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Closed evidence sessions considered in Hit & Run inquiry

Article – RNZ

A preliminary hearing to establish how confidential material will be handled by an inquiry into a defence force operation in Afghanistan has begun.Some closed evidence sessions considered in Hit & Run inquiry

A preliminary hearing to establish how confidential material will be handled by an inquiry into a defence force operation in Afghanistan has begun.

The book, ‘Hit and Run’. Photo: RNZ / Hans Weston

An inquiry is being held into allegations a New Zealand-led raid in Afghanistan in 2010 led to civilian deaths. Photo: supplied

Sir Terence Arnold has opened a hearing into how public the inquiry into Operation Burnham will be, and how classified information will be dealt with.

The processes the inquiry adopted must give it the best opportunity to uncover the truth, he said.

The inquiry was launched by the government after the book Hit & Run by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, alleged six civilians were killed and 15 injured in a raid on two Afghan villages in 2010 by New Zealand’s elite soldiers, during Operation Burnham.

The book alleged those deaths were covered up.

The lawyer assisting the inquiry, Kristy McDonald QC, said it was the most complex ever held in New Zealand.

Ms McDonald said the submissions received showed government agencies involved were worried the process could compromise New Zealand’s security and international relations if classified information was made publicly available, and wanted a largely closed process.

The authors of the book, and the people who lived in the Afghan villages in questions, wanted a largely open process with public hearings and cross-examinations, like a court hearing.

The inquiry needed to proceed with great care, because if not, the consequence to individuals and the risk of public harm, was significant, Ms McDonald said.

While an open inquiry was desirable, it would not be possible in all circumstances – such as when it was found classified information could not be made public.

Some witnesses, such as Afghan nationals, whistle-blowers, and defence personnel, needed to be kept confidential, or anonymous.

The public would lose confidence in the inquiry if processes weren’t in place to protect national security, and international relations, through keeping certain information secret, Ms McDonald said.

“A do no harm approach should govern the inquiry’s process.”

The hearing is set down for two days. During that time lawyers for the former residents of the Afghan villages in question, for Mr Stephenson, the Crown, the Defence Force, and the media would have their say.

Mr Hager, who was representing himself, would also make an oral submission.

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