The New Zealand Defence Force told the public and Government only what it wanted them to hear, author Nicky Hager has told an inquiry into an SAS raid on a village in Afghanistan.
The inquiry, being led by Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, into the NZSAS raid in August 2010 was sparked by Hager's and Jon Stephenson's book Hit & Run which claimed six civilians were killed and 15 others wounded.
The New Zealand Defence Force has rejected the claims, saying nine insurgents were killed.
In his scathing submission this morning, Hager said that although the NZDF was not untruthful all the time, it did not want to admit the truth.
"NZDF seems to believe it is entitled to hide news that might not be welcomed by New Zealanders and to bend the facts whenever necessary to avoid criticism or scrutiny:"
"This, I believe is the most important piece of context needed as preparation for this inquiry," Hager said.
The organisation was obsessed with its public reputation.
"The NZDF's reaction to Hit & Run in March 2017 is a clear example of the NZDF's attitude to fact and truth."
The claim by the NZDF that he and Stephenson had got the locations wrong in the book was later ditched.
"It tells us everything about the attitude of the organisation.
"They could have admitted that they accidentally killed and injured innocents at that point."
Hager said the most glaring and morally offensive part of the NZDF narrative was that the dead and injured villagers were absent from it.
"The furthest it goes is suggesting 'the possibility' of civilian casualties'."
Hager noted that the NZDF had supplied more than 1000 documents to the inquiry but he and Stephenson has received 14 so far.
He said the NZDF's lawyer last week sent a memorandum to the inquiry on May 17 this year disputing the inquiry's comparative analysis of public accounts of events during Operation Burnham.
"He wrote: 'NZDF notes that the headings of certain paragraph … contain, or are based on factual premises that remain disputed or have not yet been determined conclusively by the inquiry'. The headings he objected to were 'How many civilians were killed in the operation' and 'How many civilians were injured in the operation'. "
Hager called it unnecessary and in bad taste to hold on to denials of casualties.
He asked the inquiry to seek the release from the NZDF of the names and details of all the people it knew were killed and wounded, where and when each was shot or wounded, what grounds the NZDF has for believing they were an insurgent, and supporting documents.
"I urge the inquiry to do this."
Earlier, a witness outlined life for the civilian population of Afghanistan.
A strict non-publication order surrounds their identity.
The witness outlined the situation in Afghanistan set against the backdrop of conflict which had been going on for decades and still continued.
People operated in "fight or flight mode" and left home in the morning not knowing whether they would still be alive at the end of each day.
Mass migration and internal displacement by people seeking relative safety had torn families apart, the witness said.
"There is a sense of helplessness and hopelessness about the future of the country."
Persistent war had resulted in the destruction of the fabric of the country.
Many people had been imprisoned and tortured, usually for ethnic or religious reasons, the witness said.
Levels of depression and suicide rates were high, the majority women.
"Many women try to attempt suicide by self-immolation."
Children were impacted by the loss of male role models and being raised by parents affected by war.
The witness said villages were deprived of many opportunities, including education and healthcare.
There had been changes since the fall of the Taliban – more schools were built, and access to technology including the internet and mobile phones became available.
The majority of villages relied on agriculture and young men often moved to Kabul or to other countries. They sometimes joined the army or the Taliban for financial reasons.
In mountainous areas, villagers had to walk for hours to reach health facilities.
Access to primary school was still a dream for many children, particularly in rural areas.
Many families lived in poverty and the witness quoted a mother who had said her guilt over the death of her children was not over the deaths but the circumstances in which they died.
"They were crying for a piece of bread when the rocket hit our house."
Not many people in Afghanistan understood post-traumatic stress disorder, the witness said.
But it had knock-on effects for their family and friends. The damage from PTSD was passed from parents to children.
Half of all people in Afghanistan suffered psychological distress, the witness said. People in rural areas were more likely to develop PTSD.
People with PTSD were likely to have issues with specifics in their memories of traumatic events.
People in rural areas often felt safer in the presence of international forces but were wary of being close to them in case of explosions or suicide bombers.
People might be able to distinguish between the different international forces by their flags but in rural areas they tended to refer to them all as foreigners.
The witness said there was no registration of death nor documents such as death certificates. Birth certificates are not usually applied for if children are born at home.
Arnold asked the witness whether it was usual for men to carry firearms around in their daily lives.
The witness responded that they could do.
The villagers who were affected by the 2010 raid are not represented today after complaints from their lawyers of insufficient funding to prepare.
Lawyer Deborah Manning said funding to allow about 50 hours of preparation had been made available and it wasn't enough given the legal research required.
The funding also failed to account for the logistical reality of dealing with clients spread through inaccessible areas experiencing extreme weather and requiring allowances for language and communication difficulties, she said.
A spokesman for the inquiry said enough funding had been made available. The inquiry had previously ruled it did not need to hear directly from the villagers because they had been quoted in Hit & Run.
The SAS operation in Taliban-held Afghanistan was to target insurgent leaders behind attacks on New Zealand and other coalition troops.
Hit & Run claimed the SAS had carried out a "revenge" raid which left six civilians dead, including a 3-year-old girl named Fatima. Another 15 were wounded, the authors said.
The assault came after the August 4 2010 death of New Zealand Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell in a province neighbouring the Bamiyan district where New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team was based.
The Government announced in April last year that an inquiry into Operation Burnham and related matters would be held.
The inquiry aims to establish the facts in connection with the allegations, examine the treatment by the NZDF of the reports of civilian casualties and look at the conduct of NZDF