No Minister

NZDF liars come off second-best in a dispute with Jon Stephenson for the second time, how about we stop paying for their lawyers?

The inquiry into Operation Burnham prompted by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit and Run has issued its report, Inquiry into Operation Burnham.  The report finds (unsurprisingly, given NZDF’s previous interactions with Jon Stephenson) that the NZDF misled Ministers of Defence about what happened.

That hasn’t prevented some of my fellow authors here from posting as though the report vindicated the NZDF.  It doesn’t.  It wouldn’t have been surprising if it had vindicated the military, mind you – as Nicky Hager points out:

“…the Inquiry process was highly unequal. NZDF and other government agencies spent millions of dollars of public money trying to deny any wrongdoing, while the authors and public were not allowed to analyse and contest the agencies’ secret submissions and evidence. Military officers were repeatedly given the benefit of the doubt; but not so the villagers.”

That comes from Hager’s response to the report. Here’s some more from it:

“The report confirms most key allegations in the book. It….

Confirms civilians were killed and injured (and did not reach a decision for most other deaths whether or not they were civilians)

Confirms a child was killed (Mr Hager and the Inquiry differ over whether there is “sufficient evidence” to be sure she was called Fatima) (5/93)

Confirms that reports of civilian casualties were denied and hidden by named SAS officers

Confirms NZDF did not give aid to the wounded (Mr Hager and Inquiry differ on whether it was legally obliged to do so (6/144)

Confirms the NZDF mission failed in its objective; the troops did not capture or kill either of the insurgent leaders they were seeking

Confirms NZDF failed to investigate civilian casualties (9/149)

Confirms no weapons were fired at the NZ-led forces at any stage of the operation (5/38)

Confirms that, contrary to NZDF claims, the raid occurred in the two villages named in the book, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad (3/4)

Confirms that both target houses were burned during the raid, and one of them was further damaged at a later date (however Mr Hager and the Inquiry disagree over whether this was deliberate)

Confirms the NZSAS breached the Geneva Conventions by handing over a prisoner to torture (11/144)

Confirms an NZSAS trooper assaulted a prisoner while bound and blindfolded, again breaching the Geneva Conventions (10/28)

Confirms Ministers were misled by NZDF (eg ch 1, clause 7.5.2)

Finds the NZDF response to reports of civilian casualties was “deeply troubling”, reflecting conduct and events over a number of years (9/1)

Finds a “surprising level of ineptitude and disorganisation within NZDF Headquarters” (9/165)

“This is an extremely serious list of findings.”

It sure is.  It’s also a sign of the low expectations we’ve come to have of our military leadership that a report that describes improper conduct by named officers can be treated by NZDF as being pretty much an endorsement of its conduct, without serious objection by journalists.


Written by Psycho Milt

August 4, 2020 at 8:38 pm

Posted in New Zealand

22 Responses

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  1. Milt it would appear conclusively that your 2 boys have no clothes.

    The means doesnt justify the ends. It is clear they thought they had a story but used lies, deceit, fakery and allsorts of deception to try and prove their point.

    They have no credibility so their accusations have no credibility. If you want to point the finger, be judge and juror you have to be squeaky clean yourselves, and they aren’t.

    I am appalled at their actions, and appalled at the cost they have incurred on the tax payers behalf having to sort out their facts from their fiction.

    Can you please apply the same standard to your Prime Minister, she lies to the public, she is paid by the taxpayer… as you are trying to apply to the NZDF.

    I am no fan of Geoff Palmer but he has undone many of his wrong doings with this report, and both authors should be congratulated for their honesty and balance, something that cant be said for the authors they investigated.


    August 4, 2020 at 10:09 pm

    • It’s so cute that you just assert all this stuff as though your opinions were actually worth something. Well, it would be cute if you were still a child – in a grown man it’s just sad.

      Psycho Milt

      August 5, 2020 at 7:08 am

  2. Resorting to an insult seems to be the norm for some these days. Re the issue itself: all these things are either relatively minor or so long ago that other, important, matters have taken up the space. The Hager/Stephenson book is full of errors and untruths, as Arnold Palmer demonstrates. Given this clear dishonesty, is it any wonder that the rest of the world just moves on to something important? Hager has always skated on thin ice – he’s more of a partisan than an investigator – and this report shows clearly that he is a liar. His credibility is in tatters. Others who have also lost some credibility are really non entities – long retired soldiers who have moved on to other things. For most of the community it is very minor stuff indeed. Apart from Hager and Stephenson who have destroyed their own reputations totally.

    Max Ritchie

    August 5, 2020 at 7:26 am

    • Resorting to an insult seems to be the norm for some these days.

      What insult are you referring to?

      The Hager/Stephenson book is full of errors and untruths, as Arnold Palmer demonstrates.

      That they got a few things wrong is inevitable, given the difficulty for western journalists in investigating events in provincial Afghanistan and the hostility of the NZDF to their investigation. The central premises of the book have been shown to be correct: civilians were killed in the raid, a prisoner was handed over to be tortured, and the NZDF tried to conceal those things from civilian oversight.

      …this report shows clearly that he is a liar.

      I hope the ‘insult’ referred to above wasn’t the word ‘liar!’ How has the report demonstrated that Hager is a liar?

      Re the issue itself: all these things are either relatively minor or so long ago that other, important, matters have taken up the space.

      The fact that ex-military personnel regard killing civilians, handing over prisoners for torture and misleading civilian authorities as “minor matters” is exactly why it’s important that we have people like Hager and Stephenson around to blow the whistle on those activities. And the events are “long ago” exactly because, as Hager and Stephenson alleged, the NZDF failed to investigate what happened and successfully concealed the facts of the matter from successive ministers.Those aren’t good things!

      Psycho Milt

      August 5, 2020 at 8:38 am

  3. Hager’s lies: for example, the photos.

    Your insult: “your opinion was actually worth something”.

    Just two examples.

    Max Ritchie

    August 5, 2020 at 9:02 am

    • That’s not an insult. Nobody’s opinion is worth anything on its own. What matters is the arguments you can make to support your opinion – Rossco never has those, hence the reminder that opinions are worth nothing in themselves.

      Speaking of arguments: “the photos” doesn’t tell me how Hager is a liar.

      Psycho Milt

      August 5, 2020 at 9:31 am

  4. And re your last: civilian deaths happen in war. Unfortunate, tragic sometimes. If they are deliberate then it’s a war crime. This was neither. The minister should not have been mislead (I used to do lots of ministerials – they are usually dealt with expeditiously and meticulously) but in the greater shape of things this incident is, now, not a big deal.

    Max Ritchie

    August 5, 2020 at 9:09 am

    • civilian deaths happen in war.

      They do. But refusing to investigate them and misleading ministers of defence about them is improper behaviour, as the report notes. As I said, the fact that military personnel regard it as “not a big deal” is exactly why we need people like Hager and Stephenson.

      Psycho Milt

      August 5, 2020 at 9:33 am

  5. Milt … Hagar would say all that wouldn’t he … has about as much credibility as Trump. And for the record my original post did not say the report vindicated the NZDF. Rather it exposed many of the assertions in Hagar’s shock horror narrative as simply wrong; rightly condemned the treatment of a captured insurgent and slammed Parsons, Kelly and Blackwell for their part in covering up the possibility of civilian causalities and, to a lessor degree, Mapp and Keating for their role also.

    Hagar protestith too much. Shitty things happen in war and this was asymmetric warfare at its best/worst.

    The Arnold/Palmer report was a balanced document. Hit & Run wasn’t. Still, and unlike GF/David, I’ll give you some credit for playing the ball and not the man. Problem for you is that the ball has a hole in it.

    The Veteran

    August 5, 2020 at 9:28 am

  6. Thanks Milt, for the post-mortem. I realise that many pro-military folk want to believe that the boys did right, civilian casualties are unfortunate but not unexpected in an irregular night fighting environment, and that the investigation into their actions was a beat-up orchestrated by a bunch of lefties and anti-militarists led by Hagar, Stephenson and others. But the truth is different.

    As the old saw goes, “the original sin was bad, but the cover up was worse.” Had the NZDF simply come out after the engagement and said that during the course of an attempt to kill and capture people responsible for attacks on NZDF patrols in Bamiyan that resulted in several NZDF deaths there were civilian casualties resultant from the “fog of war” in a nighttime engagement, then I would bet that the majority of the NZ public would have accepted that war sucks and bad things inadvertently happen. Then, when Stephenson’s first story on Operation Burnham came out it would not have caused such a stir because there would not have been a glaring gap between his account and that of the NZDF (Hagar got involved later and took credit for the book although most of it was researched and written by Stephenson–Hagar never set foot in Afghanistan).

    I will not belabour the point that, although the Royal Commission sugar-coated it, the report is absolutely damning of the SAS and Army leaders of the time (and not the troops on the ground that night), whose testimony in several cases was labeled as “not credible” by the Commissioners. Instead, I urge NM readers to read Chapters 2 and 12 of the Report, which address issues of civilian control of the military and ministerial accountability to Parliament in a Westminster-style democracy. The RC found that the actions of the NZDF leadership (specifically, misleading, stonewalling, whitewashing and misrepresenting what happened to the civilian political leadership and ministers of the day) wilfully undermined both fundamental democratic principles

    Everything else is gloss.

    I do not expect that much will change given the delicacy of the report’s language and the fact that all of those responsible for the worst offences are retired (one, Parsons, only resigned three months ago when the draft report came out and his statements were found to be particularly unbelievable to the point of possible perjury). But it is now on record that the NZDF has a culture of playing loose with the truth and disrespect for the constitutional principles underpinning its role in society. If implemented, perhaps the recommendation to create an independent Inspector General of Defense may help refocus NZDF attention on those principles. We shall see.

    No matter what one may think of Hagar and Stephenson, in the end, minor errors and some hyperbole aside, they were vindicated. That is evident in the Report, which states that the book “Hit and Run” performed a valuable public service by exposing some ugly truths about how the NZDF operates, not so much in the field (although there were some issues identified there as well), but in its interaction with the political class and the larger society which it ostensibly serves.

    That is the bottom line.

    Paul G. Buchanan

    August 5, 2020 at 10:34 am

    • Thanks Paul. I think some people get side-tracked into thinking this is about whether the raid was justified and whether or not civilian casualties mean a crime was committed, when the issue is actually the NZDF’s attempts to cover up the civilian casualties and their misleading of civilian authorities. Those are big issues.

      Psycho Milt

      August 5, 2020 at 2:09 pm

  7. I’ll repeat it again, with more emphasis: it is deeply troubling that the military, given their unique role and responsibility, should mislead the political oversight to which they are accountable. Hager is a distraction from that sobering matter.


    August 5, 2020 at 11:08 am

  8. Paul B … as always I read your contributions with interest … can’t let your comment ‘that the original sin was bad’ go unchallenged. The Report sez there was no original sin. But I agree completely that the cover-up was indefensible. My take on it is that our special forces (SAS) operate as a cabal outside the normal chain of command … a club within a club … there are real dangers in that. By definition special forces are special and do special things but they have to be accountable for their actions. That’s the world we live in.

    I do find it instructive/fascinating that the three villagers pulled out of the Inquiry. Can only assume that once it became clear to them that the assault was conducted in accordance with the ROE they saw the chance of ‘blood money’ evaporate and wanted out.

    The Inquiry was justified and there are lessons to be learned. But Hagar’s no great white knight in shining armour either.

    The Veteran

    August 5, 2020 at 11:36 am Edit

    The Veteran

    August 5, 2020 at 11:59 am

    • Thanks Veteran. I appreciate your input. The idea of the SAS being a club within a club is spot on.

      A couple of points. There apparently were issues with the TAC and the air cover. Not sure what (faulty gunsight, mispainted target–who knows?) but that was left unaddressed, at least in the public vision of the report. Indeed, the operation confirmed to the Laws of War (jus in bello) and the ROE established with the Americans. Having watched the gunsight videos that were provided to the Inquiry, it is clear that for the Americans at least MAMs (military aged males) were legit targets whether they were confirmed to have weapons or not. That conflated the target set between possible innocents, suspected sympathisers and actual combatants, but in the heat of the moment it was not something anyone was going to debate. The guy killed by the sniper was an unlucky schmuck at the wrong places at the wrong time. Perhaps the SAS mission commander (who I believe was a Major at the time) might have tightened the rope when it came to engaging targets in the main village itself but that is a matter of conjecture that also was not addressed in the public version of the Report. Incidentally, are you aware that there was an AC-130 Spectre involved as well as the Apache? Now THAT would be a bummer from the Taliban point of view.

      My understanding is that the villager’s lawyers (Manning, McCloud and Harris of Zaoui fame) quit the Inquiry when the villagers were not made a focal point of the investigation. Among many things I believe that was an error because it puts the cart before the horse given that the investigation was about what happened on the military side and after, not about the pain and suffering of the villagers, much less about compensation claims. The latter has a rightful place AFTER issues of responsibility/culpability had been established, not before or during the search for answers. As it is, the Americans appear to have done the bulk of the killing and wounding, so issues of compensation might as well be directed at them or ISAF as the umbrella authority.

      I am well aware of Mr. Hagar’s anti-military, peacenik and anti-US views. In this instance, however, I paid close attention to what Mr. Stephenson wrote and to his testimony before the inquiry (as much as I know of it). Stephenson is a straight shooter whose main fault is that he does not like torture under any circumstance and does not like NZ soldiers who go rogue or are part of anything even hinting at transgressions of the Laws of War, Geneva Convention or human rights in general. My impression is that he was most concerned about handing over the Taliban prisoner to the ADF, the killing of a child and the subsequent cover up (which involved among many other things his being defamed by senior NZDF officials that led to the Crown paying out a significant payment to him after a libel trial found in his favour) rather than the conduct of the operation otherwise.


      Paul G. Buchanan

      August 5, 2020 at 2:35 pm

  9. Parsons was appointed to his Rural NZ job in January so not too sure where his resignation 3 months ago as a result of the report comes from, Paul Buchanan.

    Psycho: “the photos” are described in the report as untrue. Taken with a camera manufactured after the event, for example. I had assumed that you’d read the report. When you do so, you’ll see that Hager’s credibility is somewhat damaged. I said the deal is not big NOW. The NOW is important. Also important when one is quoting someone to get the quote accurately and in context.

    Max Ritchie

    August 5, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    • I said the deal is not big NOW. The NOW is important.

      And why is it that an investigation has only happened NOW, Max? The report will be of some help in answering that.

      Psycho Milt

      August 5, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    • Max:

      By his own words Parsons has said that resigned his commission and the London Defense Attache position in April, one year before his contract was due to expire. He said that it was to take a job with the Rural Leadership Trust (ah, the ironies are many!) after he was offered the job. See: Parson’s quotes are halfway down the article.

      That raises some interesting questions. Was he appointed in January or offered the job in January? Why did he not wait to resign until his term as Defense Attache had concluded and a successor named? Was he job-hunting while serving as Defense Attache in London (presumably a full-time occupation of some importance)? If so, why would he do that? Is it mere coincidence that he resigned immediately after the draft version of the classified Report was tabled in April? Does resignation after the fact preclude court martial if the offence(s) were committed during the Inquiry rather than before it? April, BTW, is three months ago.

      As for the camera footage. As it turns out there is helmet/body camera footage from the troopers as well as from the air cover. Those remain classified but along with the intelligence reports from the time, demonstrate that no one “manufactured”a camera after the event. It is SOP for the SAS to have helmet and/or body cams because they are very useful in after-action reporting and training, so the notion that they did not know about civilian casualties before they were extracted is a bit rich, as is the original and repeated claim that the SAS leadership and NZDF command had no idea that civilians were hurt in the raid. That is why Parsons is in a spot of bother.

      As I said in my first comment. If the SAS and NZDF had just levelled with the government from the get-go, none of this rigmarole would have happened.

      Paul G. Buchanan

      August 5, 2020 at 3:15 pm

  10. Paul B … again, useful contribution and thank you. Yes, I was aware of the role the C-130 gunship in the operation. Having seen the earlier version (DC3 platform) in action I can understand the brute force of firepower on call. I am saddened at the damage this has done to the profession of arms. Your final para sums it up far better than I did.

    But the sanctimonious gloat by some on the left side of the political divide gets fair up my nose.

    The Veteran

    August 5, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    • Ah yes, good ole Spooky (or Puff, if you prefer). I had the occasion to take a close look at one at Hurlburt Field in the Florida Panhandle while doing some work for the USAF Special Operations Command. They have a great museum there. Even better, I got to walk the flight line and got a tour of the then latest AC-130. Scary beast.

      Let’s hope that NZDF junior and mid-rank officers take heed of what the Inquiry has noted.

      Paul G. Buchanan

      August 5, 2020 at 4:16 pm

  11. I don’t know the answer to any of the Buchanan questions. You were the one who raised the subject, Paul. I saw an article published in January which said Parsons had been appointed as the CEO of Rural NZ. That he accepted this job before the report came out and before he left the army is a matter of fact. He had been Deputy Chief of Army before the London job which indicates to me that the latter was a terminal posting. The inference that he left because of the criticism in the report seems to me to be unwarranted without some evidence and I would have thought that it is defamatory.

    Max Ritchie

    August 6, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    • Max:

      Do yourself a favour and read the RCI Report. It is widely available. If you want to ignore the RCI Report and what he told the media in April in order to make light of his early retirement as nothing out of the usual, so be it.

      Paul G. Buchanan

      August 6, 2020 at 1:25 pm

  12. Paul Buchanan: The fact is that he retired well before the report came out. You implied otherwise, that’s all I’m taking issue with. You use a lot of words to describe a fairly simple matter, that’s your verbose style. I’ve no doubt that this matter has affected lots of people including Parsons (but he did pretty well, notwithstanding) but the public interest at this late stage is zero. If you think that NZ Def has not had a culture of meticulous accuracy in dealing with ministerials for ever (60 years in my personal experience and obviously and demonstrably well before me) then that simply shows your lack of personal knowledge about it. This incident was an outlier and the level of interest is nil apart from a few tragics (like me!).

    Max Ritchie

    August 7, 2020 at 8:01 am

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