Claims of blood on New Zealand's hands need answers
OPINION: The lights were burning in the Beehive on Tuesday night as an army of staff speed-read the explosive new book by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.
The book claims a military cover-up in relation to a bloody raid on an Afghan village following the death of a New Zealand soldier in 2010.
These are deadly serious allegations. If true, the implication is that New Zealand soldiers may be guilty of war crimes. But it is not the first time they have been raised.
Hager and Stephenson allege elite New Zealand troops in Afghanistan were involved in a botched raid which killed six civilians, including a 3-year-old girl, in two isolated villages. The raids were a reaction to the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell from a roadside bomb - our first combat death in Afghanistan.
The New Zealand Government claimed at the time insurgents were killed and has always denied there were civilian deaths at the hands of New Zealand soldiers.
Crucial to the claims made by Hager and Stephenson, is their claim to have fresh sources and documents supporting the allegations in the book.
In the initial hours following the Hager-Stephenson book launch, there was silence from the Beehive. Staff would have been frantically checking the book's claims that the information came from directly within the military and sources close to Government.
The crucial quote appears to be one attributed to former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, in which he allegedly referred to the raid as "our biggest and most disastrous operation, a fiasco".
It suggests a level of access to the inner circles of Government. Mapp has not so far responded to a call seeking comment.
The New Zealand Defence Force has repeated its statement from 2011 that allegations of civilian casualties had already been investigated and found to be unfounded. That statement,leaves open the possibility that there may have been deaths at the hands of other nations,.
Hager and Stephenson argue that it is not enough for New Zealand to wash its hands of the actions of other nations in a raid led by our soldiers, and based on our intelligence.
NZDF's statement might suggest the door to an inquiry is already closed. But the subsequent Government response is not so quick to close that door.
Attributed to a spokesperson for the acting defence minister, it would only note that the matter had been already been investigated and "I am advised by the New Zealand Defence Force they stand by what they said at the time."
That response suggests Government ministers are aware of the gravity of Hager and Stephenson's claims. So serious they won't want to be seen to be dismissing the allegations out of hand without having weighed them up carefully.