Hit and Run: Defence Force 'justified' in withholding most information - Ombudsman

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at the release of their book.
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at the release of their book. Photo credit: Newshub.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has ruled the New Zealand Defence Force was justified in withholding most of its information relating to Operation Burnham - the operation detailed in Hit and Run.

The publication of the work of investigative journalism prompted a number of Official Information Act (OIA) requests.

Much of that information was withheld by the NZDF, which said New Zealand's defence and security would be prejudiced if the information was released.

That prompted complaints to the Ombudsman. 

The Ombudsman has found the NZDF was justified in withholding most of the information, as it contains sensitive details.

"Some of the withheld information was received from with other countries who didn’t wish to declassify or release it", Mr Boshier says, "and for NZDF to do so would have gravely affected other nations’ willingness to share information with us in future."

During the course of the investigation, more information was released by NZDF.

But Mr Boshier said the NZDF could have been "considerably more responsive" in handling Official Information Act requests surrounding the event.

"It has given the appearance of reluctance on the part of NZDF and requesters have understandably developed some mistrust as a result," he said.

The Ombudsman recommends the NZDF release information regarding the identification of insurgents killed during Operation Burnham, as well as the release of four briefing documents, with some redactions.

The recommendation requests some quite specific information, including the number of killed insurgents NZDF knew the identity of and whether school teacher Islamuddin and Mohammad Iqbal and his son Abdul Qayoom were among them.

Hit and Run: Defence Force 'justified' in withholding most information - Ombudsman
Photo credit: Screengrab/Ombudsman's opinion

Hit and Run alleges the NZDF took part in a night-time raid on a village, during which civilians were targeted and property deliberately destroyed.

The book says six civilians, including a three-year-old, were killed and 15 others injured.

NZDF says one insurgent was killed during the raid, and says it's possible ammunition fired from a coalition helicopter "had fallen short of its target" and hit two buildings. As a result, a report from ISAF/Afghanistan Government found "civilian casualties may have occurred." 

Newshub.

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