So now we are finally seeing the lengths the NZ Army went to to destroy Jon Stephenson.
Your tax dollars hard at work…
Afghan witness still in NZ
A failed challenge to the credibility of a journalist by the Defence Force has blown up in its face, cost taxpayers more than $1 million and resulted in an Afghan police unit commander whose evidence did not survive scrutiny seeking to stay in New Zealand as a refugee.
The commander was flown out to be the Defence Force’s key witness in a defamation case but the Herald can reveal he did not return home after the retrial was abandoned and is seeking to stay permanently.
In response to one of a series of Official Information Act requests by the Herald, the Defence Force confirmed only one of two people it flew from Afghanistan for the retrial boarded their return flight on December 15, 2014.
“No further information is able to be provided on the second person,” it said.
The Herald understands the person who returned to Kabul was an interpreter and that the commander remains in New Zealand and is pursuing an application to be accepted as a refugee.
It is unlawful under the Immigration Act to deport a person until their refugee application has been determined.
The Defence Force abruptly changed tack in its defamation case against journalist Jon Stephenson after the commander testified at a secret High Court sitting in Wellington on December 2014.
According to the court list, the hearing was “to take evidence”.
After the hearing, the Defence Force settled with Stephenson, paid him a six-figure sum and expressed “regret”.
During the three-year battle, the Defence Force used 15 lawyers at a cost of $643,000.
Stephenson sued the Defence Force chief at the time, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, and the force, claiming he was defamed in a press release General Jones issued in 2011 in response to a Metro magazine article by Stephenson about the handling of detainees in Afghanistan. The article raised whether SAS troops had passed prisoners to authorities known to torture.
The journalist argued the press release accused him of making up a visit to an Afghan police Crisis Response Unit base in Kabul and interview with the commander.
The commander did not give evidence at a trial in July 2013 during the course of which, and in response to testimony by the journalist, General Jones accepted Stephenson had gone to the base and probably spoken to the commander.
Despite the judge directing the jury that there was now no challenge to Stephenson’s account, the jury did not reach a verdict.
The Defence Force proceeded towards a retrial but in a statement last November said it and General Jones now accepted Stephenson did in fact gain entry to the base and interview the CRU commander.
The Defence Force paid for the commander to fly to New Zealand on November 10, 2014.
The secret hearing was in early December and he was booked to fly back to Kabul on December 15 but did not board the flight, a Defence Force spokeswoman confirmed.
The spokeswoman said the Defence Force had not offered support for the commander’s immigration application.
No explanation was given for abandoning the planned retrial.
The ease with which the NZ Army was able to smear a journalist for highlighting possible war crimes was due to Key publicly joining in on the smearing…
Prime Minister John Key attacked Stephenson’s credibility at the time.
“I’ve got no reason for the NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible,” Mr Key said in May 2011.
Mr Key’s office last night said the Prime Minister had nothing further to add.
The attack on Stephenson’s credibility by the Lieutenant General’s comments in the wake of Stephenson’s Metro expose that highlighted NZ SAS involvement in handing over Afghan civilians to known torture units is an active tactic to attack a journalist rather than some simple mistake.
The NZDF didn’t make a mistake, they were attempting to discredit Stephenson rather than engage with his accusations that the NZDF was culpable in breaching the Geneva contention.
This matters because Stephenson has been one of the few voices in the NZ Media who has challenged the NZDFs sanitized version of what we have been doing in Afghanistan. Sadly much of the mainstream media in NZ have been willingly manipulated and played by the NZDFs spin doctoring as has been disclosed by Nicky Hager in his book ‘Other Peoples Wars‘.
Those who think Nicky Hager is just another left-wing stirrer and dismiss his latest book accordingly should think again.
Likewise, the country’s politicians should read Other People’s Wars before condemning it.
Whatever Hager’s motive for investigating New Zealand’s contribution over the past decade to the United States-led “war on terror”, it is pretty irrelevant when placed alongside the mountain of previously confidential and very disturbing information his assiduous research and inquiries have uncovered.
With the help of well-placed informants and thousands of leaked documents, Hager exposes the cynical manner in which the Defence Force has purposely misled the public by omission of pertinent facts and public relations flannel.
…so the NZDFs history of playing the mainstream media is well documented, and that needs to be understood as the context to their attempt at discrediting Stephenson. It was dirty propaganda at its most cynical. The NZDF knew Stephenson was right, what they needed to do after such a devastating critique of torture allegations was denounce Stephenson rather than admit any of his claims.
When the military are actively discrediting Journalists with lies to hide what they are really doing in a war none of us have sanctioned they should be up on Treason charges rather than Defamation.
We know the NZDF have manipulated the spin within a pretty compliant media regarding our true role in Afghanistan, this disinformation campaign aimed at Stephenson was simply an extension of that media management.
Claiming Stephenson never visited the base or spoke to who he had claimed to have spoken to allowed the Military to side-step having to engage in allegations that were effectively a breach of the Geneva Convention.
Committing war crimes tends to be a dampener on domestic support.
This case was an attempt to put those tactics up on trial and show them for what there were, defamation with malice. After showing evidence of Stephenson visiting the base and talking to the Commander, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones admitted that Stephenson visited the base and spoke to the commander.
Let’s stress that point, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones admitted during the trial that what he had said was not true. The NZDF still had up on their website the claims Stephenson had never visited the base or spoken to the commander when the trial began.
That original trial against the NZDF bewilderingly ended in a hung jury and it created a message that the context of which this defamation occurred would see the public side with the version of authority – even after that authority admits they were wrong.
The societal peers of journalism set a self-mutalatingly high threshold for the interests of oligarchic justice by not finding against the NZDF.
There is a deep problem here.
If we look at Nicky Hager’s previous book, Other People’s Wars, the insidious ability of the NZ Defence Force to manipulate and co-opt mainstream media into being their propaganda tools is well researched, and unsettling.
Take for example ‘Kiwi Camp’ in Afghanistan. It was sold via the embedded mainstream media as some type of Engineering peace corps rebuilding schools, bridges and wells. Independent reports citing the work we did for the locals called our efforts “poorly planned” and “wildly exaggerated”. Embedded journalists Guyon Espiner and Vernan Small both visited Kiwi Camp and later noted (after being outed by the book) the CIA were using our base as a cover, yet both failed to mention that as anything worth informing NZers about. The CIA were using our base as a front because Provincial Reconstruction Teams don’t get attacked the way Forward Operating bases do, but neither journalist thought that manipulation was news worthy at the time.
From Other People’s Wars…
having CIA operatives inside the Kiwi base fitted poorly with the deployment’s stated goals. Why would the New Zealand authorities risk the New Zealanders working at Kiwi Base, and the credibility of the New Zealand peacekeeping mission, by mixing them up with a CIA operation? After the suicide attack on the FOB [forward operating base] Chapman, the issue of CIA operations inside a provincial reconstruction team was widely discussed. The Times wrote that “PRTs have been criticised widely for endangering civilian aid workers by blurring the line between development staff and the military.
The media’s self censoring compliance with the NZDF and their willingness to don flak jackets and helmets to play the intrepid journalist shtick is actually part of the problem.
This self censorship and ability to be so easily manipulated by the NZDF alongside their aggressive attempts to smear any journalist who challenges them should be the lead story. It won’t be because Max Key’s new song is number one on spotify.