22 Mar 2017

Deputy PM not disturbed by Hager book claims

2:04 pm on 22 March 2017

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennnett says there is nothing that has disturbed her in information she has seen about a book alleging civilians were killed in a New Zealand-led raid in Afghanistan.

Paula Bennett. 2 February 2017.

Paula Bennett Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

A new book, Hit & Run, co-authored by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, claims six civilians were killed and another 15 injured in raids on two villages in 2010, in what the book said was a botched operation led by New Zealand troops.

The authors alleged the soldiers, alongside US and Afghan troops, burned and blew up about a dozen houses and then did not help the wounded.

The book claimed the attacks were retaliation for the death of New Zealand soldier Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell.

The Defence Force said an investigation into claims of civilian casualties at the time concluded the allegations were unfounded, and it stood by those findings.

But Jon Stephenson said he wanted Prime Minister Bill English to launch a full inquiry.

"He's a decent man and I think we would appeal to him as a son, as a father, as someone who understands what it might be like to lose kids, that he will reach out and do the right thing here, because this is a wrong that's [laid] festering for years."

Investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson have released a book, 'Hit & Run', about the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan.

Hit & Run was launched in Wellington last night. Photo: RNZ / Hans Weston

Ms Bennett told Morning Report the SAS was highly regarded and she had faith in the Defence Force.

"They have said they have investigated, they've said that they were not involved in any deaths of civilians, and I would certainly take their word at that."

Asked if there was anything in reports and statements she had seen about the book which disturbed her, she said there was "not at this stage".

She said she had no immediate plans to read the book and described Mr Hager as a left-wing conspiracist.

Mr Hager told Morning Report the Defence Force response had not been not good enough.

Along with a full inquiry, reparations and apologies should be made to the two villages, he said.

Mr Stephenson questioned why the deputy prime minister would not seek further investigations.

"I find it strange, rather than just not read the book, not look at the evidence, that Paula Bennett would just give carte blanche to the Defence Force."

Mr Hager said the book was based on information from unnamed sources - including SAS troops involved in the raid.

"We can safely say that there are grounds to suspect that there have been war crimes, but that obviously is a very serious allegation and it has to be determined by experts - which is why we're calling for an inquiry," Mr Hager said at the book's launch in Wellington last night.

It is unclear how much then-Prime Minister John Key was told after the raid, and if he was misled by the military, Mr Hager said.

Investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson have released a book, 'Hit & Run', about the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan.

Nicky Hager, left, and Jon Stephenson speak to media at the book launch. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson