Torture is a crime under international law. New Zealand has signed (a) the UN convention against torture and (b) formal agreements about how armed conflict should be conducted. That’s the legal backdrop to the fascinating report released this week by the SIS Inspector-General. The report investigates the role of New Zealand’s security services in the CIA’s illegal system of rendition and use of secret “black” sites to interrogate and torture captives in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.
The report amounts to a litany of failure by the leadership of the GCSB and SIS at the time. Yes, the report does exonerate New Zealand personnel from direct participation in torture. That’s welcome. But it also makes clear that – in stark contrast (see para 41) to personnel from other countries – our deployees were not adequately briefed beforehand or guided subsequently about the human rights dimension of what they, and our allies, were doing. This work included contributing to kill or capture missions, and to counter-insurgency activities. Basically, as the report puts it: “There was no training on how to operate in a combined joint environment or on how to navigate the moral ambiguities inherent in counter-insurgency operations.” In sum:
Para 86: … I have to conclude that they were vulnerable to being involved in complex foreign state activities which raised legal risks… [They] were not provided with any policies or procedures relating to the GCSB’s human rights obligations and the role of civilians within a military environment working to support military operational objectives (in contrast to providing strategic intelligence). Indeed we found no evidence that the GCSB had any human rights related policies or procedures in place at the time.