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New Zealand Stance on Drone Killings Attacked

New Zealand Stance on Drone Killings Attacked

5 June 2014

A Christchurch academic and lawyer has accused the Prime Minister of washing his hands of the killing of a New Zealander (Muslim bin John) and an Australian (Salma al Russi) in a US drone strike in Yemen.

Speaking at a public lecture in Christchurch, David Small said that the moment New Zealand intelligence agencies hand over information to a country with an active kill-first-ask-questions-later drone campaign, the New Zealand government has a responsibility to ensure that the subject of that intelligence is not subject to extra-judicial killing.

He said that the Prime Minister’s cavalier attitude to the drone killings sits very uneasily with long-held legal commitments to not allow people to be deported or extradited to situations where they risk being tortured or executed.

Dr Small noted that just months before the killings, President Obama had given a major address in which he promised that people would be killed by drones only if they posed an immediate and ongoing threat and if they could not be captured.

“Vague claims that these guys attended ‘terrorist training camps’ come nowhere near meeting that threshold”, said Dr Small. Furthermore, there is no evidence of any attempt to capture these men, even though they were in telephone contact with family in this part of the world.

Citing the Ahmed Zaoui case, the Urewera raids and the APEC break-in and bomb hoax, Dr Small said that New Zealand’s intelligence agencies have a very poor record of generating accurate intelligence and using lawful methods.

He said that claims that the men were Al Quaeda foot soldiers were sketchy and highly questionable. “Unless they are children dressed up on their way to a wedding, everyone who is killed by a US drone gets defined as a militant”, said Dr Small.

Dr Small dismissed as preposterous claims that the Christchurch mosque, which has been under surveillance since 2003, is some kind of haven for radicalism. He said that nobody he knows who knew Al Russi during his time in Christchurch considered him anything like a dangerous radical.

There is a very real chance that the deaths of these men were, at least in part, the result of New Zealand intelligence agencies having too much time on their hands and not enough terrorists to catch, he said.

Dr Small says that this new situation makes it untenable for New Zealand intelligence agencies to continue to refuse to divulge information about New Zealanders that they hold on file. Failure to disclose information that is incorrect and contributes to somebody’s death really does amount to extra-judicial killing.

David Small is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Canterbury and a lawyer. He has been researching in the area of national security and civil liberties since 1996, and in 2011 was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at Georgetown University in Washington DC studying the impact of the “war on terror” on low-risk states. In 1996, he caught two SIS agents illegally breaking into an activist’s home and subsequently took a successful prosecution against the Police for unlawfully searching his home.

An edited transcript of Dr Small’s lecture can be found here: http://axesofjustice.blogspot.co.nz/2014/06/drone-wars-strike-home.html

A recording can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCOneyZmiOk


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