Soldiers fight and die for democracy, the rule of law and our freedom. They thereby ensure our right to criticise them and to hold them to account.

Our soldiers don't choose where they fight or the rules of engagement. That's up to politicians. The responsibility is with us when we vote.

It's a remarkable thing and truly wonderful that those armed and trained to use lethal force subject themselves to civilian control and the discipline of acting always within the law.

It's an exceptional achievement.


And so Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, enjoying their freedom, have accused our elite SAS soldiers of killing civilians, torturing a prisoner and purposefully and needlessly destroying a home, all in hot-headed revenge. They further alleged a cover-up of these war crimes for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

The allegations could not be more serious.

Hager and Stephenson delivered their allegations by way of book launch and media ambush. They were dropped as a political hit, not framed as proper charges.

Military command was unable to provide any useful response into the media cycle primed and timed to run lurid and hot.

The soldiers themselves must stay mum.

The Chief of Defence, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, this week gave a detailed and devastating response. Our soldiers have never been in the villages where the alleged crimes took place. Yes, there was an operation. At another village.

Operation Burnham was not the war crime what Hager and Stephenson allege, he said.

Whom to believe? On one side we have the Chief of Defence. He is able to back his claims through the multiple checks and balances built into such operations, including video footage.


On the other side activist-journalists are reporting information from anonymous sources.

Their reply: "It is actually impossible that the story is wrong." It's a damning admission. Investigators must always be alive to the possibility their story is wrong. Hager and Stephenson demonstrate an astonishing lack of critical ability.

Stephenson also told our Chief of Defence to "put up or shut up". The CDF did "put up" and in so doing destroyed the claims in the Hager/Stephenson book.

The troops weren't at the scene of the alleged crimes and have multiple records including video footage of their operation. They show no crimes. The allegations have been shredded.

The approach of the CDF stands in marked contrast to the "it's impossible our story is wrong" and "put up or shut up". He was calm, comprehensive and factual.

He is a former long-time member and commander of the NZSAS. The attack on the integrity and honour of his troop must have sorely tested him.

He's a soldier's soldier. A leader. We are lucky to have him.

• In this column, Rodney Hide wrote about SAS soldiers "torturing a prisoner". He was referring to an allegation that a soldier beat a prisoner who was bound and blindfolded.