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Jon Stephenson replies to critics

Written By: - Date published: 11:49 am, May 12th, 2011 - 12 comments
Categories: afghanistan, john key, us politics, war - Tags: , ,

When John Key hears bad news he attacks the credibility of the source. On BBC Interview show HardTalk, confronted with the science on our polluted rivers, he said it was just one person’s opinion that he didn’t believe. When journalist Jon Stephenson publised “Eyes wide shut” (Metro magazine in May) on the SAS links with the mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Key said “I’ve got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible” (see “Is The PM’s ‘Shoot The Messenger’ Attack A Smokescreen?”). Now Jon Stephenson has replied to his critics himself, in detail:

Jon Stephenson re: Take No Prisoners (Apr 27)

Statement by journalist Jon Stephenson

On 2 May, chief of defence force Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones issued a media statement about my article Eyes Wide Shut, published in the May edition of Metro magazine. That statement makes a number of claims that I believe to be misleading or false, and which I respond to below.

Eyes Wide Shut and last week’s 60 Minutes programme deal with the issue of New Zealand’s involvement and complicity in the transfer of detainees to torture in Afghanistan. It is important to point out that neither the Metro article nor the 60 Minutes story were intended as an attack on the SAS but to question the policy of successive governments and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). Indeed, much of the information in these stories was provided by present and former members of the NZDF.

The Metro article is around 8,000 words long, and contains a huge number of facts and extensive first-hand testimony. The overwhelming majority of this information is not contested by the NZDF – including the claim that US forces in Afghanistan mistreated and in some cases tortured prisoners that the SAS transferred to them in 2002 (the so-called Band e Timur raid).

Indeed, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp admitted to 60 Minutes that New Zealand SAS troopers “saw and heard of abuse” and complained about it to the Americans – “and they did so not once, but twice.” Mapp confirmed that again when he told Parliament this week that US forces mistreated prisoners the SAS transferred to them in 2002.

The New Zealand SAS has a well-deserved reputation for professional excellence. As I have stated repeatedly in articles and commentary, there is no evidence I am aware of that suggests they have in any way been directly involved in the mistreatment and torture of detainees.

This is not a story about wrong-doing by rank-and-file members of the SAS. It is a story about a failure of leadership at a senior level in the NZDF and government. SAS troopers have been put in the position of detaining people who have been sent to facilities with a history of mistreatment and torture.

That situation continues today. Mapp admitted this week in Parliament that the SAS had since 2009 been involved on 24 occasions when detainees were taken and transferred to Afghan authorities. Those authorities have a well-established record for mistreatment and torture.

Asked last year if people the SAS had been involved in detaining had been sent to facilities where they might have been tortured, Mapp said: “You can’t rule that out.”He said it was “clearly a concern” that the government had put SAS members in a situation where that could happen.

Mapp said that he had ordered a report into SAS involvement in detainee transfers in Afghanistan, and undertook to make that report public. Nine months later, he has not done so. Amnesty International, one of the world’s leading human rights organisations, has expressed deep concern about our government’s policy on detainee transfers, and has asked Mapp on several occasions to release this report. The minister has ignored them.

Meanwhile, after repeated claims that the SAS was not directly involved in taking detainees in Afghanistan, Mapp was forced to admit in Parliament this week that the SAS had directly taken a prisoner in January, and that this prisoner had been transferred to the Bagram detention centre – a centre that has a notorious record for the mistreatment and torture of prisoners.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff this week joined the Green Party in calling for an inquiry into issues surrounding the transfer of prisoners by the SAS to US and Afghan authorities. I strongly support this. My experience of the NZDF has convinced me that while most New Zealand soldiers are honorable, there are serious problems within NZDF culture at a higher level, and I am not confident the NZDF can be relied on to investigate itself.

Stephenson goes on to refute General Jones’ media statement point by point, in detail, concluding:

There are many examples of inconsistent and contradictory statements – none of which the defence force has adequately explained.

Jon Stephenson

Stephenson is clearly not going to be intimidated or brushed off. This issue is not going to go away, and at the moment Stephenson is looking a whole lot more credible than his critics, John Key included. Instead of trying to attack Stephenson, the government should be investigating his claims fully. With the death of Osama and with America’s war in Afghanistan looking increasingly pointless, they should bring our troops home.

12 comments on “Jon Stephenson replies to critics”

  1. Bill 1

    I caught the end of 60 minutes where Mike McRobert’s end piece was unequivocal in its defense of Jon Stephenson as a reputable and reliable reporter.

    I thought it unusual for a presenter to be so up front and (some might argue) partisan.

    For example, I can’t remember Nicky Hagar being defended in the same fashion. In that instance, reporting was more dispassionate and therefore (some might argue) dishonest.

  2. ianmac 2

    This is an important issue as it questions the credibility of the Government and of our future GG. One way or another it should be resolved. But they might decide on an Enquiry to be completed in say 24 or 36 months time. Kick for touch will they?
    Well done Jon.

  3. Ron 3

    More to the point – where are the journos hounding the PM about this?
    I say again – this had been the labour govt we never would heard the end of it.
    Tory media again.

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Rather sad that Jon has to cover his own rear on this, there have been a few honourable exceptions among journos but not many, publically at least.

    • did anyone investigate Key’s slurred claim that Jon Stephenson impersonated Duncan Garner one night in a call to him? Shonkey allegedly attracts late night calls (Williams, Nth shore mayor).

    • Mataparae for GG? no way, enquiry at the very least.

    • Bring the NZ defence personnel home from Afghanistan now

  5. ron 5

    Just heard on the radio that Stephenson might even sue Key. True?

    • Carol 5.1

      http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/75060/journalist-considers-legal-action-over-sas-article

      The journalist behind an article claiming New Zealand elite troops put put prisoners at risk of torture is considering taking legal action against the head of the Defence Force and the Prime Minister.


      Mr Stephenson says he wrote to General Jones on Wednesday, asking him to withdraw his comments and apologise.

      He says if General Jones does this, he will not take the matter further.

      • Pascal's bookie 5.1.1

        And I like the way he basically ignored Key’s comments as ‘political’, but still leaves the threat to sue on the table.

        It’s stand up or back down time Key.

  6. Stephenson is one of the few NZ journalists I would trust. His professional reputation is impeccable.
    Other NZ journalists know how professional Stephenson is, so when the less than impeccable John Key attacks him for telling the truth, a lot of journalists will take note and remember that.
    Key picked a very unwise target to try and bully in this instance.

    • ianmac 6.1

      Yes +1

    • Morrissey 6.2

      Gordon Campbell and Nicky Hager are in the same class as Stephenson. Patrick Gower on TV3 is sharp and tenacious, and seems much more informed than anyone else on television, although that is almost damning him with faint praise.

      Otherwise…in New Zealand, there is nobody.

  7. Vicky32 7

    I have always respected Jon Stephenson since his was the only voice in the Sunday Star-Times back in 2003, that was willing to tell the truth about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…

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    The National Government is increasing the threat to two of the world's most threatened and unique birds by opening up Victoria Forest Park to petroleum drilling, the Green Party said today.Scientists have recently published a ranking of the 100 most...
    Greens | 16-04
  • Genesis: The biggest fire sale of them all
    National has finished its asset sales with a massive bonfire of a fire sale, showing once and for all how much of a disaster this programme was, says Labour’s SOEs spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove. “Just 68,000 Kiwis bought shares in Genesis,...
    Labour | 16-04
  • Interest rates rise but only smokes increasing
    Mortgage rate rises are making life harder for homeowners, and many of them will be surprised the latest CPI figures show inflation would be zero were it not for tobacco tax hikes, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson David Parker. “New Zealanders...
    Labour | 16-04
  • Term One Report Card for Hekia Parata
    Assignment Teacher’s Comments Grade      ...
    Labour | 16-04
  • Hekia Parata kept exam book errors from schools
    Schools will be appalled to learn Education Minister Hekia Parata knew since January that hundreds of exam booklets had been returned to the wrong students but said nothing about it, Labour’s Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “Exams are stressful enough...
    Labour | 15-04
  • What has ACC Minister been doing?
    The ACC Minister needs to front up and explain what, if any, changes she has made to the broken culture of ACC rather than denying that she has any part to play in the dysfunction of her Ministry, the Green...
    Greens | 15-04
  • Promise of jam tomorrow takes the cake
    A claim by Minister of Finance Bill English that average wages will climb by $7,500 over the next four years is a cynical promise of jam tomorrow by a government whose record on wage growth is atrocious, Labour spokesperson on...
    Labour | 15-04
  • Judith Collins has to fess up on ACC blunder
    ACC Minster Judith Collins must front up and tell New Zealand how many people who refused to hand over their private details to ACC have been denied cover, says Labour’s ACC Spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway. “The legality of ACC’s privacy waver,...
    Labour | 15-04
  • Board of Inquiry conditions will save rivers in New Zealand
    The Ruataniwha dam decision released today has protected the Tukituki River and dashed the Government’s hope of the “one nutrient model” (TRIM) being adopted nationwide, says Labour’s Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson. “It is a massive victory for those in the...
    Labour | 15-04
  • Labour turns wheels for cycling safety
    With more than a million New Zealanders now using cycling as an attractive alternative means of transport it is past time their safety was taken seriously, Labour’s Transport spokesperson Darien Fenton says. Due to speak to a cycling rally at...
    Labour | 15-04
  • SPEECH: Institute of Directors
    LEADING AND MANAGING OUR ECONOMIC FUTURE David Cunliffe MP, Labour Leader Speech to the Institute of Directors 15 April 2014, Auckland It's a privilege to be speaking here. The Institute of Directors has a proud history of developing New Zealand's...
    Labour | 15-04
  • More Oravida endorsements from John Key
    The use of a picture of John Key in an advertisement for Oravida’s scampi products in a Chinese airline magazine is further evidence of an unhealthily cosy relationship between the National Party and this company, Labour Leader David Cunliffe says....
    Labour | 15-04
  • Workers at Canterbury Yarns need redundancy support
    Workers faced with redundancy at Canterbury Yarns need a redundancy support co-ordinator, Green Party industrial relations spokesperson Denise Roche said today.Last week, Canterbury Yarns was placed in receivership. Canterbury Yarns joins a long list of New Zealand manufacturers who have...
    Greens | 14-04
  • Making the holidays easier for Kiwi drivers
    The next Labour Government will make the holidays easier and journeys quicker for Kiwi families driving on the roads, says Labour Leader David Cunliffe. “There’s nothing Kiwis like more than getting on the road and going on holiday. But on...
    Labour | 14-04
  • Ae Marika! 15 April 2014
    Our MANA AGM down in Rotorua on the weekend was a sold-out affair – even the media were struggling to get in! Political conferences can be very dull, but not this one. We had a great line-up of speakers including...
    Mana | 14-04
  • Green light from Labour for cancer screening programme
    Labour Leader David Cunliffe has today committed to a national bowel screening programme, starting with extending the current service to the Southern and Waikato districts. “Around 3000 New Zealanders develop bowel cancer each year and about 1200, or 100 a month,...
    Labour | 14-04
  • Adequate resourcing needed for victims’ advocate
    The establishment of a victims’ commissioner role will only be meaningful if it is properly resourced to do the job of advocating for victims’ interests, Labour Justice spokesperson Andrew Little says. Justice Minister Judith Collins has just recently indicated her...
    Labour | 13-04