Hooton on Hager and Stephenson

Matthew Hooton’s NBR column is a cracker:

As well as their alleged sources in the SAS and New Zealand military, Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson say they have been able to confirm their story with sources in the Afghani military. They also say they have spoken to and remain in contact with people who live in the two villages, even though they – and the New Zealand human rights lawyers who now claim to represent the Afghani villagers – have not been able to visit the actual settlements as they are now under the control of the Taliban.  This has contributed to disagreement between the Defence Force and the authors even over the names and locations of the villages.

In fact, nobody involved in this battle by media here in New Zealand claims ever to have visited the two villages, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad.   

Hearsay on hearsay, and yet Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson have smeared our best soldiers as child killers and war criminals.

There is considerable bad blood between Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson on one side and the New Zealand Defence Force and the National Party on the other.

It is entirely understandable if Prime Minister Bill English and the chief of the defence force, Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, find it implausible that SAS soldiers who were directly involved with Operation Burnham have in fact spoken with Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson as opposed to, say, disgruntled individuals on the periphery of events. 

I doubt a single SAS member has ever spoken with either of them, and never will. As is usual with Hager’s books he smears based on hearsay. Not a single one of his claims in any book has ever resulted in a single conviction, despite numerous claims of crimes writ large. There have been plenty of inquiries, I was involved in three as a result of his last book and cleared at all of them.

Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson are skilful writers, able to make much of whatever information they do in fact obtain.  Some of those who have been referred to in previous books, including me, can find it difficult to reconcile Mr Hager’s conclusions with their own recollection of the events described.  As Labour leader Andrew Little has pointed out, the truth about Operation Burnham will not be as black and white as the book depicts. This is a far more mature response than his predecessor David Cunliffe’s decision to go all in with Mr Hager following the launch of his last missive in the months before the 2014 election.

That is because David Cunliffe’s chief of staff, Matt McCarten was donkey deep involved with Dirty Politics.

For his part, the prime minister has not ruled out the formal inquiry called for by Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson and the lawyers claiming to be representing the villagers, Rodney Harrison QC, Deborah Manning and Richard McLeod but is clearly aware it would be to some extent futile. Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson say it is impossible they are wrong and that there can be no doubt about the truth of their allegations, yet any formal inquiry will – at the very least – find some errors or exaggerations in their account, prompting them to insist the inquiry itself is part of the very same whitewash and cover-up they allege.

Impossible they are wrong, but significant errors, which normal people call wrong. If they can’t get basic material fact correct, like the location of villages there is a high chance everything else is wrong too.

Mr English should not worry about that. The allegations are so outrageous and have been given so much respectability by left-wing media outlets deeply in the thrall of Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson that the prime minister, the cabinet, Parliament, the armed forces and the public need a formal assurance of where those allegations sit on the truth spectrum.

Nicky Hager threatened journalists after his last book. He said he had withheld information about them and warned them to mend their ways. That is why they are now all singing from the same songsheet. Readers should wonder if those journalists now backing Hager were in fact confidants of me as well, and they don’t want their emails surfacing in another Hager book.

Mr English and the National Party’s well-justified loathing for Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson may deter the government from establishing a process to deliver that assurance. But, in that case, if Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson really maintain that they have spoken with SAS soldiers who claim to have committed war crimes and other atrocities, then they have an obligation to counsel those soldiers that they have an obligation to come forward themselves whatever the consequences to their own careers and liberties. Otherwise New Zealanders are entitled to assume that no such sources exist and that this latest effort is like Mr Hager’s other election-year books: one with an evidential basis but one which is then stretched so far that it does not serve the interests of truth but merely the authors’ extreme left-wing political agenda.

The government should not hold an inquiry because Nicky Hager and that idiot Wayne Mapp demand it. They should treat Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson the way the rest of New Zealand does…with opprobrium.

 

-NBR

 


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