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SAS Deployment Breaches Human Rights Policy

NZ SAS Deployment Breaches Defence Policy on Human Rights

This alert relates to yesterday's announcement of another deployment of SAS combat troops to Afghanistan. The troops left from Whenuapai air base today - on two US C-17 Globemaster military planes sent to pick them up.

The first section below provides some information about the deployment; with the second focussing on the Defence Policy Framework, ongoing human rights abuses by US forces in Afghanistan, and how this deployment therefore breaches the Framework.

* About the deployment

As with previous SAS troop deployments, there will be no detailed information available on where they are or what they are doing. According to Helen Clark and Mark Burton's joint press release, the deployment will comprise around 50 troops, and they will operate in Afghanistan for up to six months.

The troops will specialise "in the planning and execution of long-range reconnaissance and direct action missions inside Afghanistan. They will operate with other special forces from countries contributing to coalitions forces in Afghanistan." They will be commanded by an NZ officer, and are being deployed with their new Pinzgauer Special Operations Vehicles "to provide independent tactical mobility". While these two points are presumably included to give the impression that the troops will be independent from overall US military command and control, that is not in fact the case as they will be integrated with other special forces in the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force headquartered near Bagram air base north of Kabul, with camps near Kandahar in the south and Khost in the east.

The SAS deployment is budgeted to cost $7,300,300. It is part of 'Operation Ariki' which includes the 120 military personnel involved in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan province; and 18 other military personnel in different places who are involved in planning, liaison, support and training roles - including some with the US led Coalition Joint Task Force in Bagram, Afghanistan; others at the US Central Command HQ in Florida, USA.

* The Defence Policy Framework, human rights abuses, and how this deployment breaches the Framework

The SAS deployment, as with the previous deployments, is another clear breach of the Defence Policy Framework which was announced in June 2000. It was advertised by the government as a new approach to the armed forces, but has proved in practice to be indistinguishable from the old approach.

The broad strategic outcomes outlined in the Point 11 of the Framework include: "A global approach which supports New Zealand's place in an international community committed to the maintenance of human rights and the collective security responsibilities enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and which strengthens New Zealand's international economic linkages."

Point 18 of the Framework states: "New Zealand will not engage in military co-operation or exercises with the armed forces of states which sanction the use of their armed forces to suppress human rights. This does not preclude New Zealand involvement in UN peace support or other appropriate multinational peace support operations where the armed forces of such countries are also involved." http://www.beehive.govt.nz/burton/minister/index.cfm

What a sick joke the Framework has proved to be. The only bit the government has taken into account when deploying combat troops overseas has been strengthening "New Zealand's international economic linkages" - namely, currying favour with the US government in their increasingly desperate attempts to persuade that government to negotiate an NZ/US 'free' trade agreement.

That the US-led occupation of Afghanistan has resulted in gross human rights violations in a general sense - that is, the bombing and killing of civilians and the use of weapons with indiscriminate effects - is undeniable. Equally undeniable are the specific human rights violations relating to the arbitrary arrests, torture of suspects and illegal detention of an unknown number of people in Afghanistan.

You may recall that the second NZ SAS deployment in March 2004 came just days after Human Rights Watch released the report 'Enduring Freedom:' Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan'. That Report begins:

"Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States went to war in Afghanistan in the name of national security and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, and with a stated secondary aim of liberating the people of Afghanistan from the cruel and capricious rule of the Taliban.

Yet today, on Afghan soil, the United States is maintaining a system of arrests and detention as part of its ongoing military and intelligence operations that violates international human rights law and international humanitarian law (the laws of war). In doing so, the United States is endangering the lives of Afghan civilians, undermining efforts to restore the rule of law in Afghanistan, and calling into question its commitment to upholding basic rights.

This report, based on research conducted in southeast and eastern Afghanistan in 2003 and early 2004, focuses on how US forces arrest and detain persons in Afghanistan. It details numerous abuses by US personnel, including cases of excessive force during arrests; arbitrary and indefinite detention; and mistreatment of detainees. The report also details the overall legal deficiencies of the US-administered detention system in Afghanistan, which, as shown here, operates almost entirely outside of the rule of law." http://hrw.org/reports/2004/afghanistan0304/

That these same human rights violations continue to be perpetrated by US forces in Afghanistan is also undeniable.

In February 2005, the Independent Expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, reported he "is gravely concerned at allegations of arrest, detention and mistreatment committed by foreign forces in Afghanistan. The Independent Expert is particularly concerned at allegations of possible torture having been committed in this context." http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/6C612BC5E97DB5B1C1256FA400355678?opendocument

A Human Rights Watch summary of US abuse of detainees around the world, released on 27 April 2005, has a section on Afghanistan which states:

"Nine detainees are now known to have died in US custody in Afghanistan—including four cases already determined by Army investigators to be murder or manslaughter. Former detainees have made scores of other claims of torture and other mistreatment. In a March 2004 report, Human Rights Watch documented cases of US personnel arbitrarily detaining Afghan civilians, using excessive force during arrests of non-combatants, and mistreating detainees. Detainees held at military bases in 2002 and 2003 described to Human Rights Watch being beaten severely by both guards and interrogators, deprived of sleep for extended periods, and intentionally exposed to extreme cold, as well as other inhumane and degrading treatment. In December 2004, Human Rights Watch raised additional concerns about detainee deaths, including one alleged to have occurred as late as September 2004. In March 2005, The Washington Post uncovered another death in CIA custody, noting that the case was under investigation but that the CIA officer implicated had been promoted." http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/04/27/usint10545.htm

And in a report released on 20 May 2005, Human Rights Watch point out that US forces in Afghanistan were involved in killings, torture and other abuses of prisoners from 2002 and that "more than two years later, no US personnel have been charged with homicide in any of these deaths, although US Department of Defense documents show that five of the six deaths were clear homicides." http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/05/20/afghan10992.htm

On 23 May 2005, the NZ Herald published an article on the latest report of US military abuse of detainees in Afghanistan: "Jean Arnault, special representative of the UN secretary-general in Afghanistan, said the abuse reported in the New York Times was unacceptable and an affront to everything the international community stood for. "The gravity of these abuses calls for the punishment of all those involved in such inexcusable crimes, as demanded by President Karzai," Arnault said in a statement ... Complaints that continue to be made of arbitrary arrest and detention without charge should be fully addressed, he said"." http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?l_id=12&ObjectID=10126964

So much for the government's commitment "to the maintenance of human rights" and the reassurance that "New Zealand will not engage in military co-operation or exercises with the armed forces of states which sanction the use of their armed forces to suppress human rights" in the Defence Policy Framework.

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