Friday, July 31, 2020


So, the Hit and Run inquiry has reported back, and found some appalling shit at NZDF and NZSIS. And while they quibble a few of the details - the name of a dead child - they basicly uphold Hager and Stephenson's version of events. The SAS went to those villages. Civilians were killed. A man was beaten by NZ soldiers and then handed over to the Afghans and tortured. And then, to cap it all off, NZDF misled the people of New Zealand and its own Minister about this, in a shoddy effort to protect the reputation of a unit of professional killers.

I have not read the full report yet. But a few things which stand out from the media coverage:

  • The inquiry exonerates the killings as collateral damage in a "legitimate" military operation. An establishment inquiry which didn't even talk to the victims was never going to do anything else. Meanwhile, while they play legal games over the laws of war, the key fact - NZDF killed civilians - is swept under the carpet. But we should neither forget nor accept it.
  • A number of SAS and NZDF officers are named as having misled Ministers and the public, or as effectively looking the other way on past deceit. Which obviously undermines the principle of civilian control of the military, striking at the heart of our democracy. These people need to be held accountable, dishonourably discharged and stripped of their honours, pour encourager les autres. Careers need to end over this, otherwise there is no incentive for NZDF not to do it again in future.
  • The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has found a sucking moral void at the senior levels of the SIS, whose response to credible reports of torture raised with them by their subordinates was to use the "intelligence" and say nothing about how it was acquired. These people also need to be held accountable for their failure to uphold kiwi values. They need to be fired, stripped of their security clearances, and never work in government again. Because someone who looks the other way on torture is unfit to be a human being, let alone a public servant in a position of trust.
  • Wayne Mapp's extraordinary admission that he just "forgot" about civilian casualties is absolutely damning, and shows that he should never have been a Minister. But it also highlights a problem with a culture of secrecy and oral-only briefings which enabled this to occur. NZDF and SIS love the mystique of "too important to commit to paper", but if something is important enough to tell the Minister, it is important enough to write down and give to them so they don't forget about it in future. And if an agency doesn't want to write it down - that is, document it for future investigation, not to mention comply with their legal obligations under the Public Records Act - Ministers should immediately assume manipulation and start asking pointy questions. The problem, of course, is that Ministers often are willing to collude in poor record-keeping (AKA "crime") if it keeps their names off controversial material. Which is why we need robust, independent random audits, and a few prosecutions, again pour encourager les autres. Because if we let agencies and Ministers disappear stuff down the memory hole this way, they get away with e.g. killing children, and we all lose.
  • Pretty obviously, NZDF would find it a lot harder to kill children if we weren't constantly involved in other people's wars. The best way to stop it from happening again is to not fight such wars. And the best way of doing that is to make them incapable of doing so. Take their toys away, and disestablish the SAS, and we'll be a lot safer.

Will any of this happen? Not if NZDF can help it. But to point out the obvious, there's an election coming up. We should demand candidates hold NZDF and SIS accountable for their actions. If they refuse, we should vote for someone who will.