Any decision on whether New Zealand Special Forces should return to Afghanistan must be postponed pending an inquiry into whether there was mistreatment of prisoners the NZ Special Air Service (SAS) handed over to American forces in an earlier deployment, said Green Party MP Keith Locke.
The call from the Green Party for an inquiry follows revelations today that the New Zealand SAS may have been complicit in war crimes when, in early 2002, it handed over 50-70 Afghans to US forces knowing they were likely to be subject to mistreatment.
“New Zealand’s good name as a country that defends human rights is on the line here,” said Mr Locke, the Green Party’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson.
“No decision to send the SAS back to Afghanistan should be made until this matter is cleared up. This could be done through an open inquiry, which would receive submissions from the SAS personnel involved at the time, with appropriate name suppression. Information from overseas investigations of torture that occurred in Afghanistan at the Khandahar and Bagram bases should also be included.
“From the information available so far, New Zealand did contravene the Geneva Conventions when it handed over the prisoners in 2002. Our troops did not properly identify them, or monitor their subsequent fate, even though
knew it would be likely to include abuse.
“It was well documented in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that the US treatment of prisoners paid little regard to international human rights law,” said Mr Locke.
“For the last few years I have asked questions of our Defence Force on these matters, without satisfactory answers.
“The Defence Force has relied on assurances from the US Government that it will uphold the Geneva Conventions – assurances which ring hollow given the ‘robust’ means of prisoner interrogation introduced by the Bush administration.
“The Defence Force claims it will now inform the Red Cross of any prisoners handed over, and ask it to monitor their treatment. This is hardly foolproof if prisoners are not properly identified when captured or if the Red Cross is not fully informed about what happens to them,” said Mr Locke.
“New Zealand needs to be safe rather than sorry, and not send the SAS back to Afghanistan. We can better support the Afghan people with increased civil aid, and the work of our Provincial Reconstruction Team in the relatively peaceful Bamian province.”