I know what you’re all thinking. Lord, spare us any more comment on the SAS-Afghanistan controversy. But please bear with me here.
Yes, I think there should be an inquiry. But I have to hold my nose as I write that, because I don’t trust Nicky Hager.
There are a number of reasons for this.
He insists on calling himself a journalist, but all the journalists I’ve worked with made it their business, before bursting into print with damaging allegations against anyone, to seek a response from the person or persons accused.
This is called balance, and although it has become unfashionable in certain quarters it remains a fundamental principle of fair journalism.
Hager doesn’t bother with balance. He and co-author Jon Stephenson didn’t approach the Defence Force for its side of the story before publishing Hit and Run.
This is consistent with Hager’s previous modus operandi. I don’t think he gave Cameron Slater a chance to respond to the claims made in Dirty Politics either, or Don Brash when he published The Hollow Men.
He likes to get in first with a king hit. It’s much harder for someone to fight back when they’re sprawled on the canvas with the wind temporarily knocked out of them.
Hager would probably argue that the reason he doesn’t approach the subjects of his books is that it would give them an opportunity to obstruct publication, possibly with legal action.
But newspapers take that risk every time they run a potentially damaging story about someone. It doesn’t stop them seeking comment from the people or organisation they’re about to take a whack at.
My other reason for not trusting Hager is that he has an agenda. I’m suspicious of people with agendas, because they tend to frame their narratives to align with their agenda.
To put it another way, there’s a danger that the agenda, rather than the facts, will dictate the narrative, and that any facts that don’t conform to the agenda will be ignored.
In Hager’s case, the agenda can’t be neatly summarised, but it’s there. It can be broadly categorised as an antipathy toward “the establishment”, capitalism and authority in general.
Hager takes facts and fits them to his world view. Yes there may have been civilian casualties in the raid, and he interprets that as a blood thirsty vengeful SAS committing war crimes. In fact we have learnt that they had a lawyer embedded in the command structure to advise second by second on the legality of any actions. Few defence forces do that, but this was inconvenient to his world view and narrative.
So given that I don’t trust Hager, why do I think there should be an inquiry? Well, partly because I don’t much trust the Defence Force either.
I suspect they resent outside scrutiny. This may explain why they seem so bad at dealing with it. The military is an insular institution, not accustomed to having to explain itself to others.
Besides, the NZDF has previous form. Several years ago, disgracefully, it tried hard to discredit Hager’s co-author Stephenson – a man for whom I have some respect – and ended up paying him a settlement in order to avoid a $500,000 defamation action.
In this latest case the NZDF came suspiciously late to the party with a story that was intended to shoot Hager down in flames, but which succeeded only in muddying the waters and creating more doubt and confusion in the public mind.
The only way to clear this mess up now is with an open and independent inquiry that would clarify matters once and for all. To quote John Milton: “Let truth and falsehood grapple; whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a fair and open encounter?”
I’m relaxed about an inquiry, as it would be good to have independent assurance. We just need to be aware that Hager and Stevenson will never ever accept the results of an independent inquiry that doesn’t support them as they have said it is impossible for them to be wrong. But there are good reasons to have an inquiry anyway.
As for being impossible to be wrong, Whale Oil has a useful list of things they are wrong on, and also reveals their cover photo is a stock image unrelated to the raid.