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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 start of construction on a new link road between Matakana Road and State Highway 1 will create jobs and support the significant population growth expected in the Warkworth area, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Mayor Phil Goff announced today. Transport Minister Phil Twyford said construction of the Matakana Link ...
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    4 days ago
  • PPE supplies secured as COVID-19 response focuses on border
    The Government is prioritising its latest investment in PPE for frontline health workers, including staff at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Health Minister David Clark says. “With no community transmission of COVID-19 our response now has a firm focus on keeping our border safe and secure. “We must ensure that ...
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    5 days ago
  • PGF funding for Parihaka settlement
    The Parihaka Papakāinga Trust in Taranaki will receive up to $14 million for a new visitor centre and other improvements at the historic settlement that will boost the local economy and provide much-needed jobs, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little have ...
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    5 days ago
  • Protections for workers in triangular employment
    Protections for workers who are employees of one employer but working under the direction of another business or organisation have come into force, closing a gap in legislation that  made the personal grievance process inaccessible for some workers, says Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. “This Government is working hard to ...
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  • Government strengthens managed isolation system
    A range of improvements are already underway to address issues identified in the rapid review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system released today, Housing Minister Megan Woods said. The review was commissioned just over a week ago to identify and understand current and emerging risks to ensure the end-to-end ...
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    6 days ago
  • Whakatāne to go predator free with Government backing Ngāti Awa led efforts
    The important brown kiwi habitat around Whakatāne will receive added protection through an Iwi-led predator free project announced by Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Under Secretary for Regional Economic Development Fletcher Tabuteau. “The Government is investing nearly $5 million into Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa’s environmental projects with $2.5 ...
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    6 days ago
  • Growing Goodwood: Expanding wood waste recycling plant in Bay of Plenty, Waikato
    An extra 4,000 tonnes of offcuts and scraps of untreated wood per year will soon be able to be recycled into useful products such as horticultural and garden mulch, playground safety surfacing and animal bedding as a result of a $660,000 investment from the Waste Minimisation Fund, Associate Environment Minister ...
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    7 days ago
  • Scott Watson’s convictions to be referred to Court of Appeal
    The Governor-General has referred Scott Watson’s convictions for murder back to the Court of Appeal, Justice Minister Andrew Little announced today. Mr Watson was convicted in 1999 of the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. His appeal to the Court of Appeal in 2000 was unsuccessful, as was his ...
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    1 week ago
  • Protecting Kiwis with stronger financial supervision
    A new five-year funding agreement for the Reserve Bank will mean it can boost its work to protect New Zealanders’ finances, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says. “New Zealand has a strong and stable financial system. Financial stability is an area that we are not prepared to cut corners for, particularly ...
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    1 week ago
  • Forgotten funds and missing money
    A law change has been introduced to make it easier for forgotten funds in institutional accounts to be returned more easily to their rightful owners. Revenue Minister Stuart Nash has introduced an amendment to the Unclaimed Money Act 1971. It will update the rules controlling forgotten sums of money held ...
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    1 week ago
  • Government delivers on mental health commitment
    The Government is delivering on election commitments and a key recommendation of He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction with the establishment of a permanent independent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, Health Minister Dr David Clark says. Legislation enabling the establishment of the fully ...
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    1 week ago
  • New Zealand privacy law modernised
    A Bill to replace New Zealand’s Privacy Act passed its third reading in Parliament today, Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced. “The protections in the Privacy Bill are vitally important. The key purpose of the reforms is to promote and protect people’s privacy and give them confidence that their personal ...
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    1 week ago
  • Tourism operators provided extra support
    Extra support is being provided to tourism businesses operating on public conservation land announced Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage today.  The Government is providing $25m worth of support to tourism operators impacted by COVID-19, with a decision to waive most Department of Conservation tourism related concession ...
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    1 week ago