24 Mar 2017

Afghan raids: Evidence of cover-up, lawyers say

8:25 pm on 24 March 2017

A senior lawyer says there is credible evidence the New Zealand Defence Force covered up civilian deaths at the hands of the country's elite soldiers.

Lawyers Rodney Harrison QC, Deborah Manning and Richard McLeod today called for an independent inquiry into the involvement of the New Zealand SAS in a 2010 raid in the Tirgiran Valley.

A new book, Hit & Run, by investigative journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager accuses the SAS of leading the attack, which they say killed six civilians and left 15 injured.

A three-year-old girl, Fatima, is said to be one of the victims.

The NZDF has said it stands by a statement that allegations of civilian deaths were unfounded.

Prime Minister Bill English, speaking before today's comments by the lawyers, said the statement of allegations was not enough to call an inquiry.

Wayne Mapp was Defence Minister at the time of the operation and said this week he accepted civilians died during the attacks, but said the soldiers acted in the belief they were under attack.


Fatima, who Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager say was killed in the 2010 raid. Photo: Jon Stephenson

Ms Manning, who previously represented Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, said she, Mr Harrison and Mr McLeod would be representing the residents of the two raided villages.

The lawyers wrote to the relevant ministers this morning seeking a Commission of Inquiry, or a Royal Commission, that has full powers to summons witnesses.

Ms Manning said she recently spoke to people from the villages.

"The villagers have been wanting help about what's happened because, of course, this has had a huge impact on them... Many are disabled and heavily traumatised, particularly the parents of little Fatima."

Mr Harrison said New Zealand had a legal obligation to launch an inquiry.

"The inquiry also has to look at the cover-up, to be blunt, by the New Zealand Defence Force, the complete denial that there were any civilian deaths and the assertion that, in fact, insurgents were killed when in fact none were killed."

In 2011, the NZDF said a joint Afghan Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior and International Security Assistance Force assessment team investigated the attacks and concluded there were no civilian deaths. They stand by that statement.

Mr Harrison said that position was no longer credible.

"The villagers were never interviewed or even approached for any of the the so-called 'investigations' that have occured thus far. Their side has not been heard. It can and should now be heard.

"From our perspective, there's both the book and the instructions we have from the villagers and we're relying on those.

"Already, the outright denials of the Defence Force have been disproved over the last couple of days anyway, so it's not as if any credence should be given to those."

Mr Harrison said the NZDF misled the New Zealand public and an inquiry should find out why.

Mr English said he would meet with Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and the Chief of the Defence Force on Sunday to discuss the claims.

RNZ News requested an interview with the Defence Force. They declined.

Precedent for inquiry - lawyer

Otago University Law Professor Andrew Geddis said if the government declined to launch the inquiry, the next step could be to head to the International Criminal Court.

There was precedent.

"There's been cases brought in the United Kingdom under the European Convention of Human Rights for actions that British soldiers took in Iraq where, it was alleged, that the soldiers had been complicit in torture and so on and and the British courts said: 'Yes, those are something we can hear and we can take action'."

Professor Geddis said if mistakes were made, it was important New Zealand learned the lessons.

"We allow the SAS to operate in the shadows to some extent, because we trust them to do the right thing. If it turns out they're not telling us the truth about what they're doing, that raises all sorts of questions."

He said the New Zealand public deserved to know what happened and should have been told seven years ago when the raids happened.

"We can't allow the Defence Forces to go on saying 'there's nothing to see here, nothing went wrong, no one died' when there's the amount of evidence that is now on the table that points in the opposite direction.

"What sort of country are we if we just shrug our shoulders... This was done in our name, we have to care."

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