OPINION: It is hard to ascertain whether author Nicky Hager is being astonishingly artless or wilfully mischievous in his claims about an American presence at New Zealand's main military camp in Afghanistan.
In his latest book, Other People's Wars, he writes: "Somehow, in spite of media visits and hundreds of soldiers passing through the base, the ... military managed to keep secret the fact that they shared the Bamiyan camp with a US intelligence base". All the evidence, he says, points to the United States' personnel being CIA officers.
Had Hager been claiming that New Zealand helped the CIA and Britain's MI6 in rendition flights of terrorism suspects to Libya, he might have truly been on to something.
But over Bamiyan, it does not seem to have occurred to him – or those, such as Green list MP Keith Locke, who were so quick to demand an inquiry into his "shock, horror" expose of goings-on at the main camp – that visitors failed to show surprise because an American presence is to be expected. It is naive in the extreme to have thought otherwise.
No successful military operation is undertaken without good intelligence. Common sense says that, given the Kiwis' limited military capability in the Afghan war – they have, for example, no Royal New Zealand Air Force assets to ferry them hither and yon, or to give them air cover – they must trade information with their US counterparts in order to keep themselves as safe as possible.
Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.
Take his earlier book, The Hollow Men, for example, which – though not news to political junkies – made uncomfortable reading for some associated with the Don Brash-led National Party.
But the flaw in Hager's modus operandi is that he amasses what he has learned and then presents it to the public through the prism that best suits his world view, without allowing for the possibility that there might be a plausible explanation for what he has "uncovered".
The case he builds is thus rarely troubled by opposing opinions and inconvenient facts, realities that journalists in the mainstream media are morally obliged to take into account, and present.
In his comments on Bamiyan, Hager – and those who were so vocal in the days after this latest tome's release – seems to ignore the unpleasant fact that Afghanistan is a dangerous environment.
If New Zealand is to put its troops in harm's way – and there are reasonable arguments both for and against that political decision – the Kiwis on whose behalf they are there want them to work alongside military personnel from like-minded nations.
It should have been news to no-one that the army contingent in Bamiyan, trying, with some success, to restore peace to that community, shares the main camp with a group of Americans, some in civvies. If the Yanks didn't have our backs, we would be worried.
The Dominion Post
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