A group of New Zealand lawyers have put up their hands to represent Afghan villagers at the centre of claims New Zealand SAS troops killed civilians in 2010, calling for an enquiry into an event they say has been covered up by officials.
Top lawyers Deborah Manning, Rodney Harrison QC and Richard McLeod have announced they will be asking the Attorney General and Government for a full and independent inquiry.
Harrison said in a press conference today the enquiry must go ahead not only for the sake of the families of those killed in Afghanistan and the general public in New Zealand, but also "to clarify why, we say, we have been misled by the Defence Force to this point".
"The enquiry also has to look at the cover up, to be blunt, by the NZ Defence Force - the complete denial that there were any civilian deaths and the assertion that in fact insurgents were killed when none were killed," he said.
"From our perspective there's both the book and the instructions we have from those villagers.
"We're relying on those. Already the outright denials of the Defence Force have been disproved over the last couple of days anyway, so it's not as if any credence should be given to those now."
Law firm McLeod Associates will represent villagers allegedly killed or injured during the SAS-led raid.
McLeod today said what happened in 2010 could amount to war crimes by the SAS.
"In our view, the material released to date establishes credible allegations that during the course of their attack on these villagers in 2010 the NZ defence forces breached fundamental principles of both NZ law and international law, including war crimes and violations of the right to life."
Allegations of civilian deaths were made this week in Hit & Run, a book by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.
The law firm says it has asked Attorney General Chris Finlayson and Prime Minister Bill English to clarify what happened as they say that "every day there's a different version" of events.
The lawyers believe the version of events in Hager's book, saying they have spoken to family members of those killed in the raid who confirmed civilian deaths.
They believe Defence Force denials have misled the public, and call the claim no civilians were killed a "cover up".
Manning, an immigration lawyer, says Stephenson had approached her to represent the affected villagers.
She says what happened was a "violation of human rights".
Manning says she has been in contact with the villagers, who are in a remote part of Afghanistan, since September or October last year.
She says they are disappointed at the attempts to justify the raids, and they want help.
Manning says an apology and reparations may be sought further down the track.
Harrison says evidence is now overwhelming that the New Zealand SAS led a raid that killed civilians.
Hager and Stephenson released their book, Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour on Tuesday.
The book claimed that six civilians were killed and another 15 people were injured in a raid by the New Zealand SAS in August, 2010.
It was a contrast to assurances given at the time by former Prime Minister John Key, former defence ministers Jonathan Coleman and Wayne Mapp and the New Zealand Defence Force.
The book claimed Mapp later told the friend the raid was ""our biggest and most disastrous operation". The book stated that he called the raid "a fiasco".
The Defence Force has said this week it stands by its 2011 statement that "the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded".
Mapp appeared to concede the deaths this week and Key has only released a one-line statement saying he was proud "of the work the SAS did, and the support they provided in Afghanistan".
Prime Minister Bill English said yesterday the government would not "rush into an inquiry".
In an exclusive interview with a serving SAS soldier in the Herald today, the man confirmed civilians were killed.
He said two people were shot dead by NZSAS marksmen who believed they were acting under "Rules of Engagement" governing their actions on the battlefield.
He said the other four people died in a barrage of fire from United States aircraft called in by a New Zealander operating as the joint terminal air controller - the person responsible for directing air support.
But the soldier said it emerged no combatants were identified on the battlefield.
But he said the lack of an obvious opposing force contradicted the soldiers' expectation based on the United States-sourced intelligence used to frame the Rules of Engagement and the raid itself.
According to her website, from 2008-11 Manning was a senior legal consultant to a Geneva human rights organisation, Al Karama (Dignity). The organisation represents victims of grave human rights violations in the Arab region. She worked closely with United Nations' human rights protections mechanisms, regional human rights protection mechanisms and international organisations.
She was co-counsel for Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, successfully representing him in the review of the first national security risk certificate issued in New Zealand from 2003-2007. The landmark case saw successful applications and appeals before the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said he had received the lawyers' letter this morning.
"He will consider the letter and has no further comment at this time."
Labour, the Green Party and New Zealand First have already called for an inquiry.
And today United Future leader Peter Dunne said an inquiry "now seems inevitable".
"There has been a rising fog of confusion, about what may or may not have happened,"Dunne said in a press release issued after the lawyers' press conference.
"Recollections now seem to vary sharply, and I think it is inevitable some form of inquiry will be necessary to clarify and resolve these."
The current saga of "claim and counter-claim" would not provide New Zealanders with open reassurance that our forces had behaved appropriately, Dunne said.
Act Party leader David Seymour said he had not yet been persuaded that an inquiry should take place.
"The fact that a three year-old girl died is horrible. But unfortunately civilian deaths are a regrettable part of all wars."