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NZ Defence Force reports dodge most important torture questions

Keith Locke MP
Keith Locke MP

Yesterday Defence Minister Wayne Mapp released two NZ Defence Force statements on prisoner treatment in Afghanistan which raise more questions than they answer.

The two reports largely dodge the issues I raised in last week’s blog “Mapp’s reassurances on torture fall short” following the release of UN report on the Afghan government’s mistreatment of “conflict-related” detainees.

The key issue is whether any of the prisoners taken on joint SAS/Afghan Crisis Response Unit operations were tortured in Afghan detention centres. We now know that 193 prisoners (according to Wayne Mapp on Radio NZ yesterday) were taken on 58 different joint SAS/CRU operations over the past two years.

The NZDF now says that “Since becoming aware of the likely content of the UNAMA Report in early September NZDF forces in Kabul have ensured that they know where persons who are arrested during CRU operations are taken after arrest.”

That begs the question of where most of the 193 prisoners, taken before early last month, have ended up. The NZDF report admits “a small number” of the SAS/CRU prisoners were handed over to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which the UN found regularly tortured prisoners. It seems, from the NZDF’s reference to the NDS Kabul facility 17/40, that some of the SAS/CRU prisoners were taken there. The NZDF tries to reassure us by saying that ISAF has not “prohibited” prisoners from going to NDS 17/40 – even though the UN notes accusations of torture against NDS 17/40.

How can we really trust any NDS facility not to torture people when the UN report says that over several years only two complaints of torture by the NDS have ever being investigated, and the UN was not allowed access to the NDS’s elite facility in Kabul, 90/124? The UN details horrific torture of former 90/124 detainees – an institution specialising in interrogating the same type of “high value” targets the SAS/CRU capture. Prisoners initially detained in NDS 17/40 or elsewhere could easily end up being tortured in NDS facility 90/124. The NZDF reports do nothing to reassure New Zealanders on this important matter.

Our government has a moral and legal responsibility to ensure any prisoners it helps capture are not subsequently tortured. The NZDF can’t get off the hook by saying, in the report, that it “does not have the legal ability or mandate to maintain oversight of the detainees once they leave the custody of the CRU.”

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