Friday, April 22, 2011

SAS complicit in torture

According to the Herald and 3 News tonight, Metro magazine has a major story out tomorrow exposing the New Zealand SAS's complicity in torture in Afghanistan. In at least one of the cases, the SAS are the good guys - back in 2002, they objected when prisoners they had captured and transferred to the US were mistreated. But in at least two cases in 2010, they transferred prisoners to the Afghan National Directorate of Security - an organisation so well-known to engage in torture that British troops have been prohibited from transferring prisoners to them by UK courts. Those transfers violated both the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. And by transferring those prisoners, the individual soldiers responsible have exposed themselves to prosecution under New Zealand and international law.

Obviously, there must be a full investigation of these events, with an eye to pressing charges where they are necessary. No New Zealand soldier can be allowed to be complicit in torture, and any soldier who is needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But beyond that, we also need to look at political accountability. Both John Key and Wayne Mapp have stated repeatedly in public that the SAS does not take prisoners. We now know that they were lying. The Minister of Foreign Affairs stood up in Parliament and claimed that we had an agreement with the Red Cross to monitor transfers to Afghan forces. We now know that that is a lie. McCully also claimed that "to date, no detainees have been transferred by the SAS to Afghan authorities". That may or may not have been true (it will depend on the dates published in Metro tomorrow).

But its not just the politicians who we need to look into. At the time, the Chief of Defence Force was Jerry Mateparae - who is about to become our next Governor-General. The 3 News story cites Key as explicitly relying on his advice that the SAS were not taking or transferring prisoners. And in late 2010, Mataparae stood up before the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee during its annual financial review of the NZDF and told them the same thing [PDF, p. 3]. We now know that that is not true, and that he lied to Parliament. The question, then, is whether someone tainted by lies about torture is fit to be our head of state.