Last night, investigative reporters Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson revealed that NZ SAS troops may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan, and that the NZDF covered them up. There is an obvious natural response to such serious and well-supported allegations: announce an independent inquiry. Instead, the government has doubled down on denial:
Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett says there's nothing she's seen that "disturbs" her in a book claiming elite New Zealand troops in Afghanistan may have been guilty of war crimes, including the death of a 3-year-old girl.
"I've seen the statement from Defence and I think they have our best interests at heart and have huge integrity and I'm backing them," Bennett said.
Asked whether anything in the statements and reports she'd read about the book disturbed her, she said, "not at this stage, no".
Bennett said she hadn't read the book and described Hager as a "left-wing conspiracist" who was "very good at putting his views through".
"You're asking me to pick a left-wing conspiracist, someone who's written a book, puts it out at 5pm at night, gives no one a chance to read it and put their views so it's reported the next morning like it is now without us having a chance to go through it and make sure we're able to respond in the right way," she said.
Its the usual stuff we see from governments about Hager's work, and its worth remembering: nothing substantive he has published has ever been proven wrong. Its also worth remembering that Jon Stephenson won a substantial defamation suit from NZDF after they attacked his integrity like this over his previous work on Afghanistan. These are people of unimpeached credibility, and I would believe them over NZDF any day.
Meanwhile, by responding in this way, Bennett has essentially joined the coverup. And when war crimes and the murder of civilians (including a child) are at stake, that is... not a good look. And by tying themselves so closely to the NZDF's cover-up, they're implicitly asking to be judged by voters when it is inevitably proven to be false.