Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Answers on NZ's collusion in torture

Since New Zealand sent troops to Afghanistan, there have been ongoing concerns about arrangements for prisoners of war. The Afghan government are torturers. Handing over prisoners to them is a clear violation of our obligations under both the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, not to mention the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and Crimes of Torture Act. Handing over prisoners could see individual kiwi soldiers prosecuted under international or New Zealand law.

The NZDF was asked about this during the select committee hearings on their annual financial review [PDF]. With regards to the SAS, they relied on the same sophistry as John Key: the SAS don't take prisoners and turn them over to be tortured, they merely provide the muscle so the torturers can capture them. I don't see much of a distinction there, and I don't think a court would either; either way our troops are helping people to be tortured, and either way its a conspiracy charge. This is not something kiwi soldiers should be involved in, and if they can't operate in Afghanistan without such an arrangement, then they shouldn't operate there at all.

Its a different story with the Provincial Reconstruction Team - unlike the SAS, they are authorised to take prisoners, though reading between the lines suggests they haven't actually detained anyone. The NZDF also had this to say:

The Chief of Defence Force told us that defence personnel require his permission before handing over any detainee to the Afghan authorities. His decision is based on an assessment of the circumstances of the detention, New Zealand’s ability to monitor the human rights of the detainee, and the legitimacy of the detaining institution. We are aware that the Governments of Afghanistan and New Zealand have an agreement that both parties will comply with their obligations under international law in respect of the treatment of any detainee handed over to Afghan authorities by New Zealand Defence Force personnel.
(Emphasis added)

So, firstly, we can monitor at least the number of transfers using the Official Information Act. And secondly, if a transfer ever results in torture, the Chief of Defence Force gets to go to jail as a co-conspirator. I hope he considers that possibility before signing any such document.