Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Operation Burnham: The New Zealand Military’s Self-Inflicted Wounds Will Not Heal By Themselves

Operation Burnham: the New Zealand military's self-inflicted wounds will not heal by themselves



www.shutterstock.com


Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato

The old maxim that truth is the first casualty of war has been borne out by the damning Report of the Government Inquiry into Operation Burnham.

It is almost ten years ago to the day that the fateful military operation took place in Afghanistan in 2010, and over three years since the book Hit & Run alleged there were civilian casualties, torture of detainees and a subsequent cover-up.

The result for the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is humiliating and will almost inevitably mean it is stripped of the relative autonomy it has enjoyed to this point.

The military betrayed the public trust

While not all of the assertions in Hit & Run were upheld, its main themes certainly have been. The Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has proved itself untrustworthy in three crucial ways:


  1. it made mistakes and did not fix them


  2. superiors failed to question information, despite contradictory material being presented, and did not attempt to determine the truth


  3. those same people made a series of erroneous and misleading public statements about the possibility of civilian casualties, preferring to repeat a false narrative and incorrect statements.


These were not small oversights. Rather, the evidence suggests systematic failures in key areas, including inaccurate and disingenuous communication with the minister of defence.






Read more:
It's time for Australia's SAS to stop its culture of cover-up and take accountability for possible war crimes





That is a disaster. Despite the NZDF’s recent success in Iraq in sustaining no casualties while part of the bulkhead that defeated ISIS, it has now bombed its own position as the trusted military arm of the state.


Military officer speaking to journalists at a
press conference

The NZDF’s Lieutenant General Tim Keating addresses the media in 2017 to deny allegations made in the book Hit and Run.
GettyImages

The military damaged its own reputation

Deception by any military in a democracy is dangerous. Furthermore, the actions of a few have caused untold damage to a reputation for integrity and honour proudly created over generations.

There is also a strong element of stupidity involved. The NZDF did not need to be deceptive about one of the central claims against it: that its forces were engaged in acts of retaliation, untethered by the laws of war.

That assertion was not upheld. The inquiry found the conduct of the soldiers involved in Operation Burnham was professional, not motivated by a desire for revenge, and pre-operation intelligence (that there were armed insurgents in the villages) was correct.

Although there were serious questions about decisions made during the operation, the bottom line is that all of the actions complied with the applicable rules of engagement. Many will find the result of these actions harsh (as war is), but the actions were not unjustifiable, nor unduly reckless, negligent or indiscriminate.

The torture findings are damning

Where the NZDF may have wanted to hide the truth was over allegations of torture. Although our soldiers may not have tortured prisoners themselves, they did hand some over to forces who did. This was clear in the case of one man, Qari Miraj, and possibly other instances involving hundreds more.


Book cover

The book that caused the inquiry.
Potton & Burton

With each transfer, our authorities appear to have turned a blind eye or failed to meet the standards expected of them when they knew (or should have known) there was a real risk of torture.

Even when the NZDF knew torture had occurred, senior leaders and ministers were not briefed. Nor were any further steps taken to investigate, to state New Zealand’s position on torture, or to review its policy on detention.

This is a terrible finding. Any possible complicity in situations involving torture is abhorrent. If it is correct, apologies and compensation for the victims or their families should be offered.

The NZDF cannot police itself

Three of the inquiry’s four recommendations are the predictable slaps on the wrist we expect from official forums such as this: internal changes to ensure the NZDF comes up to international best practice for administration and record keeping; clear orders established for dealing with allegations of civilian casualties; and improved detention policies and procedures.






Read more:
When great powers fail, New Zealand and other small states must organise to protect their interests





The other recommendation, however, is the most critical. It calls for the establishment by law of an independent inspector-general to oversee the NZDF. Such positions are created, as happened with both the police and the security intelligence agencies, when an organisation has proved unfit to govern itself.

The government has promised to implement the recommendations if it is re-elected, but it should be a priority for whichever party or parties win power. Only then can progress be said to have happened.

And let’s not forget, this would not have happened by itself. It took the brave investigative journalism of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, a government willing to critically examine the charges against its own defence force, and finally an excellent enquiry by Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

We should hope that when these law changes are made the country will regain its confidence and pride in the NZDF. Never again should truth be the first casualty.The Conversation

Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Trump Plays Both Sides Against The Middle

Is he a hawk? Is he a peacenik? The President keeps us guessing . By Reese Erlich President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Waiting For The Old Bailey: Julian Assange And Britain’s Judicial Establishment

On September 7, Julian Assange will be facing another round of gruelling extradition proceedings, in the Old Bailey, part of a process that has become a form of gradual state-sanctioned torture. The US Department of Justice hungers for their man. The More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Sorry Plight Of The International Education Sector

Tourism and international education have been two of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re both key export industries. Yet the government response to them has been strikingly different. There has been nothing beyond a few words of ministerial condolence and a $51.6 million package (details below) to get the sector through the pandemic...
More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Google’s Open Letter: Fighting Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code

Tech giants tend to cast thin veils over threats regarding government regulations. They are also particularly concerned by those more public spirited ones, the sort supposedly made for the broader interest. Google has given us an example of this ... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>