Radio Wammo: Glenn Williams & Selwyn Manning's State Of It – Eyes Wide Open...
Glenn Williams hosts State Of It, a weekly look at politics with Scoop's Selwyn Manning as New Zealand enters an election campaign before Polls on November 26. This week: Eyes Wide Open – Has New Zealand been complicit in international law breaches in Afghanistan?
This week the United Nations released a concerning report that found Afghani suspects in the War on Terror have been subjected to shocking and systematic torture.
Many western nations that have taken part in NATO-led operations... and in the War On Terror... are potentially complicit in handing over Afghani detainees knowing that they may be tortured.
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Social democratic states like Norway have grappled with this fact for several years. Other countries, including New Zealand, have deployed armed forces to the war, their soldiers used to round up terror suspects and others, ordered to hand them over to US and Afghan forces, and then ordered to look the other way when those people were stripped of their human rights and led toward their torture, and in some cases their death.
Potentially, the military superiors and leaders of these nations, including New Zealand's, been involved in war crimes, breaches of international law and conventions.
In early September the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF was tipped off that the United Nations was preparing to release a report that found systematic torture.
As this AlJazeera report shows, the ISAF immediately moved to distance itself from the looming revelations:
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Now, back in April... on the eve of ANZAC Day... Metro magazine published Jon Stephenson's Eyes Wide Shut investigative report.
The report was the result of Stephenson's investigation into official Government and Defence documentation into what our soldiers have been ordered to do up in Afghanistan, what the Government and NZ Defence had publicly stated our soldiers have been doing in Afghanistan, and the reality of what our SAS have been ordered to do... as they told Stephenson ... during to his numerous trips to the combat zones inside Afghanistan.
The resulting report published in Metro was compelling.
This is how 3News announced it on its evening news bulletin:
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And back then, 3News' Mike McRoberts reported it this way:
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Basically, the issue came down to this:
The public was asked by the Prime Minister and his politicians to trust them, and to not trust the journalist.
For days the issue limped on, eventually opposition politicians began calling for an inquiry into the claims made by Stephenson and Metro.
But the Prime Minister and his Defence Minister refused to hold any inquiry. Instead, the Prime Minister in particular went all out to ruin Jon Stephenson's reputation.
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The Prime Minister deployed the same damning tactics when investigative author Nicky Hager launched his compelling book: Other Peoples' Wars.
Now since then... the former head of New Zealand's Defence Force Lt. General Jerry Mateparae, the man who many critics believed to be responsible for this controversy and potential breach of international law, has been given a knighthood, given an honourary doctorate by Massey University, and appointed as New Zealand's Governor General.
After Mateparae was sworn in, the controversy died down again.
That is until late September when New Zealanders heard news of the death of SAS soldier Leon Smith.
On September 29 3News reported Defence Minister Mapp admitting the SAS are in a combat role, a fact he, Defence heads, and the Prime Minister had denied. After Leon Smith's death, the current head of Defence Lt General Rhys Jones, like Mapp, also admitted to a combat role.
But back then the Prime Minister refused to move off his mentoring spin-line even though his interpretation of New Zealand's SAS deployment was inconsistent with the combat operation Leon Smith and his fellow soldiers were engaged in when he was killed.
If the public felt confused, they had every right to be. Here was the Prime Minister - a man the majority of those polled respect, believe is doing a good job, and enjoys support as their preferred prime minister.
Is the SAS in a combat role? Has the SAS handed over detainees suspecting those people would be tortured?
Perhaps an indicator of what was or is the actual truth here, is the comparison between what the Government was saying when it believed it could control the information – when it denied the SAS was involved in combat, denied the SAS had handed over Afghani suspects believing they may be tortured... and now.
Here's the comparison.
In April, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp was denying New Zealand's soldiers were complicit in any breaches of international law or conventions:
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Compare what Mapp said back then and what he says now. Here's a 3News report by Patrick Gower filed last night:
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Now this issue is gravely serious. Jon Stephenson's Metro report detailed chilling incidents of torture. The United Nations report, released yesterday, detailed the methods of torture as:
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UN Statement on Torture Report
Detainees described experiencing torture in the form of suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars or other fixtures for lengthy periods) and beatings, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet.
Electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees’ genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse were among other forms of torture that detainees reported.
Mapp will bow out of politics once the new Parliament is elected in November. His credibility is a factor in this, but this issue of the Prime Minister's credibility is more certainly an issue of public interest.
How is the National-led Government going to play this issue, is it going to continue to spin a positive line, attacking the credibility of all those who release sections of truth and reality underlying this situation?
A vital public interest aspect of this media analysis is therefore relevant to examining the broader issue of John Key's political style as he applies it to his prime ministership.
John Key's strengths are: he is able to connect with Kiwis irrespective of their social standing, he's able to engage with anyone from the Queen's grandson to the average working man or woman.
John Key is also seen as a positive kind of guy.
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But is John Key the kind of guy who will not tell people what he decides they do not want to know? Is he the kind of politician who will avoid being the communicator of bad news, the kind of Prime Minister who will stick to his positive spin even when the evidence suggests it is simply not true?
The State Of It is this: There are currently three unrelated issues that are testing the credibility of the Prime Minister's word, his presentation of truths, even while addressing Parliament.
If John Key is fully deserving of the people's trust, and that of the title of Prime Minister, he needs to be more than just a fair weather friend, he must be credible, and above all else be honourable.
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