Torture and the S.A.S.: The Government's Guilty Secrets In Afghanistan
The incoming Governor-General, Jerry Mateparae, has been implicated in a controversy involving New Zealand’s SAS troops
and their role in handing innocent prisoners to American and Afghan forces, knowing they might be tortured.
This is a breach of several international covenants, including the Geneva Conventions, which New Zealand has signed. It
is also a breach of the Defence Force’s own rules.
The allegations are contained in the latest issue of Metro magazine, on sale today. The magazine carries a lengthy
investigation of the subject by correspondent Jon Stephenson.
According to Metro, the SAS has been handing over prisoners since they first arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, even though
they knew there was a serious risk of torture.
The magazine reveals, for the first time, that the SAS led a mission in May 2002 which resulted in the deaths of at
least three people, including a small child, and the arrest and torture of many others. It gives names, dates and other
details, and carries interview quotes from several of the people who were there. They include Afghan villagers and SAS
The prisoners included old men and boys. Some were badly beaten – in one case so severely the man was disabled and is
still in a wheelchair. They were bound and hooded, and while in that state were subjected to dogs rushing at them and
threatening to attack them. They were also stripped naked and forced to parade before US troops, forced to run on their
knees, tied up in stress positions and held without sleep or food.
The men insisted they were innocent, and were later released without charge.
Metro says the facts about the mission have not previously been known because, according to editor Simon Wilson, “This
is a story we are not supposed to know.”
The magazine says the former prime minister Helen Clark and former foreign and defence minister Phil Goff both appear to
have been involved in keeping the story from the public.
The usual line, it says, is that nobody knew there was prisoner abuse until after the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 –
referring to the US prison in Iraq where prisoners were abused.
Metro quotes statements in 2009 from Phil Goff and Jerry Mateparae, who was then defence force head, both saying this.
But, it says, the soldiers in Afghanistan tell a different story. The magazine says some SAS soldiers were worried from
the start about what American troops were doing to their prisoners. “We sort of knew what would happen,” says one. It
adds that this soldier climbed on a roof to see inside the US prison near the Afghan city of Kandahar, and told the
magazine, “It looked like Guantanamo Bay.”
The magazine reveals the SAS continues to hand over prisoners today, and that our soldiers have personally witnessed the
mistreatment of prisoners during operations with Afghan commandos.
It contains a report of the Christmas Eve incident in the Afghan capital, Kabul, when an SAS raid resulted in the deaths
of two men. Jon Stephenson interviewed people involved in that raid and has revealed the SAS gave its prisoners to the
notorious Afghan secret police, called the National Directorate of Security, or NDS.
The NDS, says Metro, has such a fearsome reputation for torture that British troops in Afghanistan have been banned by a
British court from handing over prisoners to it.
Metro quotes prime minister John Key saying he knew there were concerns about the treatment of prisoners when he ordered
the SAS back into Afghanistan in October 2009. At that time, he said, the government had “an assurance from the Afghan
government that all transferred detainees will be treated humanely”.
Metro says Key repeated this assurance in August 2010 when he said New Zealand is committed to honouring its obligations
under the Geneva Conventions and does not detain prisoners anyway. Asked how he knew this, he said he had been assured
of it by Jerry Mateparae.
The Metro story quotes a senior Afghan special forces officer saying the SAS is “very, very involved” in taking
prisoners – something it says other Afghans have confirmed.
Mateparae has since been named as New Zealand’s next Governor-General.
In an editorial accompanying the story, Metro editor Simon Wilson criticises the government, under both Helen Clark and
John Key, for requiring the SAS to act in breach of international law. He says this “dishonours the Anzac spirit” and is
“a matter of national shame”.