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Duncan Garner interviews Jon Stevenson


Interviewed by DUNCAN GARNER

Duncan Well the startling headlines just keep on coming for New Zealand SAS soldiers based in Afghanistan. This week there's already been an astonishing admission that the crack troops took out a group of Taliban fighters suspected of killing Kiwi soldier Tim O'Donnell last year. Now there's more information about the way the SAS handles Afghan prisoners and it reveals their apparent complicity in torture. Freelance Journalist Jon Stevenson said he has alarming new proof that the SAS does take prisoners, and it does deliver them to the Afghan Secret Police well known for their torture tactics when it comes to interrogation. Remember this National government and Labour before it have argued in the past that the SAS don’t do that because it would be an abuse of international law and human rights. Jon Stevenson is with me now as is Simon Wilson Editor of Metro Magazine which is running Jon's story in its latest issue, and Green Party Defence Party Spokesman Keith Locke. Thanks for joining us gentlemen. Jon I want to start with you, how bad is this, how serious is this, is it allegedly a war crime?

Jon Stevenson – Freelance Journalist
Well I think it's very serious but before we describe what is happening I think it's very important to say that the SAS themselves have not been mistreating or torturing prisoners, the issue is one of them being involved in arresting prisoners and transferring those prisoners to groups who torture them.

Duncan So people who haven’t read your story and who don’t know what we're talking about here, what has happened?

Jon Well the evidence that we've got, and it's very strong evidence, is that New Zealand, the New Zealand government and the New Zealand military have been breaching our international obligations in the treatment and transfer of prisoners since the very first deployment 2001, and are still doing so today. They are transferring people to authorities, firstly the Americans in 2002, and today the Afghans who are well established, well known for torturing and mistreating prisoners.

Duncan You’ve written about this in the past and I've gone back and looked at what Wayne Mapp has said about this in the past, Phil Goff, Helen Clark, Murray McCully, John Key. They all say that the New Zealand government is playing by the rules. Are you suggesting that they're not telling the truth, or that the Defence chiefs aren’t telling the truth?

Jon I'm suggesting that they're both not telling the truth. I don’t think they’ve been up front with the public, I think there's been collective amnesia, that’s why we titled the story "Eyes Wide Shut". There's been an unwillingness to confront what we are doing in Afghanistan.

Duncan Do you think Gerry Mataparai as previous Head of the Defence Force and before that Bruce Fergusson – do you think especially given Mataparai's links with the SAS, a former SAS man, that they're not telling the government everything, that he hasn’t told the government everything, that it's a culture of denial, a culture of secrecy, and that you can't blame the politicians, or am I being too generous?

Jon I would like to hope that a man who is the head of the Defence Force was up front and honest with the government. I don’t know what his motivation was, and I don’t know everything that he told them, but what I do know is that the Prime Minister John Key, the Defence Minister Wayne Mapp and Lieutenant General Gerry Mataparai the former head of the Defence Force, have not been up front, have made statements to the public that are not supported by the evidence that I've found in Afghanistan.

Duncan Should we be surprised? I mean what the big deal? I mean this is a war. Bad stuff happens.

Jon It's right. It's a war, it's a very dirty war, and a lot of bad things are happening and of course the Taliban are also committing grievous human rights offences. Why is the war important? well it's important and let me say that the Defence Force and the government do not ever say that they don’t follow the rules. They believe in the rules and they stand by the rules.

Duncan But the SAS in one instance I read in your story here they stopped actually abuse happening when the Afghan National Police whatever it was, was going to drag one of the detainees down the road for a 100 metres.

Jon That’s right.

Duncan So aren’t our guys actually stopping things from happening?

Jon In that case they did, but the point is that they transferred him after that incident to another organisation which is well known for torture. In fact the British are prevented by law from handing their prisoners to the very people we're handing our prisoners to, the National Director of Security.

Duncan And it's still happening?

Jon It's still happening as far as I know.

Duncan What should happen now then? I mean Wayne Mapp's already got an inquiry looking at this internally. Is that enough?

Jon Well Wayne Mapp had an inquiry that began nine months ago, he promised on Radio New Zealand, he said this matter was clearly something of concern, he said the prisoners – he admitted on radio on national radio could have been tortured, he couldn’t rule that out, and he said it was clearly a matter of concern. The government had put our troops in that legal situation and we would order an inquiry and he would report back. Nine months later – nothing.

Duncan Simon Wilson if I can just move to you as the publisher of this story. A number of these issues have been brought up before by Jon over the past few years, what's new as far as you're concerned?

Simon Wilson – Metro Magazine Editor
What's new? There are a number of things that are new in Jon's story this time. The first one really it has to be said you know Jon went back to Afghanistan at the beginning of this year and found the people who had been in the village that the SAS had raided in 2002, the first major engagement if you like that we know about involving the SAS where they had run the raid. Jon has revealed that the SAS was in charge of that raid and he has been the person who found those villagers, talked to them, got their stories of how they were abused and mistreated by the American forces who the SAS handed them to. Now that’s the first thing that’s new, that he's done that work. Now the second thing that’s new is that there are two other stories of prisoners being handed over in Jon's story. One concerns the one you were talking about before, the prisoners was an SAS prisoners handed to the Afghan Army who then proposed to drag him behind a truck for 100 kilometres. The SAS realised that and got him back, and it's worth pointing out there of course that the only way they would have been able to get him back from the army was that they were the arresting force in the first place.

Duncan So is your magazine alleging that New Zealand's complicit in war crimes and what do you think should happen?

Simon That unfortunately does appear to be the reality of it. You know there's an argument that some of the government now like to run which is that we don’t actual detaining force ourselves.

Duncan Do you think the government's been lying for ten years?

Simon Well it does look like that. The argument that the government is now running, which has been run for some time, which is that we don’t take prisoners and therefore we can't be in charge of what happens to them.

Duncan Do you think they're being told the truth?

Simon Their own legal advice is that you can't take that line. You are involved in an incident, you can't say somebody else is in charge so we're not responsible.

Duncan Did you have any concerns publishing this story this weekend, ANZAC weekend when we laud, applaud and commemorate our past servicemen and women. Did you think is this the weekend to be doing it?

Simon Well I think something Jon said before is extremely important in all this. The government puts our soldiers in an appalling situation where because of government policy that they required to engage in the way they are. Now they're required effectively to break human rights law and international law, and I think that’s an appalling thing to do to the SAS, and it's certainly not in the spirit of ANZAC.

Duncan Keith Locke what do you want to see happen here. I've already mentioned that inquiry that is underway. What do you want to see happen?

Keith Locke – Green Party Defence Spokesman
There should be an independent inquiry, independent of the Defence Minister and the New Zealand Defence Force, because we've had nine years now where this has been bubbling along. I've been pushing it in parliament all that time and not getting proper answers. We need an inquiry that looks at the facts, whether Jon's story is true, it appears to be true and if it is true that’s very damning and secondly looks at the legal foundation of what the Defence Force is doing, because I don’t accept this line that the SAS is not the detaining authority, and they said in answer to a question I put through the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trades Select Committee in June last year. They said that on 22 separate occasions the SAS have been present when prisoners were taken. Well they must have been involved.

Duncan And so you're saying the government is misleading the New Zealand public with all their answers?

Keith Yes they are because both legally and practically – on the one hand they're saying we're not capturing and handing over prisoners, where clearly if they're involved in the war they do, and secondly they're saying well – well their fall back position really is well if we grab someone and we hand it over to an Afghan Army person we're not the detaining authority, which doesn’t hold under international law.

Duncan Who should conduct this inquiry then because you want it independent. Who should do this?

Keith Well a judge is normally put at the head of an inquiry, either a single person judge or a panel.

Jon First, it's not for a journalist to dictate the terms of inquiry, but I think it's very clear that these are serious allegations that merit a very serious response from the government, and I think in the past we've seen that the government just cannot be trusted to tell the truth, to be up front, and they are in fact condemned by their own words. If you look at Gerry Mataparai's statements he started off by saying we were assisting the CRU, the Crisis Response Unit in arresting prisoners. He then went back from that and say we're not. You know they need to decide what their line is and stick to it.

Duncan Right Jon Stevenson thank you for your time this morning, Simon Wilson and Keith Locke, thanks for all coming in to the studio this morning.

© Scoop Media

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