Thursday 22 March 2012

Failing The Crown

Propaganda Gift: The ill-conceived Police raid on Ruatoki gifted the defenders of the "Urewera Four" with a defining image of the whole botched "Operation Eight". Both the Police, in their gathering of evidence, and the prosecuting attorneys, in their presentation of it, were guilty of failing the Crown.

A DISASTER from beginning to end. It is difficult to draw any other conclusion from the Crown’s $4 million failure to secure the conviction of the Urewera Campers.

The failures began with the Police decision to rely upon technological, rather than human, evidence gathering. If ever there was a case that warranted the insertion of an undercover policeman or woman, or the ‘turning” of one or more of the participants, this was it. The activities being contemplated, discussed and planned for by the Campers were, above all, political. Securing any kind of serious conviction would, therefore, be based on the defendants’ ideas, and the lengths to which they would go to turn those ideas into reality.

Convincing evidence of this kind can only be gathered and presented by people who were actually there when such discussions were taking place. The successful prosecution of pre-emptive anti-terrorism charges will always turn on the state of mind of the terrorist; on why he or she was willing to acquire the skills necessary to carry out terrorist acts – and apply them. It was the failure of the Police, and all the other agencies of our national security apparatus, to understand this crucial aspect of the case (not to mention their inept and apparently illegal use of surveillance technology) which largely explains the Crown’s inability to secure a conviction.

The State’s failure was compounded by the decision of the Assistant Police Commissioner for National Security, Jon White’s, decision to mount a full-scale anti-terrorist operation at Ruatoki. Once again, this represented a failure of human intelligence-gathering (most of the homes raided produced no evidence of terrorist intent). But, much worse than this, it reflected White’s utter incapacity to understand how the brutal actions of his force would be interpreted by Tuhoe, Maoridom and the wider New Zealand population.

The televised images of Police officers, clad all in black, wearing helmets and body armour, and carrying automatic weapons, essentially invading a sleepy little Bay of Plenty village, was an absolute gift to the accused’s defence team – and they made full use of it. From the very beginning, it drew people’s attention away from the Campers and their actions, and focused it, instead, on the behaviour of the Police.

A cleverer man than White would have sent a small – lightly armed – group of Police officers into Ruatoki, and only to those places where they had rock-solid intelligence that illegal weapons were being stored. These officers should have been under strict orders to get the hell out of town at the first sign of serious trouble and call for back-up. That way, the presence of Police “ninjas” would have made some tactical sense. The public would have seen them responding to terrorism – not initiating it.

The Police’s next mistake was relying on the hurriedly drafted Terrorism Suppression Act for the their main prosecutorial weaponry. The quality of legal advice supplied to Commissioner Howard Broad was clearly remiss in this regard – something which should give his successor, Peter Marshall, serious pause for thought.

It’s one of those delicious historical ironies that the Police were unable to charge the accused with sedition. This is because, just nine days after the 15 October arrests, the New Zealand Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, voted to remove sedition from the statute book. Had that tried and tested (if somewhat archaic) offence been available, the Police would’ve been required to prove only that the Urewera Campers intended to “incite, procure, or encourage violence, lawlessness, or disorder”. Such a charge would also have stripped the case of its unhelpful associations with 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden.

With their clients charged with sedition, and denied the propaganda value of the Ruatoki raid, the defence team would have faced an altogether more daunting task.

Which brings us to the final and most serious failure of the Crown’s servants: the actual prosecution of the case.

The Crown Prosecutor’s, Ross Burns, strategy seems to have been one of “show and tell” – and that’s about it. In the reported parts of the trial it did not appear that any of the Crown’s lawyers understood the faintest thing about left-wing revolutionary theory, or had even the most rudimentary grasp of recent left-wing history. Nor did the Crown appear to have any idea why Tuhoe might have a grievance against the Crown, or what the historical precedents might be for the Tuhoe people taking up arms against Pakeha rule.

To the Jury, it must have seemed as if the Crown was asking them to believe that one day a group of Pakeha pacifists and war-resisters simply got out of bed and decided the armed struggle was the way to go. And that Tame Iti suddenly decided that shooting flags was old hat, and that, henceforth, he’d shoot people. Not surprisingly, they didn’t buy it.

How different the outcome of this historic trial might have been if the Crown had used it as a means of educating New Zealanders about the psychological stages through which hitherto peace-loving people are led to embrace the cause of revolutionary violence. How unquestioning support for an oppressed people and their struggle for reparation and cultural autonomy can lead ordinary middle-class kids all the way to terrorist training camps.

Had the Crown Prosecutor, equipped with eye-witness accounts from people who had participated in all the debates and discussions, and joined in all the “training”, taken the Jury into the minds of the defendants; allowed the jurors see how, in the absence of an active and effective public conscience, violence becomes more than an option for the revolutionary; it becomes a duty: well, he just might have secured a “Guilty” verdict.

Perhaps we should all be glad that the New Zealand State’s national security apparatus, and its prosecutors, are so utterly inept in the arts of espionage, propaganda and the successful prosecution of “activists”. The evil agents of “State Terrorism” in the USA and the UK are obviously made of sterner (and certainly more competent) stuff.

But those on the Left who are celebrating the outcome of this trial as some sort of “victory” should think again. The public has been treated to a risible defence. The very idea of dedicated peace activists and anti-imperialists training in the Urewera bush so they could join the mercenary army of private security-firms contracted to the US and NATO occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan, is so absurd as to be laughable.

It’s sad in a way. From the very beginning, the defence team’s strategy was to paint these representatives of the New Zealand Left as a bunch of bumbling Walter Mittys; people who played at revolution because they hadn’t a hope in hell of ever mounting a really serious challenge to authority. The whole point was to sell the defendants to the Jury as a quartet of harmless little do-gooders who’d picked up guns and Molotov cocktails for reasons that, like the peace of God, passeth all understanding.

I do not blame the defence lawyers for keeping their clients off the witness stand. When the Crown’s case was being presented so incompetently, it was, undoubtedly, the smart thing to do. That being so, however, the only conclusion which can reasonably be drawn is that the accused escaped conviction on the most serious charges brought against them because those whose responsibility it was to prove their guilt failed the Crown.

The accused’s moral responsibility: to explain to New Zealand exactly what they were doing in the Ureweras, and why; remains similarly unfulfilled.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Robert Miles said...

The truth was the raid on the supposed terrorists was good politics from our great leader of the Time, Helen Clark point of view- marking her as a supporter of the ordinary people's fear of uppity maori radicals and put useful mud and trouble the way of dangerous and prettier rivals of her for peacemovement and environmental hero status like Valerie Morse and Fracis Mounter.
I am sure Clark discussed the targeting extensively with all her favourite generals and intelligence chiefs, Martyn Dunne who she loved to play with and shoot the breeze with. It was a sort of NZ version of the 1934 German Night of the Long Knives for beginers.
Look of course any of those beautiful peace movement beauties and Maori party lovies could turn reptile, if the police harass them enough. Chrissie Hynde the Pretenders singer was getting in trouble even in her old age with talk of blowing up McDonalds and in her younger days Chrissie Hyde and the likes of Sex Pistol entrepenuer Malcom Maclaren were very seriously considering following the example of the Fassbinder Meinhoff group in Germany and going into actual terrorism by burning down capitalist chain stores. The German Groups luminaries started out as highly rated journalist, brilliant students on fullbright scholars etc.
But in reality even the Clash former members of the London SS,proved respectable citizens and such people usually do. The sort of anticipatory and preventive nonsense of Operation 8 was an offensive purely political operation- mainly to serve Clarks interests, of that I have no doubt. In this case I do not think it is really the fault of the Police- far more powerful figures are the drivers and it is a really a sinster bit of politics and race baiting fully on par with the ludicrous sickening Brash Orewa speech.

guerilla surgeon said...

Chris. Perhaps the next time you're on afternoons you can tell Radio NZ that I'm tired of hearing about someone called "Tama" Iti. Sad when sports commentators do a better job on Maori names than newsreaders

Anonymous said...

This was a success. A bunch of loons convicted or severely curtailed in their future activities due to exposure and criminal records. Some key peace loving individuals shown up to be utter hypocrites who can not be trusted.

This in a week when a lone nutter with a gun carries out driveby executions of children in France due to similarly strange grievances. History shows us that extremists and guns are a bad mix that should be dealt with early and severely.

As for all the Tuhoe whinging - they knew what was going on, Kruger admitted it in court. No sympathy for them for nurturing that festering sore in their community.


Than said...

I agree with a lot of this post. The police and Crown law botched this on a number of levels.

The police absolutely should have made more use of informants/undercover during this operation. In combination with technological evidence gathering of course, but the two together would have made conviction a sure thing. And the legal advice given to police about the Terrorism Suppression Act must have been appalling.

That said, the technological evidence was *almost* enough by itself. There was a hung jury, so at least some jurors were convinced beyond reasonable doubt. They apparently did believe "one day a group of Pakeha pacifists and war-resisters simply got out of bed and decided the armed struggle was the way to go". No matter how the defense spins it, it is very hard to justify why you are practicing the use of a Molotov cocktail.

Madison said...

Chris, agreed entirely. While I find it completely absurd that these people were doing all of these activities with peaceful intentions I can't understand why the Crown case was such a laughingstock. I would watch and read coverage from both sides and the defence was so all over the place it seemed ill-prepared. However, when the Crown put up such a half-assed prosecution I feel that there really wasn't much of a reason to need a seriously strong defence. Sad and ill-thought out from start to finish.

I still feel that those four believe they are above the law, as they had to know that the footage showed them illegally handling firearms and still had the guts to plead not guilty. While I hope the police have learned a massive lesson from this I'm saddened to think that many people with delusions of actually committing some of the crimes the crown was worried about will be given comfort that these people escaped the larger conviction. A very ugly end to a really disgusting case from all sides.

Anonymous said...

The crown already got what it wanted. It is plainly evident to anyone who wants "radical" change in New Zealand that they have absolutely no chance of ever organizing without the authorities knowing exactly what they are up to a long time before they are in a position to actually accomplish anything.

The over the top show of force at Ruatoki was to that end successful, demonstrating that even a hint of resistance will be crushed like a gnat, by heavily armed soldiers masquerading as police.

If the security services have gone so far as to infiltrate groups whose main cause is opposition to the consumption of meat, you can bet they know what everyone else is up to.

Despite the judicial failure in this case, you can bet that it has functioned to deter just those who the government was hoping to deter.

giordano bruno said...

The mere burning of Petrol is surely no crime. In 81 it was Ross Meurant (then Red Squad head) who warned of bean-bag refills in cocktails. Hart had no idea of the danger of polystyrene beads. Ironically Ross in the doco 'operation8' is now on the other side.

Rich said...

There are laws against conspiracy to murder, assault, commit arson, cause explosions, etc.

If the state can't prove any of those, then in my view they haven't reached the threshold to convict someone of planned violent activity.

Coquecigrue said...

You know, Chris, I think I should send your paper to de Hautecloque, the French RAID's officer in charge.
He might learn something about how doing his job properly. *sigh*
And thanks. I missed few bits of the story, you filled the gaps.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by importance the prosecution placed on an associate of the defendants, but not one of those actually charged, having a recipe for thermite (it's in pretty well any chemistry textbook, and in the Encyclopedia Britannica). It's used for welding, and the ingredients are readily available, but there was no evidence that the person had actually bothered to buy them. The defence did not challenge this 'evidence' (or was not reported to have done so) but to me made the Crown case look like a grab bag of disconnected facts and opinions. Conversely, the defence claim that the defendants were training as security guards was no less ludicrous and ill-considered.

There are people in our society who see a moral need or right to kill strangers, and they were vocal when our country was invited to join in the Iraq war.

jh said...

How different the outcome of this historic trial might have been if the Crown had used it as a means of educating New Zealanders about the psychological stages through which hitherto peace-loving people are led to embrace the cause of revolutionary violence.
I can't buy that these personality traits are learned so much as innate in some of these people. Studies of identical twins separated at birth have shown equal degrees of religiosity etc.

jh said...

As Paul Buchanan said:

I will not repeat the things that I mentioned in the three Scoop articles I dedicated to the subject in late 2007, but suffice it to say that in terms of planning, preparation, capabilities, target and evidence of intent the Urewera 18 (now 17) fell far short of the mark when it comes to “terrorism.” This is not to say that a mentally unbalanced individual or some pisshead stoners could not be dangerous. Nor does it detract from the fact that having peace activists and environmentalists playing at commando is a bad look.

Anonymous said...

The state fucked up by bringing too much heavy stuff to squash a hum drum anarchist fantasy.

The left fucked up by no anarchist defendants opening their mouths when given center stage,

(Sacco and Vanzetti have a royal right to be pissed off)

Chris fucked up by capitulating to the porkers,

Nobody won here except the lawyers.

One day we might get it right.

Robert Miles said...

Having watched the Police Minister at the time, Annette King on QA with Paul Holmes on 25/3 I remain unconvinced that the PM Helen Clark would not have other private consultations with Police Commissioner Howard Broad and other military leaders. Anyone whose has had dealings, communicated or cooperate with Helen Clark knows she is brilliant politician who will lie if necessary ( like any other skilled politician) and has always operated maintaining the ability to plausibly deny when finessing new policy into being. Nominally high ranking cabinet ministers where not necessarily in Clarks inner loop on some or any issues.
I agree with the quote from Paul Buchanan by some anon. These were not remotely plausible terrorists or para military operators. The South Canterbury police managed to coexist with the Timaru Road Knights from 1979 t0 1989- that gang was definitely a intelligent para military group, with highly intelligent leaders from good backgrounds, some with experience in the military or active territorials. Their war with other local gangs and somewhat serious political objectives related to local revanchalism and alignment with the current and historical far right certainly constituted something to take seriously.The sort of local wars the Road knights engaged involved activities far more serious than recipies for molotov cocktails or incinerating abandoned brickhouses.
Potentially they might actually have been world class far right terrorists.
Also historically in the l980s the UK Police and authorities were coexisting with many militarised far left factions of various UK Political Parties who were basically signed up with Soviet authorities and agents for campaigns for sabotage and disruption of military and civilian installations if war with the Soviet Union seemed imminent. They did not engage in preventative arrest in peacetime.
Another interesting point to be made is that up until the end of the 1960s most good high schools and colleges had cadet units of the military in which all students were uniformed and engaged in live fire exercises under the control of commissioned officers and thought out the sort of playful interceptions and raids practiced by the bumbling urewera military play group.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Robert Miles.

Not entirely sure what point you're trying to make here, Robert.

And I'd very much like to know the source of your claims about left-wing UK militias ready to spring into action the moment the Soviets attacked.

Are you sure you're not thinking of "Operation Gladius" - the plan hatched by right-wing elements of the security and armed forces of a number of Nato countries to organise armed resistance and sabotage in the event of a Soviet invasion and occupation of Western Europe?

jh said...

People sometimes compare the reaction to the Urewera 17 to the National Front who have war games. It's hard to put a finger on but there is a difference and it has to do with the viability of the ideology. That would open a can of worms but the national front are (basically) about racial purity (I think).On the other hand the Urewera 17 behaviour had tendrils which morf into a wide range of arena, often associated with balaclava, guns and bombs and a sort of left-wing alternative reality (i.e perceived madness).

Robert Miles said...

The point, Chris is that if the Police are at all under intelligent leadership or control , they could only have acted against the 'Urewera activists' for political reasons to neutralise the development of an effective militant if not violent maori nationalist movement. In my experience as a life long student of the military their is not the slightest evidence in the evidence of any real terrorist or capability for organised violence in this group. My assumption also is that Helen Clark would have powerful reasons to neutralise even the suggestion of a more militant and stroppy maori nationalist movement to avoid a repeat or Orewa 85.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris a remarkable commentary on the case bearing in mind I did not see you in Court during the evidence.