NZDF chief warns there better be 'hard evidence' for any war crime allegations
The chief of the New Zealand Defence Force says its reputation is at stake over allegations of war crimes by Kiwi troops so "there'd better be hard evidence to back that".
Lieutenant General Tim Keating said from Iraq that he disputed the allegations made by authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their book, Hit and Run, that elite SAS New Zealand troops had carried out raids on two isolated villages, killing civilians, in Afghanistan in 2010.
"There'd better be some really good hard evidence that says that we – as I believe may be a connotation here – are guilty of war crimes," Keating said.
"People have to be very careful about the claims they make around this, not so much on legal grounds but on what this could mean for the damage to New Zealand's Defence Force."
"It's a huge reputational issue. There is a legal terminology for that that you can go into but there'd better be hard evidence to back that," he said.
The raids were a reaction to the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell from a roadside bomb – our first combat death in Afghanistan.
The actions described in their book "could amount to war crimes", according to former Chief Human Rights Commissioner Margaret Bedggood.
The New Zealand Defence Force stood by its actions and its April 2011 statement, which said claims of civilian casualties were investigated and were unfounded.
Keating said the raid was investigated by "competent external authorities" in 2010 but officials were going through the book to see if anything need to be re-investigated.
Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, who has also been in Iraq with Keating, said it was difficult to make specific comments about the book when he hadn't read it.
"Our position hasn't changed since 2011. I can't see why it would be changing."
"Mr Hager has written a book with the idea of selling it. It's election year. It shouldn't surprise anyone that he has brought out a book that is designed to cause a degree of trouble.
"But this time, I've got to say, he has totally missed the mark again," Brownlee said.
The allegations in the book were probably not enough to open an inquiry, he said.