Politics

Bill English says no inquiry into Hit & Run claims – his reasons, and Hager’s response

The prime minister has said there will not be an independent inquiry into the allegations around Operation Burnham, which according to the Hager-Stephenson account killed six civilians. These are his key justifications, and the author’s reaction

There was only one subject covered in Bill English’s post-cabinet press conference this afternoon: the allegations contained in the book Hit and Run, by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

The PM, who had previously been careful not rule out an inquiry, did so today. He said that following a “detailed briefing” from the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, and having reviewed official reports, among them the executive summary of the original ISAF report, and some classified materials, including video of the controversial 2010 raid, his conclusion was that there was no basis for launching an inquiry.

The key remarks

On the facts: “The facts of what happened have been outlined publicly and in detail by the CDF, so there’s not really any contest over the facts, other than in the book, which has got most of them wrong … I’m satisfied that we can trust the Defence Force process and trust the Chief of Defence Force.”

On why he’s persuaded: “I trust the facts as they are presented on the video, and through the various structures that the Defence Force has independent of the operation.”

On the video: “The video is classified so, no, it won’t be made public … It confirmed particularly the extensive steps that the CDF has outlined that the forces took to ensure that there would be no possibility of civilian casualties or destruction of properties … The video shows the operation in detail …  I have to say I was impressed by the restraint, the care, and the repetitive reassurance that the action was being conducted in such a way that would minimise civilian casualties and even avoid the destruction of property.”

Prime minister Bill English has ruled out an inquiry. Photo: getty

On what the video showed: “There’s a number of different points of view from a number of different aircraft … It’s a video of the operation, there’s no room for doubt about the basic facts of what happened.”

On the extent of the video he viewed: “I’ve seen the relevant parts of the video; I haven’t watched all the video footage associated with the whole operation. I understand there’s quite a lot of that. But I can assure you that if that video has been presented in any way that is misleading that would be a very serious matter.”

On reports of civilian deaths: “There hasn’t been evidence that civilians were killed. The allegations in the book I think you’d have to discount because they appear to be about different places and different people. If there was further evidence then the CDF would be obliged to investigate.”

On allegations of NZ forces beating and transfering a prisoner into potential torture: “As I understand it, inquiries are ongoing around those allegations.”

On reasons not to commission an inquiry by a body similar to the Independent Police Commission: “The Chief of Defence Force is independent; he wasn’t involved in the operation. He has access to video of the actual operation itself along with all the planning that went into it, the review after it by ISAF, and we trust that process … If there was any evidence that the Defence Force was covering up or excluding, that would be extremely serious.”

On future evidence: “Should evidence emerge in the future that NZ troops acted unlawfully, the government would of course take every step to establish the truth.”

On Hit and Run: “The book’s allegations are wide-ranging and fundamentally flawed … It just looks to be in some cases a wildly inaccurate piece of journalism. Nevertheless the allegations were serious and they’ve been taken seriously, and we’ve come to the conclusion that the allegations of war crimes and misconduct don’t have substance to them.”

Nicky Hager’s written response

“In the past two weeks since Hit and Run was published there have been calls for an independent inquiry from New Zealanders from all sides on the political spectrum. It is disappointing and concerning that Bill English has refused.”

“When the book came out Jon Stephenson and I emphasised that Bill English had no responsibility for the deeds done in 2010 and so was in a good position to offer aid to the Afghan villages and launch a proper inquiry. But he has joined the people trying to hide and dodge over what happened.”

“I believe this decision is the result of military pressure on the government: the tail wagging the dog. That is not good for the country.”

“Bill English is an experienced minister who knows the difference between being shown selective information by an interested party, as he has been by the defence force, and having an independent inquiry. This does not appear [to be] a rational decision based on evidence; it is helping the military bureaucracy to avoid having to front up. It is the next step in the seven year cover up.”

“But, most of all, Bill English has just ensured that the issue will continue to boil and fester. It is not going to go away until it is properly addressed.”

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