The terrorism fiasco

Daphna Whitmore
The Spark December 2007

How Operation 8 got its name no-one has explained. Perhaps the police put two and two together and came up with eight.

On October 15 when the police breathlessly announced 17 arrests had been made and terrorism charges may follow, the whole country sat up and watched. What played out was a picture of state terror. The real menace were the 300 armed and masked police who stormed homes and communities, illegally detained people and locked up disparate political activists.

The raids netted just four weapons. There were no terrorism charges, and even the firearms penalties may not stick. As political analyst Paul Buchanan points out, molotov cocktail ingredients are not firearms but hazardous substances.

Besides, if uttering the words “someone should kill George Bush” is enough to spook the spooks, then the world is teeming with would-be terrorists.

The logic behind the police actions is not clear. Perhaps there was no logic, and it was just a ridiculous operation conducted by clueless plods with oversized budgets. Once they made their move the police “intelligence” units put all their energy into a frame-up of the accused.

Another forgery

Early in the piece, Helen Clark applauded and endorsed the police. She went on with a flurry of accusations, saying those arrested had “at the very least illicitly used firearms, constructed molotov cocktails and trained themselves in how to use napalm”.

Disregarding the right of the accused to a fair trial, the prime minister was determined to paint a picture of sinister activities in the Tuhoe region. Needless to say, it was not first her first forgery.

The solicitor general, presented with the evidence, had to conclude that terrorism charges could not be laid. He noted the Terrorism Suppression Act was not coherent, but in a piece of incoherence of his own he commended the police.

This system of checks and balances is all part of how the capitalist state functions. So, if one part of the state apparatus (such as the police) screws up, there is a check in the state apparatus (the solicitor-general) to rescue the screw-up. Had terrorism charges proceeded the trials would have greatly discredited the police. Instead, the solicitor general steps in and saves the police from scrutiny.

The “evidence” was then carefully leaked (no prizes for guessing where from) to the media, and quotes from a couple of delusional individuals were splashed about. The big lie about “terrorists in New Zealand” was then perpetuated in screaming headlines for days.


Terrorising Tuhoe

While the government and its spokespeople put a positive spin on the police fiasco, there is still widespread anger about the operation. Peter Williams QC, a lawyer representing the people of Ruatoki, says they are looking at whether or not there was a form of terrorism by the police themselves.

Police racism was blatant in the raids on Ruatoki. The rural Maori settlement was locked down and barricaded. There were reports of the police detaining a woman for six hours, keeping her children in the woodshed without food, water or toilet facilities for the duration. Some people were made to lie spreadeagled on the ground. Even elderly residents were stopped and photographed, and children had guns pointed at their heads.

Moana Jackson, a lawyer acting for the accused, observed, “As with all government agencies, the talk of cultural sensitivity or partnership or biculturalism is largely window-dressing, and when the crunch comes it is ignored.” (Listener, 24-30 November 2007.)

The Tuhoe community have fought back. On 19 October a thousand people protested in Whakatane, and a few weeks later they set off on a hikoi to Wellington. When they asked to see Chief of Police Howard Broad they were met by a four-deep police cordon armed with batons.


Spy epidemic

Beyond these front-line defenders of the system there is a proliferation of secret police. Since 9/11 and the creation of the Terror Bogeyman, the Security Intelligence Service’s annual budget has expanded from $12 million to $33 million. The SIS is now flush with 150 staff (Sunday Star-Times 21 October 2007). There is also an assistant commissioner for counter-terrorism, an anti-terrorism Strategic Intelligence Unit, and a Special Tactics Group which specialises in terrorism (www.police.govt.nz).

As if that was not enough, there is the Government Communication Security Bureau and there are “national security” police with a million dollars’ worth of new spy equipment. To cap it all off, police and SIS officers have been stationed in Washington to work with US intelligence and security agencies.
That New Zealand lacked terrorists would prove to be no obstacle to these well resourced units.

It is an experience repeated in other countries. In the United States, after 9/11, terrorism investigations saw 400 suspects being charged. In the end, over 90% of the cases were thrown out through lack of evidence. Likewise in Britain, the number of accused is far higher than the number of successful cases.

Using terror laws not only justifies the special units’ existence, but offers heftier penalties. Whereas participating in a criminal organisation has a maximum sentence of three years, participating in a group labelled terrorist by the United Nations carries a maximum penalty of 14 years. As Ahmed Zaoui found, once the police have stuck the terrorist label on, it is a battle to get it off. It took him nearly five years of legal struggle to get the SIS to reveal its case against him and for him to prove his innocence.

A civil rights defence campaign has led the protest against the raids and is calling for a repeal of all terror laws. (See http://www.civilrightsdefence.org.nz.)

The time to stand up for civil rights is now. Having failed to find bona fide terrorists, the government is now seeking wider surveillance powers for police. They must be stopped.

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