Bill English has said that after reviewing the video footage of the raid, that he sees no reason to have an inquiry into Operation Burnham.
This is a pity, because I thought an inquiry would be useful reassurance. Of course those alleging war crimes can and should go to the New Zealand Police whose job it is to investigate any crimes, including war crimes.
Does this mean we will never know what happened? Well based on both the book summaries and the NZDF responses, here’s what I think did happen.
I think it is very very likely that Hager and Stephenson are correct in that there was at least one civilian casualty on the raid – the three year old girl. There is no way she was an insurgent, and no reason to think her death wasn’t due to the raid.
This is highly regrettable, and NZDF earlier descriptions of civilian deaths as unfounded was almost misleading. They should have said “unknown but possible” as they were aware of the building hit by mistake.
H and S say no insurgents were killed while NZDF says they have video of those killed being armed.
It seems that the main insurgents they were after were not killed in the raid. They had left the village. But that doesn’t mean those killed were not also insurgents, just different ones. If you come out firing with a gun, you’re treated as an insurgent.
The families may claim those adults killed were not insurgents, but there are many reasons they would say that, including compensation. I suspect H and S have taken everything claimed by the families at face value as it fits their world view.
Did the SAS commit war crimes? Well not even the book claims they do, just they may have. Civilian casualties does not equate to war crimes – otherwise Churchill and FDR are war criminals.
NZDF say only two shots were fired by SAS snipers and the person killed was an insurgent.
More telling is the fact that there was a lawyer involved in the operations of the raid, personally saying who is and is not a legitimate target. This is a level of caution and respect for the laws or war which is hard to beat. It is not compatible with the H and S version of a blood thirsty revenge raid.
While I don’t think there anything untoward happened except a gear accident on a US helicopter that probably killed a civilian child (and maybe some adults), it isn’t great to have everything based on NZDF internal investigations.
The US military have Inspector-Generals, the NZ Police have the iPCA, the SIS and GCSB have the IGIS. It would not be a bad idea to consider an independent watchdog for NZDF.