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No SAS Link To Afghan Arrests, Torture - PM

No NZ Link To Afghan Arrests, Torture - PM

Prime Minister John Key says he does not believe New Zealand’s special forces in Afghanistan are assisting local commandos with arrests – but reports from the region say otherwise, raising questions about a New Zealand connection to torture and abuse of prisoners in Afghan custody.

The Sunday Star-Times last week reported a British ban on delivering prisoners of its war in Afghanistan to the country’s National Directorate of Security for fear of torture.

The report by independent journalist Jon Stephenson said the United Kingdom’s High Court ruled prisoners in the Directorate’s custody risked “torture or serious mistreatment” and the British Government’s transfer of prisoners had breached human rights and international law.

At least one prisoner had died in the Directorate’s custody while others reported amputations, electric shocks, starvation, beatings and burns, the report said.

But the Star-Times also quoted New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, who said it was likely the Afghan government's paramilitary Crisis Response Unit – which works in tandem with the New Zealand Special Air Service - had also sent prisoners to the Directorate.

The report also quoted a CRU commander in Kabul who said the SAS was “very, very involved” with capturing insurgents.

It is not the first time the paper has linked New Zealand to potential war crimes: in 2009 it reported SAS transfers of 50-70 unidentified prisoners since 2002 to a Kandahar detention centre known as “Camp Slappy”.

Under international law it is forbidden for any nation’s “detaining authority” to transfer prisoners to a third party if it is likely they will be mistreated.

But New Zealand’s Chief of Defence General Jerry Mateparae has said repeatedly SAS members have not assisted in arresting or detaining suspects.

Mateparae told a foreign affairs select committee in June the SAS had been “in the vicinity” during 22 arrests by the Crisis Response Unit, but told Scoop and the Star-Times the SAS had not assisted in any of them.

Key says he believes the general’s advice.

“If Jerry Mateparae’s advice is that they’re not involved in the arrests, they’re not involved in the arrests," he said.

Key confirmed SAS soldiers worked alongside the Unit during the arrests but could not say what role they provided.

However he said New Zealand abided by international obligations and the Geneva convention.

Under his government the SAS kept a full record of everyone detained by the Crisis Response Unit, which was open to the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups, he said.

“Up to this point… we haven’t actually detained anyone, but if we did we would honour those agreements,” he said.

Key said the Government was concerned by the High Court’s findings and had initiated a review of the Directorate’s human rights record.

“The NDS has been the place of choice actually for ISAF forces to send detainees because of its reputation,” he said.

“We’ll just need to work through that.”

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