By Ian Wishart
The New Zealand Defence Force appears to have destroyed the journalistic reputations of Hit and Run authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at a news conference today, confirming that the fatalities named in the book “never” had anything to do with an NZSAS operation and occurred at villages the SAS had “never” been sent to.
Three year old Fatima, whose photo is in the book, became the face of alleged “war crimes” after Hager and Stephenson claimed she was one of six civilians to die in a botched SAS raid motivated by revenge for another kiwi soldier’s death, and in which no “insurgents” were killed.
However, NZDF head Lt. Gen. Tim Keating has confirmed NZSAS has never been to the villages in question, and he says the two journalists got their facts wrong, confusing an event at those villages with an NZSAS operation further south.
That operation, codenamed “Burnham”, may have caused civilian casualties said Keating after a misfire on a US Apache helicopter gunship, but those killed are not those named in Hager’s book, nor were they intentionally targeted as Hager and Stephenson alleged, nor did they die at the hands of NZ troops. Whoever killed Fatima and the five others, it wasn’t New Zealand or anything to do with this country in any way, and it didn’t happen on Operation Burnham.
“We only fired two rounds during Operation Burnham,” Keating told reporters. “Let me repeat and make it clear, two single bullets were fired by NZSAS in the whole operation”. American and Afghan forces were also involved, and a total of “nine insurgents” were killed, contrary to Hager’s book.
It is bitterly ironic that in staking their journalistic reputations on an accusation that NZSAS deliberately killed civilians at two villages because they were motivated by bloodlust and hit the wrong target, Hager and Stephenson themselves appear to have done the same – falsely accusing NZSAS because they apparently relied on confused hearsay accounts and gossip. In my view Nicky Hager is running out of feet to keep shooting himself in.
As I wrote last night:
“We’re talking about the middle of the Hindu Kush mountains where there are no roads … on a river valley which took several hours to walk to from the nearest road – they’re saying that it’s slightly further upstream than what we were told.”
Hager said the claims were “astonishing”.
“It doesn’t in any way invalidate a single major conclusion of the book.”
Yeah, except if the police arrest you and accuse you of robbing the BNZ Ponsonby, when in fact you had robbed the ANZ Queen Street, lawyers would push for charge to be thrown out.
In this case, we have pictures of three year old Fatima, killed in a village NZSAS, it turns out, never went to. Whoever Fatima’s killers were, it follows as a point of logic that they could not be NZSAS, unless NZDF is point blank lying, and I don’t think they are that dumb.
Did Hager and Stephenson get confused? Is this a journalistic example of shooting at a target and inadvertently hitting something else? We will have to wait and see…
I have previously covered his shocking research skills in his previous book “Dirty Politics”.
Despite having a difference of opinion over a court case Hager and I were involved in, I am not ‘anti Hager’. There’s a place for advocacy journalism when it’s done right. But accusing New Zealand soldiers of murdering civilians is a pretty high stakes allegation that deserves some pretty high-powered research. To find out the allegations centre on villages the SAS were never sent to is the kind of error no publisher wants to find out after they have already paid for ten thousand books to be printed.
Watch today’s NZDF news conference here