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Secret Operation Burnham evidence obtained via US court case

27 June 2019

NZDF secret Operation Burnham evidence obtained via US court case

A court case using the US Freedom of Information law (FOIA) has led to the NZDF's main secret evidence about Operation Burnham being released. Operation Burnham is the SAS raid that left 21 Afghan civilians killed and wounded in 2010.

Both lawyer for the villagers Deborah Manning and author Nicky Hager requested the information from the US military using FOIA – the equivalent of New Zealand's Official Information Act – and then approached a Washington DC lawyer, Mark Zaid, to take a court case to obtain the information. The case was a success.

NZDF has opposed all previous attempts to obtain US military information on Operation Burnham, claiming it was impossible for it to be released to the public. But the information was provided promptly and without fuss by the US military.

The information is being prepared for publication as quickly as possible. It will be released tomorrow afternoon, when it will be available to all interested New Zealanders and media to download and scrutinise.

“Secret evidence has been a huge obstacle in the current government inquiry into Operation Burnham,” Nicky Hager said. “The US court decision sets a precedent for New Zealand freedom of information as it shows that what was declared impossible by NZDF and the Ombudsman has turned out to be possible as a relatively routine release of public information in the United States. The New Zealand military is too secretive and the watchdogs are too cautious.”

“The court action was Deborah Manning's idea. She had done a similar thing during the Ahmed Zaoui case when she went to another country and obtained key documents that the NZ Security Intelligence Service had implacably refused to release. She located the US lawyer and instructed him to launch court proceedings on our FOIA requests.”

“This US decision is an example for all journalists and media organisations researching stories that include US government activities. Anyone can use the US FOIA Act and then go to a US lawyer and seek release.”


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