Another shadow has been cast over the accuracy of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's book Hit and Run.
It concerns a photograph in the book where the authors say a recently graduated teacher, who they name as simply Islamuddin, was shot. The authors tell us Islamuddin died from bullet wounds rather than shrapnel from helicopter weapons that allegedly killed most of the six civilians.
The photo, on page 59 of the book, shows drink bottles and spent weapon cartridges.
In my view, the photo and caption suggests the cartridges were fired by SAS snipers during the raid.
A weapons expert was asked by NZME to identify the cartridges and he said they couldn't possibly have be fired by SAS troops, who are issued with weapons that fire bullets half the size of the cartridge cases.
"I would say they're from a large calibre cannon, from an Apache helicopter. They're not from a shoulder-fired firearm, they would be almost impossible to fire without injury to the shooter. They are large, they're an anti tank weapon," Richard Munt, from Serious Shooters, in Auckland, said.
Munt's claims may give some weight to the argument of Government support partner Peter Dunne over his colleagues' reluctance to call an inquiry into whether civilians were killed.
"What if the Defence Force's rebuttal is correct as far as it goes, and the SAS was not involved in the attacks, and the video footage also confirms that, but shows that another force, the Americans, were more explicitly involved than has been indicated to date?
"Does New Zealand want to be the source of exposing that right now, given the unpredictability of the current administration?" Dunne asks.
The authors today denied creating the impression that the shell casings were from SAS weaponry. Which begs the question: why publish them? They say the photograph was about the empty water bottles and again deny there was any suggestion these belonged to the SAS. It would seem that wouldn't be the case as military issue water bottles are a little more sophisticated.
The authors did identify the position as a possible SAS sniper's lair, however, and suggested that's near the position the teacher died. They said "it was a pitch black night when Islamuddin tried to escape from the commandos. He would have stumbled up the dark hillside for only a minute or two before he was killed."
If the SAS did shoot him, the authors ask, where was the evidence that he was an insurgent and posed a threat before he was killed?
Co author Nicky Hager wasn't happy with the story and emailed his displeasure (below) which in part says: "The basis for the criticism is something that the story says is
suggested and inferred by the book when neither of these is what we actually said in the book.
"The illustration in the book (photo) shows objects collected by the villagers after the raid and the caption refers only to two drink bottles pictured, which the villagers thought were left by snipers. There was no suggestion that the weapon cartridges were
from the SAS."
The point of the story was that if the alleged six civilian deaths were inflicted by American manned Apache helicopters then Peter Dunne's thoughts about why the Government was reluctant to call an inquiry would seem to be valid. That wouldn't exonerate the SAS however, as the raid was under their command and therefore responsibility for it is theirs.
Nicky Hager responds:
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"The book does not claim that those weapon cartridges came from the SAS and indeed in another illustration (on page 49) the authors explain that they are Apache helicopter weapons. The illustration in the book shows objects collected by the villagers after the raid and the caption refers only to two drink bottles pictured, which the villagers thought were left by snipers. There was no suggestion that the weapon cartridges were from the SAS. If we had been asked before the story was printed, we could have cleared up this misunderstanding."
Ed's note: Voice and text messages were left with Jon Stephenson before publication of the initial report. No response was received.