Joe Hendren

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Monday, November 22, 2004

More on SIS spying on the Maori Party

Over the weekend the Sunday Star Times printed further revelations about possible SIS monitoring of the Maori party, this time backed up by three former employees of our security services. One quit 'Operation Leaf' because he was disgusted at the surveillance of "decent, law-abiding , New Zealanders"

Spies Blow Whistle on SIS Bugging
Whistle Blown on Operation Leaf
We Could See it was for Dirt Collection

In response Clark said "I can say categorically that at no time in the past 5 years I have been the Minister in Charge of the SIS and Prime Minister have I ever been advised about anything happening in any other political party." (Press, 22/11/04) But note that Clark's denial does not say anything about her being advised about anything happening within the Labour party, such as during the period earlier this year when Turia was considering resignation. Turia says her phone was bugged during this time.

After consulting Parliamentary Services over the issue Turia asked a private security firm to investigate. The security firm had said at the time it was "unlikely" to be the SIS "because they would have far more sophisticated means of tracking a person's conversations, basically that they could have an arrangement with the telephone company to do that if it was serious".

Of course in order to do proper bugging the SIS would have required a warrant, and it is possible that the bugging occurred without one. So perhaps someone economised in more ways than one.

When the allegations first arose on Scoop, Turia said she accepted the word of Richard Woods , the SIS director, that the SIS did not spy on the Maori party. Thankfully, Turia is now calling for an inquiry.

As I pointed out in my post on the 13th of November, security services have previously got around prohibitions restricting their ability to spy on citizens of their own country by getting their mates in other Western security services to do it, so I was interested in reading that NZ SIS co-operated with Canadian security services during surveillance of a Maori academic based in Canada. There is a great advantage in such methods - deniability!
'SIS Employee/Spy': "Even before Leaf there had been other Maori related surveillance, I think the files and profiles of people from years ago, the progress they made, the overseas contacts etc all morphed into Op Leaf, I once heard a colleague mention a liaison with csis in Canada about some Maori academic there involved in stirring up shit with the natives of Canada, that was years before Leaf, so you can see that this is something the govt has always had a handle on."
Even if the claims are not true, I am afraid I do not find the offical reassurances reassuring. There are far too many holes in the explanations offered so far. Once again the case highlights the lack of real democratic oversight of security operations in New Zealand. And thats not even mentioning the foreign spybases such as Waihopai that transmit communications straight back to the NSA without any New Zealand oversight of the information (the infamous keyword system)....

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Fall Guy of Fallujah

Been thinking more about the case of the US Marine caught on tape shooting an Iraqi solider. Shooting a wounded unarmed solider is a clear breach of the Geneva Conventions. Article 3 holds that "persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat (out of combat) by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely".

There is certainly a case for the Marine to be charged, but why is no one talking about the culpability of his commanders and superiors? According to the press release issued by the US Central Command the purpose of this investigation is to "determine whether the Marine acted in self-defence, violated military law or failed to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict". But there are other obvious questions. Why did senior commanders allow a Marine with facial injuries who had recently seen one of his buddies being killed head straight back into combat?

I can see parallels with the case of Lynley England already. Despite clear indications the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was sanctioned, even encouraged by those further up the chain of command, so far only low level soldiers have been charged over the scandal. While Lynley England was involved in some appalling and degrading treatment of prisoners it occurs to me that she was also a scapegoat for the appalling actions and decisions of others. Seymour Hersch alleges that Rumsfeld authorized the use of questionable interrogation tactics to facilitate the accumulation of actionable intelligence. For there to be justice all must be held to account.

Is this pattern going to repeat itself in the case of the Marine? Will he become the public face, the fall guy of Fallujah?

When a Pentagon spokesperson, Lt Colonel Barry Venable commented on media coverage of this case in comparison to other alleged homicides involving soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division, he said "Not to diminish the severity of the incident, but the difference is that there was a camera present for this one." (Press, 18 Nov) So in the case of the Marine and Lynley England, was the camera the crime?

As well as the Geneva Conventions I also had a look at the US Army's own Law of Land Warfare. It states;
501. Responsibility for Acts of Subordinates
In some cases, military commanders may be responsible for war crimes committed by subordinate members of the armed forces, or other persons subject to their control. Thus, for instance, when troops commit massacres and atrocities against the civilian population of occupied territory or against prisoners of war, the responsibility may rest not only with the actual perpetrators but also with the commander. Such a responsibility arises directly when the acts in question have been committed in pursuance of an order of the commander concerned. The commander is also responsible if he has actual knowledge, or should have knowledge, through reports received by him or through other means, that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish violators thereof....
So based on Bush being 'Commander in Chief' there could be a case to put Bush and Rummy on trial for war crimes based on the events of Fallujah and Abu Ghraib.

It is becoming pretty clear that US senior commanders are out of control in Iraq. There have been several other possible violations of the Geneva Conventions during the reinvasion. Since my last post, the International committee of the Red Cross has condemned the "utter contempt for humanity" shown by all sides in the fighting in Iraq. Complying with international humanitarian law was "an obligation, not an option."

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Many more war crimes in Fallujah

Over at Empire Notes Rahul Mahjan collects recent reports demonstrating the extent "the Geneva Conventions are out the window" in Fallujah. While the news may concentrate on the war crime of shooting an unarmed injured person this is but one serious breach.
The way the attack on Fallujah has been conducted makes one thing crystal clear: the Geneva Convention has been overtly and specifically abandoned, not just in the treatment of prisoners, but also in the conduct of military assaults.
The US military have defined all men of military age in Fallujah (15-55) to be targets, and claim that preventing all from leaving is the key to the success of the mission. They insist male Iraqis stay in a battlefield area. This is chilling - as it entails the mission can only be successful when the majority of Iraqis in Falluja are dead, whether they are civilians or combatants. Seemingly to increase the effectiveness of the civilian trap, US troops cut roads and bridges leading to the city.

Preventing civilians from leaving a combat zone is a clear war crime. The Geneva Conventions, recognised as the 'laws of war', require military forces to protect civilians as refugees and forbid returning non-combatants into a combat zone. On November 13 AP reported the following in a story called "Four choppers hit as forces spread"
A stream of refugees, about 300 men, women and children, were detained by American soldiers as they left southern Fallujah by car and on foot. The women and children were allowed to proceed. The men were tested for any residues left by the handling of explosives. All tested negative, but they were sent back.
As Empire Notes says, this clearly shows these men were non-combatants.

The refusal of the military to recognise legitimate non-combatants reminds me a great deal of their refusal to recognise those held in Guantanamo Bay as prisoners of war. Just as the have unilaterally redefined 'prisoner of war' not to include 'enemy combatants', they now appear to define a combatant as any Iraqi that happens to be armed with a Y chromosome.

There are further breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The Forth Convention says.
Art 18: Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.

Art. 19. The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded. The fact that sick or wounded members of the armed forces are nursed in these hospitals, or the presence of small arms and ammunition taken from such combatants and not yet been handed to the proper service, shall not be considered to be acts harmful to the enemy.
So making Falluja General Hospital one of the first targets, in a surprise attack, is another likely war crime. The US claims the hospital was a 'centre of propaganda' because of the way it reported civilian casualties, which would be a stretch to be an act 'harmful to the enemy' and far more likely to be regarded by medical staff as a humanitarian duty. Any PR coming from the hospital is far more likely to be pulmonary resuscitations, not press releases. And perhaps even a pinch of reality.

The US is a party to the basic Geneva Conventions, but has not ratified some of the later Protocols - something it has in common with other 'rogue' states. Despite the fact the US has not ratified Protocol I; it is still widely recognised international law. In the light of recent events, it makes interesting reading.
Art. 50. Definition of civilians and civilian population

1. A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4 (A) (1), (2), (3) and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.

2. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.

3. The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.

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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Is the SIS Monitoring the Maori Party?

Scoop reports 'intelligence sources' say that the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) is investigating key figures within the Maori Party'.
Intelligence sources have revealed the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) has launched a major covert operation investigating the Maori Party, co-leader Tariana Turia, its members, networks and associates.

Intelligence information came to light on Monday November 1st amidst speculation that political fallout from an inquiry into John Tamihere’s taxation affairs could have resulted in his resignation not only from Cabinet but also from Parliament. The later event would have forced a by-election in his Tamaki Makaurau seat.

This scenario [of the Maori party holding the balance of power] has caused intelligence officials to consider what the potential consequences of a centrist Maori political force would have on the internal security of New Zealand.
In response to Scoop's claims a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister Helen Clark said: "Any rational reading of s 4AA of the NZ Security Intelligence Service Act would confirm how laughable this is."

4AA. Political neutrality of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service—

1) The Director must take all reasonable steps to ensure that

(a) The activities of the Security Intelligence Service are limited to those that are relevant to the discharge of its functions:

(b) The Security Intelligence Service is kept free from any influence or consideration that is not relevant to its functions:

(c) The Security Intelligence Service does not take any action for the purpose of furthering or harming the interests of any political party.

(2) The Minister may not direct the Security Intelligence Service to institute the surveillance of any person or entity or any class of person or entity within New Zealand.

(3) The Director must consult regularly with the Leader of the Opposition for the purpose of keeping him or her informed about matters relating to security.

(4) Subsection (2) prevails over section 4(1)

While I have no further reason to believe whether the claims are true or not, I don't think Tariana Turia should be so quick to believe such assurances given the history of such operations. Even if the claims are not true, I am afraid I do not find the reassurances very reassuring.

It is well known that the NZ SIS have targeted legitimate NZ political activists, notably those involved in the peace movement, anti-globalisation actions and especially Maori nationalists.
While the SIS cannot offically target political parties, they have shown an uncanny interest in the advocacy of certain policies that most would regard as acceptable in a democracy, even if such ideas are a threat to conservative notions of economic and social orthodoxy. The botched break in of anti-APEC activist Aziz Choudry's Christchurch home in 1996 by SIS agents show that our security services do act against New Zealanders.

Aziz won his first legal battle for damages in the Christchurch High Court, only to have the Crown appeal. He eventually won an out of court settlement and a Government apology, after the Court of Appeal by a four to one majority decision to accept a certificate issued by Jenny Shipley that prevented judges from viewing documents essential to the trial, and said I-did-not-have-dinner-with-Kevin-Roberts Shipley should be trusted. The dissenting judge, Justice Roberts, was scathing of the decision, quite rightly alarmed that this ruling effectively denied Choudry access to the courts.

Rather than being reassuring, the above snippit of law highlights how little democratic or judical scrutiny there is of our SIS.
“It should not be overlooked that the Service is a covert intelligence agency. It is by definition not an open organisation accustomed to outside scrutiny. It will not welcome that scrutiny. Its officers are by virtue of their occupation practised in the art of deception. The Service, as with any covert intelligence agency, will strive under the cloak of secrecy to protect this country from perceived subversive interests and hostile forces. There is no reason to suspect that its officers will not believe, perhaps passionately, in the importance of their task or that they will be anything other than assiduous in carrying it out. Once it is accepted that the trust necessary to accept the certificate on its face is in reality a trust reposed in or embracing the covert intelligence agency itself, the manifestation of such abiding judicial trust seems strangely out of place. (Justice Thomas's minority opinion in Aziz Choudry case, July 1999).
Murray Horton speculates why the SIS may have wanted to break into Aziz house.
Of course, the case ends with none of us (including Aziz) any the wiser about why the SIS was breaking into his house. That is why the Government settled the case and paid up - to keep the SIS operation shrouded in secrecy. There has been public speculation that the break-in was aimed not at him but at his 1996 Mexican guest, Dr Alejandro Villamar, a speaker at the counter-APEC conference. Other speculation is that it was aimed at Maori activists Mike Smith* and Annette Sykes*, who were also at the conference. But we’ll never know, not officially anyway.
*Both I believe have been linked to the Maori party.

Additionally, there is an another obvious way for a Government to get around the legal restrictions governing the SIS, and that is, to use the security services of another country to report on your own citizens. There is the famous case where Margaret Thatcher roped in the Canadian security services to spy on two of her dissenting ministers she did not trust, thereby achieving her political aims by manovering around British laws that are similar to those govening the NZ SIS.

Edit: NZ Herald story where prominant Maori activists say they would not be surprised if the claims were true as they had been targets of the SIS in the past.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Anderton shots himself in the foot with call for corporate tax cuts

Jim Anderton's recent advocacy of a lower corporate tax rate has all the hallmarks of a cheap political stunt. He has attempted similar things before.

In the run-up to the 1999 election Jim Anderton stunned the Alliance Council by advocating that the Alliance should campaign for a top personal tax rate of 39c in the dollar, to cut in at $80,000. This was $20,000 higher than Labour's proposal, which became the top tax rate. I believe it was the same council meeting that Jim also tried to take the knife to many key Alliance policies, such as $20 extra a week for beneficiaries. Not surprisingly, the Alliance Council completely rejected Jim's proposal that the Alliance become a lower tax party than Labour.

While Jim's advocacy of a 30 per cent corporate tax rate may have given the hapless Progressive party some short term profile, for a party that supposedly advocates for greater social and education spending it was a dumb move. Jim now needs new shoes, as he has shot himself in the foot.

In the same week the Progressives announced a policy of write offs of student loans for students that stay in New Zealand for three years after they graduate. They say it will cost $100 million. No Right Turn thinks its similar to a 1998 National party education policy, and from memory I think he is right.

Hmm, $100 million. What is going to happen when the Progressive* attempts to advocate this policy? Cullen will simply make a crocodile smile and say "now Jim didn't you advocate for lower corporate tax, how do you expect to pay for both?", and Cullen will have a good point. The end result will be that the so called progressives will be even more lame duck in this parliament than they have been in this one. They will be unable to credibly advocate for anything that involves extra cash. And for a party that advocates greater social spending, that’s terminal.

On the 9th of October 2001 Jim issued a press statement challenging then new National leader Bill English to say how he planned to fund corporate tax cuts. “National needs to spell out how it can pay $300 million to cut the company tax rate...". Well Jim, now you have to spell out.

Advocating for corporate tax cuts is also likely to drain the funding of Jim's pet project, economic and regional development. At the time Jim Anderton was setting up the Ministry of Economic Development and Industry New Zealand, National and Act were making scathing noises about 'picking winners'. They told Jim to lower the corporate tax rate instead of providing active Government support to business. To his credit, Jim successfully rejected these calls and instead advocated how active government assistance to help to businesses to grow. The estimated $500m tax cut could buy a lot of economic and regional development Jim. Corporate tax cuts are just a return to the flat, scorched earth business policies of Ruth and Roger.

It now appears Andrew Little of the EMPU now regrets rushing to Jim Anderton's aid following his defection from the Alliance in 2002. Giving the $20,000 to the Alliance and endorsing Laila Harre in Waitakere in 2002 would have been a safer bet, and now Laila could be providing Labour with an extra seat buffer, a seat that could save the Government majority in the event John Tamihere resigns from Parliament. Eventually, that decision was always going to bite Labour on the bum.

In another ironic twist, Cullen and Anderton were at odds on this issue in May 2000, but on opposite sides of the argument. On the 12th of April 2000, Cullen made a speech to the Asia Society in Hong Kong where he suggested reducing the company tax rate "when fiscal conditions permit", although he made it clear it was not a priority. In response Anderton said Cullen had not discussed corporate tax cuts with him, replying that "People might like to do without taxes altogether when fiscal conditions allow. Anything might happen when fiscal conditions allow. I'd like free education and free health when fiscal conditions allow" (Dominion, 13th April 2000).

To make matters worse, he is now making a direct comparision with the 30 per cent corporate tax rate in Australia, despite the fact that he previously argued (correctly) that his was not a good comparision because Austrialian companies pay additional taxes that NZ companies do not, such as captial gains taxes.

The large colour advertisements that appeared in this weeks papers were apparently paid for by "Progressive party supporters". There was no Parliamentary Crest so no public money could legally be used to pay for the ads. Is it just a chance thing that the same week Jim is advocating corporate tax cuts he suddenly finds the money for several 3 x 1/4 colour advertisements in major newspapers? Did some corporate come up with the cash so Jim could instigate a tacky little coup from inside the Government? If it was a donation over $10,000 we will know by April next year when the electoral commission releases the return of party donations....

*as it is likely there will only be Jim

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

NZ: Has Tamihere resigned? At least there will less of a 'backbone club'

Scoop is reporting that beseigned cabinet minister John Tamahere has resigned from cabinet. I am not surprised about the timing - the humongous focus on the American election means that it will be an opportune day to bury unfavourable political news. Of course this rule must remain unspoken. On September 11 2001 a white house staffer sent around an email suggesting 9-11 was a good day to bury bad news, and was sacked after a public outcry.

Governments controlled by spin merchants are not always this cynical, but nethertheless, today is a good day to keep an eye out for parliamentary and other reports the government would prefer not to release at all.

Clark has been distancing herself from Tamihere ever since she got back from India. Her comments to the media that she had spoken to Tamihere earlier in the year about speculation over tax related issues, strongly suggested he was already toast. Clark can say she asked Tamihere about any potential issues and he denied there was a problem, so she can claim to be off the hook.

I must say as a lefty I am not too sorry to see Tamihere go. He is a known member of the Backbone Club alongside Clayton Cosgrove, David Benson-Pope*, George Hawkins and Dover Samuels - the Labour right wing faction that once included Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, David Lange and Michael Bassett among its members. Kind of an ironic name really - I didn't think worms and snakes had backbones.

One of Tamihere's first actions as Youth Affairs Minister was to dismiss a report commissioned by Laila Harre advocating the removal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act (the so called defence to allow smacking of kids). He also has advocated the privatisation of welfare - so I think there is a case that, if he did not hold a Maori seat, he would be in a different party.

That said, Tamihere always struck me as a friendly, affable sort of guy. When I worked in Parliament as a researcher he was one of the few MPs that would say 'Ki ora' to me as I walked past, even though we had never been introduced. Many MPs would not even acknowledge the existence of us 'worker bees' in the Beehive, Bowen House and Parliament house.

With Tamihere gone from cabinet, it is now more likely that George Hawkins will be reshuffed out of cabinet in Clark's Xmas reshuffle. Apparently his fellow members of the backbone club kicked up a stink when rumors started to speculate that Clark was about to drop him. I wish she would - he always reminded me of Mr Creasote from Monty Python's 'Meaning of Life'. I am sure if he ever 'blew up' it would be equally as disgusting.

*The Labour cabinet minister who told Zaoui to 'Get on a Plane'

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Demise of the NZ Northerner Rail Service

I wrote an article for the Alliance Standard on the demise of the Northerner passenger rail service - its now been uploaded to the site.

Northerner Rail Service Axed: More Cuts Likely to Take Their Toll

This week saw yet another cutback to passenger rail services with the announcement that the Northerner, the night service between Auckland and Wellington, would cease operation on the 12th of November. When one considers this annoucement alongside specific clauses in the agreement the Government signed with Toll in July 2004 it becomes obvious that the Northerner will be first of many closures within the first three years of this 'public private partnership'.

Read the rest of the article

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