Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A British-style whitewash

Last year, the government announced that they would hold an inquiry into Operation Burnham, the SAS operation in which six Afghan civilians were killed, including a child. But now, it looks as if the "inquiry" is instead becoming a British-style whitewash:

"The ultimate objective is to get to the truth."

Sir Terence Arnold made this commitment as he opened the only hearing of his Operation Burnham inquiry so far held in public.

After hearing arguments on whether proceedings should be held in secret, Arnold and his co-chair Sir Geoffrey Palmer retreated behind closed doors. And that is where they have stayed.

The inquiry was due to finish in April. Instead, key witnesses have walked away, and some of its core participants are disillusioned, with one understood to be on the verge of taking legal action.

The core problem is secrecy, who gets it and who doesn't. Everything NZDF says will be secret, its witnesses protected from scrutiny and challenge. Meanwhile, the whistleblowers who provided information to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, the journalists who exposed this crime, will be expected to give evidence in public and so be exposed to official and unofficial retaliation. And so unsurprisingly, they've decided that the cost of participation is too high. The result will be a one-sided inquiry which makes no effort to get at the truth - basicly an official whitewash for the NZDF. But the result is that whatever the inquiry concludes will simply not be seen as credible, and the taint will linger.

The lesson is clear: the New Zealand political system is incapable of providing justice by official inquiries, at least where the defence and security establishment is concerned. People who want it will have to use leaks and direct court cases instead.