Nicky Hager and John Stephenson’s book, Hit & Run, presents compelling evidence that our SAS was responsible for killing at least six Afghani civilians, wounding at least another fifteen, and handing over a man to be tortured for information. And then we were systematically lied to about what was being done in our name. 

Think of a three-year-old girl. Maybe she’s your daughter. Maybe she’s your niece. Maybe she’s your friend’s child. But think of her.

Now think of her screaming in terror as her mother carries her from her home while helicopters pour 30mm exploding cannon shells into it. Then think of her screams ending as a piece of shrapnel from one of those shells smashes through her skull and kills her.

For Nicky Hager and John Stephenson’s book, Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour, tells us in horrifying detail that this is what happened in a small Afghanistani farming village called Khak Khuday Dad early on the morning of 22 August, 2010. What sets this story aside from all the other sad, cruel deaths in that country is this small child – Fatima was her name – died because of us. Or, rather, she died because of the plans and actions of soldiers wearing our flag on their shoulders and our Kiwi on their vehicles.

Desperate to locate and punish those men responsible for an ambush that killed Lt Tim O’Donnell – the first New Zealander to die in Afghanistan – our SAS had latched onto a dubious report that three of their suspects were living in two remote villages. On the word of this one paid informant, our SAS planned and led a “joint mission” to “capture or kill” these targets.

Flown in darkness by helicopter to the edge of Khak Khuday Dad, our SAS soldiers prepared to raid the house of one of the men they wanted to get. At which point, for reasons that are still uncertain, the U.S. Apache helicopter gunships that accompanied our SAS on their raid began firing their cannons into the village.

Thus in Khak Khuday Dad and the nearby Naik village died Fatima and five other civilians; farmers and schoolteachers whose only offence was to be in a place where our SAS thought there may be men they desperately wanted revenge upon. Four of these lives were wiped out by exploding shells fired by helicopter pilots dispassionately viewing glowing silhouettes through infra-red cameras. Two were ended by bullets that there is strong evidence were fired by SAS snipers. None of the dead were the men our SAS set out to find. None of the dead were armed. None of the dead appear to have done anything except farm their fields and train to teach. One of the dead was a three-year-old girl, just like the one you imagined at the start of this story.

And as our SAS boarded their helicopters to leave the scene some two hours later, they left lying on the ground with no help or care fifteen other injured civilians. Six women. Seven children. Their bodies violated by exploding munitions fired by our allies on a mission our SAS planned, manned and ran in all its aspects.

When did these villagers next see the SAS soldiers who had led the raid that tore their lives and homes apart? Some ten days later, when they returned not to help fix that which they had destroyed or heal those that they had harmed, but rather to blow up the villagers’ attempts at rebuilding their damaged houses. Only then was our SAS done with its vengeance on the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik.

These moral crimes – and quite possibly legal crimes, too – form the heart of the charge Hager and Stephenson lay on our collective consciences. (There’s much more in their book as well, like how our SAS handed over one of their targeted suspects to Afghani authorities knowing he would be tortured, then gratefully received back the intelligence “gathered” from him.) But what compounds these wrongs is their aftermath. For rather than provoking an anguished mea culpa from the politicians and military bosses who oversaw our SAS mission, a systemic effort to cover it up swung into effect.

First, the immediate press release in Afghanistan about the mission did not mention New Zealand’s involvement at all. Then, when news we were a part of it came out a year later, the NZ Defence Force released a statement saying that nine “insurgents” had been killed, whilst any claims of civilian deaths had been investigated and disproven. 

However, Hager and Stephenson present strong evidence that very soon after the raid ended the Defence Force had concrete evidence that not only had the raid failed in its objective, but that it had resulted in civilian casualties. Yet their apparent lie was allowed to stand uncorrected right up until Maori Television aired Jon Stephenson’s documentary in 2014 interviewing villagers from Khak Khuday Dad, at which point it was amended to a claim that “no NZ soldier was involved in killing civilians.”

And yet tonight the NZDF, along with the acting defence minister, are reiterating their earlier denials and claiming to "stand by the statement it made dated 20 April 2011" that "the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded". Perhaps they believe the villagers at Khak Khuday Dad imagined Fatima and the others who died with her. Because surely they wouldn't be as foolish as to once again claim that John Stephenson is making up his journalistic accounts, given what happened last time they did so?

So even as tales of our SAS members’ sacrifices and bravery repeatedly were reported in the media, along with copious details of their part in fighting against the “bad guys”, the full story of their culpability remained buried. The narrative remained one of a noble and professional band of warriors steadfastly doing right in Afghanistan, even as others may fall short.

Now we have good reason to think that, as with all myths about heroes, this image isn’t the full picture. Hager and Stephenson convincingly suggest that our SAS became driven by a desire for revenge for a fellow Kiwi and as a result Fatima and five other innocents died. Then rather than confront this wrong, our SAS’s involvement was deliberately hidden through a series of lies and obfuscations.  

Why, then, does any of this matter to us some seven years down the track? It matters first because we don’t yet know the answer to the most important questions: who ordered the U.S. Apache helicopters to fire into Khak Khuday Dad and why? Who fired the sniper shots that appear to have killed two unarmed civilians fleeing the burning village? Those matters require an urgent inquiry, for if it was New Zealand soldiers on the ground who did so, then our SAS actually has directly killed non-combatants. And directly killing non-combatants can be a war crime.

Second, the fact we as a people have been systemically lied to over what our soldiers do in our name is intolerable. Back in 2013, when it was revealed that the Defence Force included investigative journalists on a list of “hostile individuals” that threaten “subversion”, I said this:

If me, or people like me, finding out what it is you are doing in places like Afghanistan mean that the Defence Forces can't do its job, then you shouldn't be in those places in the first place. End of story. And if you can't accept that these are the conditions under which you operate, then you shouldn't be running the show. End of story.

I say that again now. If our SAS must dissemble and lie by omission or commission to those for whom they fight, then it should not be fighting. If military leaders and their political masters are complicit in those lies, then we should follow the German example and require their resignations.

For at a time when our defence forces are asking us to give them some $20 billion from the public purse to upgrade their equipment, it is incumbent on them to prove to us that they deserve it. And the first step they must take in doing so is showing that we can trust them to tell us just what it is that they do in our name. 

Comments (15)

by Tim Watkin on March 21, 2017
Tim Watkin

Good god, but you read that fast, man. A superb piece of writing.

by Gilbert on March 22, 2017
Gilbert

Why has our very own Pundit, Wayne Mapp, who can shed substantial light on this subject gone very quiet all of a sudden? Come on Wayne - as your former boss used to be keen to tell us - if you have nothing to hide then you should have nothing to fear.

 

by Ross on March 22, 2017
Ross

Wayne Mapp has apparently admitted that civilians were killed. But that isn't very helpful as the blame for those deaths will simply be pinned on other countries. And the government has indicated it's unlikely to establish an inquiry.

by Alan Johnstone on March 22, 2017
Alan Johnstone

This isn't tawdry partisan politics like "hollow men" or "dirty politics".

Of course, there'll be an inquiry, these allegations go to the heart of who we are as a nation. There's no way this can be ignored.

I’m surprised the government is still trying to run with “politically motivated”, but I guess that was the playbook before they knew the subject of the book.

 

by Dennis Horne on March 23, 2017
Dennis Horne

For at a time when our defence forces are asking us to give them some $20 billion from the public purse to upgrade their equipment, it is incumbent on them to prove to us that they deserve it. 

Naughty boys, Andrew will take your toys.

Not you! Baby Bush and Phony Blair, you're too big to bust.

Man-made climate change will disrupt tens of millions of people. Many in poor countries will die. Someone will write book. The politicians will ask the scientists if AGW is real.

And the military will demand more materiel. Whatever it is, it won't be enough.

by Rich on March 23, 2017
Rich

One of the reasons why European countries (and the US, nominally, briefly and with a massive layer of hypocrisy) largely gave up colonialism in the mid-20th century was the level of atrocities they had to commit in order to sustain it.

The Wars on Stuff are merely a revival of the paternalist flavour of colonialism (we have a duty to "civilise" the undeveloped masses) and with them, the atrocities.

by Charlie on March 23, 2017
Charlie

"Compelling evidence"

REALLY?

I wouldn't buy the book for fear of putting a dollar in Hagar's pocket but I doubt the book includes:

Forensic proof the civilians were killed by NZ bullets

Proof the finger pulling the trigger was an NZer

Proof that they were deliberately shot (as opposed to just being in the way of a fire fight or used as human shields by the enemy)

Proof these civilians were in fact civilians (not a simple exercise in an insurgency)

 

In my view it's just another hager spoof - all froth and no beer. As it turns out it is already yesterday's news, thanks to the Westminster terrorist attacks.

by Dennis Horne on March 24, 2017
Dennis Horne

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11824213
Exclusive interview: NZSAS says civilians were killed in fatal raid, including two by Kiwi sniper fire.   David Fisher. Fri 24 March.

This reads like a "leaked" report from an officer.  It is perfectly clear civilians were killed in error. So what's new; that's war.

What useful purpose has been served by dragging this up? Finding The Truth? Ha ha ha. 

I don't know who digusts me more: the rabid right-wing selfish lunatics or the left -wing bleeding-heart dreamers.

There is a road to reality. I doubt 10% of the population see the signposts. Especially when they're pointed out...

by Andrew Geddis on March 24, 2017
Andrew Geddis

@Charlie,

Someone who says "I won't read the book but I don't believe it" isn't a very useful or interesting commentator. 

@Dennis,

The "what's new" is that this is precisely the opposite to what we've been told happened for the past seven years. If that was "just war", why not tell us so at the time?

However, seeing as you think every post on this site is useless and about the wrong thing, I'm saving you the time and effort of constantly telling us this by blocking you for a while. Go read and comment on some stuff you think is worthwhile ... it'll do you some good.

by Petone on March 27, 2017
Petone

Very good articles thanks Tim, Andrew & Nicola.

Have heard some of the NZDF press conference on this arvo.  Wow, they're really doubling down.  I don't know the details well enough to be sure but seems to me that the new story, that the Burnham raid was actually on a different village from where the deaths documented by Hit and Run occurred, contains differences from what Wayne Mapp talked about and from what NZDF have said in the past.  

You certainly wouldn't call the NZDF verson of events a "fiasco", and superficially they sound convincing.  But given that we know NZDF spent most of a million dollars.. our dollars.. lying about Jon Stephenson, and that Hager's research has always proven to be impeccable, I think my bet is that heads will end up rolling.

 

 

by Ross on March 27, 2017
Ross

I guess the NZDF are hoping this story will go away, and Bill English and his government are certainly wanting it to go away.

Jon Stephenson says Tim Keating needs "to put up or shut up". Duncan Garner in the same interview claims that the NZDF has msled him on several occasions. You get the feeling he doesn't believe the NZDF's position.

http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/03/hit-run-author-to-nzdf...

by Ross on March 27, 2017
Ross

*misled

by Roger Brooking on March 29, 2017
Roger Brooking

There should be an inquiry. But what intriques me about this story is how the media go into a frenzy whenever Hagar comes out with new research - even though this story is about a war in Afganistan - and civilian deaths are to be expected in a war.

Meanwhile back at the farm, prisoners are being tortured in New Zealand. I wrote about this in Pundit back in 2013. These cruel and inhumane activities have been covered up for years by the Corrections Department and Dame Beverley Wakem. Finally our new Ombudsman Peter Boshier has the balls to call it what it is - torture.

Now torture is not what you'd expect in a 'civilised' country like New Zealand. And its not occurring as the result of a war - which makes it even less acceptable. Where is the media frenzy calling for an inquiry into that?

by Andrew Geddis on April 01, 2017
Andrew Geddis

Finally our new Ombudsman Peter Boshier has the balls to call it what it is - torture.

No. He doesn't. From his report:

I consider that the use of the tie-down bed and/or waist restraints in the circumstances of Prisoners A,B, C, D and E amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture. 

Article 16 then states:

Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article I, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

So Peter Boshier has found that NZ has treated prisoners in bad ways that breach our international obligations ... but he has not said prisoners are being tortured. In fact, he has implicitly said that the treatment prisoners have received is not torture.

by Roger Brooking on April 07, 2017
Roger Brooking

Andrew , you're splitting legal hairs. If Peter Boshier says the Corrrections Department has breached the International Convention on Torture (that New Zealand has signed up to) - then Corrections staff are commiting torture. The fact that the cruel and inhumane treatment is not administered for the purpose of extracting information (as torture is defined in Article 1) does not mean that the pain and suffering doesn't feel like torture. It  just isn't called torture. Its called cruel and unusual treatment instead - but there's no difference for the prisoner on the receiving end. The pain and suffering is the same.

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