led to a recommendation to prosecute or not.

by Jude on April 09, 2017
Jude

Have to agree with Graeme and Richard. An inquiry is not a prosecution. From the arguments and rhetoric put across to date, the overwhelming impression I get as to why there shouldn't be an inquiry is that if we had one, it might turn up something unsavoury for NZDF.

by Jude on April 09, 2017
Jude

Have to agree with Graeme and Richard. An inquiry is not a prosecution. From the arguments and rhetoric put across to date, the overwhelming impression I get as to why there shouldn't be an inquiry is that if we had one, it might turn up something unsavoury for NZDF.

by Chuck Bird on April 09, 2017
Chuck Bird

Jude, while it what you say may be true and the NZDF or the US military I wonder why the concern for children is so selective.  A three year old girl may have been killed by US helicopter gunship six years ago.  Will proving this save anymore children in Syria?

A few days ago I was moved by the horrific scenes on TV of children dying a horrible death inflicted on them by the Assad government backed by the Russians.  Donald Trump was likewise moved and acted decisively and quickly with action that sends a strong message to Syria about the use of banned chemical weapons.  Hopefully, this will not only send a message to Assad but to the fat psychopath in North Korea and China.

I am very pleased to see our Prime Minister has given qualified support for this necessary action.  I wonder if Wayne Mapp also disagrees with the PM on this issue as well. 

Maybe Wyatt Creech could add some balance on Pundit by giving his view on President Trump’s decisive action compared to President Obama’s red line.

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