Well, someone's lying: verdict on Hager-Stephenson book

At the end of this process, someone's credibility is going to be shredded forever.
Nicky Hager.

Well, someone has it very very wrong.

And this time it's a serious matter, not just about who wrote what on which blog or which person leaked what to whom.

At the end of this process, someone's credibility is going to be shredded forever.

The allegations are too serious, and, for those who want to dismiss anything from author and activist Nicky Hager out of hand, carried too much weight to be just tossed aside unexamined.

Hit and Run - Mr Hager’s latest book, co-written this time with Jon Stephenson - sets out prima facie evidence for a possible war crime in Afghanistan involving New Zealand troops.

It isn't quite what it was expected by the large crowd at Wellington's Unity Books last night.

Most of the non-media audience – and there was a lot of them, forming a cross-section of the capital's politically engaged (not to say, slightly obsessive) crowd were convinced Mr Hager's latest triennial literary effort would focus on the news media.

And, also, that it would explicitly target the National Party in an election year.

Certainly, a couple of people made this explicit: prominently waving a Labour Party placard bearing photographs of Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern and the legend "Goodbye National”.

But the allegations are far more serious than partisan tit-for-tat.

Briefly: following a raid by Afghan insurgents which saw a New Zealand soldier killed, there was a decision to make a retaliatory raid on where it was believed those insurgents had holed up.

But there was, the book alleges, a mood of bloodlust amongst the New Zealand troops and insufficient care was taken by them, or by their superiors.

Permission for the raid was referred to both the then defence minister Wayne Mapp and the defence chief of staff Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who referred it up to then prime minister John Key.

Mr Key approved the raid.

"A pack of lies"
The raid went horribly wrong: the insurgents were not in the villages raided, and the book claims the Defence Force knew this within a day or so because it obtained footage filmed on a smart phone which showed the insurgents trying to get back in those villages helping those who had been affected by the raids.

“What we can say with certainty is the SAS knew, by the next day or two, they had got civilians and that they had got none of the people they were looking for,” Mr Hager told a press conference after the book launch.

“They knew that, without a shadow of a doubt, and yet for years afterwards we have had statements which are a pack of lies.”

That clearly throws down a very, very large gauntlet to both the Defence Force and to ministers both past and present.

The book also says Mr Mapp, who has since retired from politics, became increasingly disturbed about the incident and about what he had and had not been told.

It quotes him telling a friend the raid had been "our biggest and most disastrous operation. A fiasco."

Asked whether Mr Mapp had been interviewed for the book, Mr Stephenson said not – or at least, not on the record.

“According to our sources, he became increasingly uncomfortable about the SAS…. His conscience was quite troubled by this. I've spoken to him a number of times over the years, I’ve got very good sources of information from people, let's just say, who are who are very very close to Wayne Mapp.”

The authors are calling for a full independent inquiry into the raid and its aftermath; for a restructuring of the Defence Force on the grounds the SAS is too "secretive and unaccountable;” and for an apology and for New Zealand aid to the villages and families affected by the raid.

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