Not Worth The Effort: Decoding Bill English’s Response to “Operation Burnham”


THE PRIME MINISTER can still save himself from dishonour. There is still time for Bill English to set in motion an independent commission of inquiry into the events described in Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run. Over the past fortnight a powerful consensus has formed in support of such an inquiry. Senior parliamentarians, including the leaders of Labour, the Greens and United Future, have added their voices to those of the former National Party Defence Minister, Dr Wayne Mapp, and most of the nation’s leading newspaper editors and political journalists.

At the heart of that consensus lies a strong conviction that the reputation of the New Zealand Defence Force can only be protected by an independent and thoroughly transparent investigation into “Operation Burnham”. Anything less will, almost certainly, see our country subjected to the full rigour of international legal scrutiny. In the worst possible case, New Zealand could be found to have breached the rules of war. The Prime Minister owes his fellow citizens a better outcome than to be made the objects of international condemnation and censure.

Confronted with the painstakingly assembled evidence of Hager and Stephenson, English had only two options: to accept it, or, to reject it.

By accepting it, the Prime Minister would not be declaring Hager’s and Stephenson’s narrative to be accurate in every respect (mistakes have already been detected and acknowledged). What he would be saying, however, is that the authors have established a prima facie case for commissioning an independent examination of the evidence presented in their book.

The outcomes of any such investigation would, naturally, be unpredictable. The outcomes of a decision not to hold a full and independent inquiry, however, are readily foreseeable. A solid majority of informed New Zealanders will be left with no option but to conclude that English, his government and the NZDF have something to hide.

Deciding against an inquiry would also reveal something particularly shameful in the Prime Minister’s reasoning. English has repeatedly stated that there is insufficient “credible” evidence to justify an investigation. In other words, it is the Prime Minister’s contention that the investigation of Hager and Stephenson cannot/should not be given credence by his government.

What does this mean? The only logical conclusion to be drawn is that the Prime Minister is convinced that Hager and Stephenson have either concocted a false account of Operation Burnham; or, that the eye-witness accounts of the raid supplied by the villagers of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad; the death certificates and medical reports issued by responsible local officials (in which the names and injuries of 21 civilian casualties are listed) are not to be relied upon and should, therefore, be accorded no probative weight whatsoever.

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The Prime Minister is further suggesting that the testimony of unnamed SAS troopers involved in “Operation Burnham”, gathered by Hager and Stephenson in order to corroborate the evidence of their Afghan witnesses, is without substance. Essentially, that they made it up. That everyone involved in Hit & Run: the authors, the villagers, the Afghan officials; are liars.

Just think about that for a moment. English had the option of treating the testimony of Afghan citizens (on whose behalf New Zealand undertook its 10 year military commitment) as a truthful rehearsal of the events of the night of 22 August 2010. Instead, he has described their evidence as lacking in credibility. But why would they lie? Presumably, because they were either fully-fledged “insurgents”, or Taliban supporters. (Even three-year-old, Fatima?!) Having killed a Kiwi soldier, these “enemy combatants” were now attempting to besmirch the reputation of his avengers.

Is this what the NZDF told the Prime Minister? Is this the essence of their classified briefings? That, in the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, and along the whole length of the Tirgiran Valley, there were no innocent civilians – only “insurgents”. That, wittingly or unwillingly, Hager and Stephenson have allowed themselves to be caught up in a Taliban propaganda exercise aimed at turning an “exemplary” SAS operation into a war crime.

But, surely, an “exemplary” SAS operation is something the NZDF would be only too willing to open up to the scrutiny of their fellow New Zealanders? What’s more, having been stung more than once by the investigative reporting of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, the NZDF would presumably relish the opportunity to expose the authors of Hit & Run as Taliban dupes – or worse. If the NZDF has nothing to hide then, surely, it has nothing to fear – and much to gain – by recommending to the Prime Minister that he set up an independent inquiry into Operation Burnham?

And Bill English, himself? What are we to draw from his willingness to turn his face from the inhabitants of the Tirgiran Valley who have spoken so movingly of the terror, pain and loss they experienced at the hands of SAS troopers and US helicopter gunships acting in our name? Doesn’t he want to make certain that New Zealand does not have blood on its hands? And if there are SAS personnel out there with grave misgivings about the orders they were obliged to follow on the night of 22 August 2010 – doesn’t he want them to be heard? Or are a handful of weather-beaten Afghan peasants, and their brats, not worth the effort?

If that is the conclusion of our Prime Minister: and if that, ultimately, is his decision; then it is as dishonourable as it is misguided.


  1. To be fair, after years of half arse preordained John Key inquiries to return their scripted nothing to see here outcomes, and always months after the dust has settled, I am quite surprised by English’s inaction.

    All he has achieved is the military now have nagging questions hanging over them, probably foremost come Anzac day when you wonder what really went on and English has now made himself part of it.

  2. Who cares about nameless Afghani peasants?
    That seems to be the message we can take from government inaction on this.

    • We obviously care because we sent troops there Mike the lefty but they are hiding something
      I think that is why muppetparae got that cushy job its a hush hush job in other words keep your lips sealed and we will reward you if you turn a blind eye to our behavior and that is exactly what our crooked tory government have done. Teflon john has gone now to hawai and its time all the lies and deceit came out

      • “We obviously care”

        Depends very much on how you interpret that.

        Do I care about Afghanistan. Yes I do, but Parliament should have been asked to vote on this first.

        From memory they were not. From memory also John Key said it was “the price of being part of the club”.

        What club was this?

        Not the club of human rights organizations; not the club of United Nations members (although many were there, the United Nations did not support the U.S. led war – I.S.A.F. was established after).

        Some sort of elite club of rich politicians hob nobbing as they deem fit with the military industrial complex or other industries.

  3. Ah Jesus. I can’t help myself. My sincere apologies in advance.

    NZ’s economy is agricultural. Yep. Sheep. Cows. Pigs. Deer and sundry other wee beasties and their flesh and fluff. Also, fruits, wines, cheeses, milk etc.

    To get that stuff to the table via the rumen from the dirt you most often need a ‘ farmer’.

    Now, there are two kinds of ‘farmer’.
    One kind of ‘ farmer’ is a person, or ‘CEO-farmer’ trailing a partner and children into the wild, wild paddocks. They all work hard, are talented and multi skilled and love what they do because for all that hard work they get a world class product to be proud of. Post gate others make $-1000 % percent margins on it but that’s another story.

    The other kind of ‘ farmer’ is the Bill English kind.
    The traitor kind. They’ve figured out how to make lots and lots of money from the safety and comfort of brothels, bars, and while flying here and there doing high altitude deals with big money makers and to enable them to be able to live such envious life styles they must first swindle their own colleagues and neighbours into looking the other way while they and their new friends rip off the innocent, naive and gullible.
    And sadly, if one were to look at the farming population of NZ, certainly the population of a couple of decades ago, you’d see the, shall we say, only the less worldly family members ( And sitting ducks ) remain on the farm while their more intellectually enquiring siblings got a city education and went to live in England or similar elegant and civilised country. You’d know what I was talking about if you ever lived in Balclutha. If you have an interest in Zombies? Go to Balclutha, and did you know? Dipton is just a short drive away.

    • The second variety you described.
      Is that what we used to call Queen St farmers before the Rogernomes?

    • The Family who love what they do are still the winers though even if they are exploited. You can only live, and if you love what your doing and can keep on doing it thats better than most of humanity can hope for.
      The tragedy is that the children’s generation will not be able to keep the farm .
      D J S

  4. “Or are a handful of weather-beaten Afghan peasants, and their brats, not worth the effort?”

    Evidently not.

    NZ had no legitimate business sending troops to Afghanistan in the first place. Now – insult to injury – the PM won’t initiate an inquiry into what some of those troops may have done there that was less than honourable. Or not, as the case may be. Nothing to see here, move along, move along…

    Happen we need to elect another government which will open an inquiry. And we the citizens will need to require of that government that it be courageous in this matter, no matter how damning or embarrassing the outcome of such an inquiry might be.

  5. Steve King: “Read the book have you Andrew?”

    I doubt that Andrew has read any of Hager’s books. Were that not the case, he would not be making such a comment.

  6. Quote:

    “The only logical conclusion to be drawn is that the Prime Minister is convinced that Hager and Stephenson have either concocted a false account of Operation Burnham; or, that the eye-witness accounts of the raid supplied by the villagers of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad; the death certificates and medical reports issued by responsible local officials (in which the names and injuries of 21 civilian casualties are listed) are not to be relied upon and should, therefore, be accorded no probative weight whatsoever.”

    Oh, no, we cannot have the truth come out, it may not be permissible according to the ‘Ministry of Truth’.

    Bearing in mind, it is election year, it seems Bill English rather uses the statements by the NZDF to not do anything prior to a general election, as he knows, even if the matter may be brought before an international court, then it will not be heard before September this year.

    SAS soldiers are ‘national heroes’, especially for many on the right, who vote Nats, and even the thought of scrutinising their conduct is like a tapu.

    And while it may be the US forces, also involved, who have more to answer, under the present warm up exercise, in regards to US NZ relations, English does not want that newly won “friendship in arms” to be upset by any criticism or negative news about what really happened.

    This is English going into stone walling type of damage control, there is NO doubt about it.

  7. The government and Bill English will get away with this kind of actions, as long as we have crap media like this:

    This morning, that man who reports the ‘sports’ news on that team, he simply called Nicky Hager a “shit-stirrer”, and he utters such biased insults and crap many times.

    That is the standard of one of our ‘breakfast tv’ programs on MSM television here in NZ, and with too few people out there actually caring about matters of principle, about ethics and the truth, we get endless bias, BS, fake news and ‘alternative facts’ galore.

    This assists the government to treat Hager the way they do, and they continue with the same marginalisation and discrediting agenda, as they did when ‘Dirty Politics’ came out.

  8. Also worth remembering:
    ‘Defence Force settle defamation action with journalist’,
    NZ Herald, 01 Oct. 2015:

    ‘Failed Defence case cost taxpayers $1m’

    ODT, 29 Feb. 2015:

    I sense a revenge by the NZDF towards Jon Stephenson, that is what this action and position by the government and its NZDF may also represent.

    • But it’s not just NZDF doing repressing Hager on this matter. Include police, GCSB, SIS and the deep state which make up this holly trinity of evil. One guy with this much attention should be a dangerous individual with a reputaion to match. The idiocy is so transparent you have to be some kind of genius not to see it.

      The deep state is evil.

        • And from without. English and NZDF are lackies for transnational interests. Through them we help to make global terror.

          I do not suppose for a second that the double dipper would happily sit at the kitchen table through being bomber and having family torn apart.

          He supports it happening to others.

  9. Maybe Dame Paula Rebstock is too busy for the next wee while – and Bill would have wanted only her.

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