SAS present 35 times when prisoners taken, but minister dodges any responsibility for their welfare

Denials that our SAS troops could be handing Afghan prisoners over to torture are getting less and less credible.

The government claims that on joint operations with the Afghan Crisis Response Unit our boys don’t take any prisoners. Last year, when I asked the NZ Defence Force about this – during a Select Committee hearings – I was told the SAS had been “in the vicinity” on 22 joint operations when prisoners were taken. On May 3 Defence Minister Wayne Mapp told me in the House that there were now

24 occasions

where our SAS had been “in support” when prisoners were taken. Four days later, in response to my

Written Question (03022

),  he upped that figure to 35.

We do know, from the one joint SAS/CRU operation we have details about, that “in support” doesn’t mean SAS troopers are standing around with hands in their pockets. In the raid on the Kabul offices of Tiger International last Christmas eve, it was the SAS, and only the SAS, that went and detained people. Jon Stephenson’s May Metro article confirms this, and the Wayne Mapp

essentially confirmed this to me

in Parliament. Dr Mapp also admitted that in investigating the incident neither the NZ Defence force, nor the International Security Assistance Force, bothered to interview any of the Tiger International people who were detained and handed over to the Afghan National Directorate of Security – who quickly released them because they had nothing to do with the Taliban.

It is likely that some of the prisoners taken on the 35 SAS/CRU joint operations previously referred to were subsequently mistreated in Afghan prison cells, given the poor record of agencies like the National Directorate of Security. New Zealand cannot absolve itself of moral or legal responsibility for that with the fiction that our troops were only “in support” during these operations.

It is not as if we don’t know what can ensue. During an operation in Helmand province in May 2002 our SAS did hand around 55 prisoners over to torture. In September 2007 the then Defence Minister Phil Goff said the SAS commander had complained at the US forces’ about “robust” handling of the detainees, but was assured that “the treatment was not inhumane.” Nobody bothered to check how they were treated once they went inside the US prison in Khandahar until recently, when Jon Stephenson interviewed some of those detained back in their home village of Band e Timur. He found that several of them had been badly beaten. So the 2007 story from our government, that the treatment

“was not inhumane”

went out the window, and Wayne Mapp

admitted to me

on May 3 in the House that there had been “mistreatment”. He added that “the responsibility [for this] must lie with the United States”. He claimed there was no role for New Zealand in rectifying the situation or providing compensation to those affected.

According the Defence Minister, New Zealand doesn’t have responsibility for much at all. Not accepting this, I pushed last Thursday for the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee to inquire into these matters, but my motion was outvoted by the National majority.