Reputations of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson executed by NZDF firing squad this afternoon

OPINION

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:

#NickyHager blindsided by #HitAndRun reality check – wrong villages: “In response, Hager told NZME the NZDF was “trying to muddy the waters” over two locations in the middle of the mountains.

“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

https://www.facebook.com/nzherald.co.nz/videos/10154311788561302/

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9 Comments

  1. Completely concur with this assessment of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. Journalists need to make sure they have solid evidence before they try and accuse the NZDF of war crimes. These soldiers risk their lives to protect NZ and its interests, they act with the utmost professionalism and scum like Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson drag their name through the mud based on hearsay and flimsy evidence. It is ironic that they accuse the NZDF of planning their operation based on flimsy intelligence when one week after launching their book it seems pretty well all of their claims are unfounded. Most likely a raid actually never took place in Nicky’s villages and most of the testimonies are lies. Anyone who has spent much time in Afghanistan would know how frequently locals will lie through their teeth about damages from western forces as there’s a chance they will get compensation. It’s just a pity that Nicky seems to have based a whole book on it.
    Some of his claims are laughable: “they lit the mattresses on fire by shooting bullets into them”. Hahaha are these explosive rounds or something Nicky? Go buy some rounds, shoot them into a mattress and see if you can get it to catch on fire. Base your books on reality, not action movies you stupid hippy.

  2. Mandy…if Nicky and Jon can get past what Heather due Plessis Allan called “very sloppy journalism” and convincingly prove Keating has misled NZ…I will be the first to abandon my current position and call for an inquiry… But the admission N and J got the names of the villages wrong doesn’t fill me with confidence.

  3. As someone who prides himself on uncovering corruption etc., you seem to have an unhealthy glee in slamming Nicky and Jon. Read their response to NZDF claims on the Spinoff website and listen to Paul Buchanon’s interview on RNZ this morning (30.3.17). The NZDF have been caught out obfuscating and obstructing before. Rather than trying to score a point, wouldn’t it be better to ask for an inquiry? Then the truth will out, and if N/J are proved wrong, then you can gloat.

  4. Do you actually think that someone else would be conducting a mission 2 kms away from a mission that the NZDF were conducting without the NZDF being aware of it happening?

  5. Iwishart: Do you think the head of the NZDF would be that stupid, you rhetorically ask. Indeed, that’s exactly what I’m claiming. Not just stupid, but totally cynical. And if he’s proven to be lying, I trust it will be career ending. Because if Hager and Stephenson have got their basic facts wrong, it will be career ending for them, as so helpfully pointed out in this article. The NZDF have form in “lying through their teeth” In regard to this recent claim about the killing of civilians, since 2011 the NZDF categorically stated, many times, in many public forums, that no civilians were killed. They were lying, as they now admit “at least one civilian was killed”. OK, one isn’t six, but it’s getting there. They initially didn’t even admit to being part of this raid when it was first reported. In addition Wayne Mapp admitted after the operation that it was a “complete fiasco”, he hasn’t elaborated on what exactly he meant by this, but does confirm this is what he did say. In contrast Gen Keeting’s claims that the NZDF have never operated in Afghanistan except with extreme professionalism. So is Wayne Mapp lying too? In the NZ Herald an SAS soldier confirmed in a separate interview with David Fisher ” “civilians were killed in a 2010 raid carried out by the unit and says the truth is widely known among the elite military group. The soldier told the Herald the two people found shot dead were killed by NZSAS marksmen”. Please refer to the NZ Herald ( e.g. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11824932 )for more complete information. The whole NZDF engagement in Afghanistan was based on a lie, as they weren’t there just for “reconstruction” but were active participants in the US so-called War on Terror. I don’t know if you’ve read the book “Hit and Run” but perhaps you should do so as it gives a lot of revealing information on the nature of the secrecy surrounding the NZDF presence in Afghanistan, and the confusion about what exactly their mission was supposed to be. In addition as I mentioned, the NZDF spent several years repeatedly slandering Jon Stephenson with an out and out lie, spending around $1 million of your and my money, defending the indefensible, lying through their teeth, and spending perhaps up to another $1/2 million in undisclosed damages to Jon Stephenson when the truth literally could not be hidden any longer. The fact is the NZDF is pulling a well-practiced political trick, just deny the problem, it doesn’t have to matter how ridiculous the denial is, eventually the media and the public will get fed up with the subject and move on to something else. I think a re-reading of the events of 1968 at Mi Lai in Vietnam might serve to remind those who doubt Hager and Stephenson on the nature of criminality in war and the eventual exposure of truth despite the best endeavours of those in authority to cover-up such events over many years.
    Now, I wasn’t there, and I cannot be entirely sure that everything that Hager and Stephenson wrote was entirely accurate. Perhaps they were deceived, unlikely, but possible. But that’s what an enquiry would tell us, wouldn’t it. So what are is the NZDF so afraid of. They’ve had ample opportunity to tell a robust, logical and consistent story, about six year’s opportunity, and they’ve totally failed to do this over all this time..

  6. You miss the point. If someone robbed the BNZ Ponsonby and it wasn’t you, it is a separate crime. Hager and Co appear to have tried to pin someone else’s crime on the wrong suspect. Either get them for something they HAVE done, or shut up.

  7. John, think about your argument for a second. The head of NZDF fronts a news conference, knowing that military ‘sources’ have already leaked stuff to the authors, and lies “through his teeth”. That’s a career-ending lie if that happened, and so easy to catch him on that it isn’t funny. Do you really think the head of NZDF would be THAT stupid? If they say they know the exact village they attacked and have video that presumably political leaders could be cleared to view, does it not occur to you that they might actually be telling the truth? Hager and Stephenson appear to have relied on grapevine talk to link op Burnham to the casualties they talk about. But if those casualties definitely died in villages on the other side of two mountain ranges, then they can’t have been killed by NZSAS.

    Is it possible the villagers may have lied to Hager etc about their Taliban sympathies?

  8. Your claim that Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s reputation is in tatters is only reasonable if you believe that the NZDF, through Gen. Tim Keeting, isn’t lying through it’s teeth. For instance, he said nine identified insurgents were killed, but HE CAN’T NAME THEM”!! In which case, they’ve obviously not been identified. In addition, the NZDF has been caught out lying not that long ago about their role in Afghanistan, and trying to persuade others to lie on its behalf, for which matter Jon Stephenson gained substantial damages for repeated defamation. Until the NZDF produce the evidence they claim they have, and despite your obvious prejudice against these two journalists, you’d be much wiser to hold your opinion, and consider the extensive history of military bungles, needless suffering and cover-ups here and overseas. War and lies are inseparable sides of the same destructive coin.

  9. Your BNZ Ponsonby/ANZ Queen Street analogy is ridiculous. Regardless of whether lawyers tried to get the case thrown out you’d still be guilty of robbing a bank.

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