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.
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.