Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Bin Laden, Petrobras and Jon Stephenson

May 3rd, 2011

tim denee illustration – osama bin laden killed
Illustration by Tim Denee –

So now that he’s dead, we can bring the troops home now, can’t we? Because the only reason our troops are in Afghanistan is to defeat Al Qaeda and remove the threat it posed to the world, right? That’s been achieved. Bin Laden’s lieutenants are either dead or in Guantanamo, and now the leader himself is dead – and was killed in Pakistan – so, what possible reason can there be to have troops in neighbouring Afghanistan? Oh. To make that country safe? To build democracythere, and to defeat the Taliban as well?

If that is the new rationale, it cannot help but makes the death of Bin Laden recede in importance. It makes his death a historical relic in a war against global terrorism that was effectively won years ago. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t trumpet the death of the archfiend as a major victory, and in the next breath say that it doesn’t change anything about our mission, and that mission is now about some vague goal of nation-building – or ‘defeating’ ( militarily? politically?) a Taliban that long ago cut its tries to al Qaeda, and that is now split into at least four factions.

Bin Laden had become a historical relic. Yes, he did live long enough to see his enemy Hosni Mubarak deposed in Egypt. Yet one of the most consistent features of the uprisings across the Arab world this year has been that the tactics have been non-violent, and the movements have been largely secular in nature. In other words, the uprisings have been on terms almost the exact opposite of what Bin :Laden had hoped for. Ironically, it has only been the beleauguered dictators of the Arab world – such as Gaddafi in Libya – who have tried to blame the uprisings on al Qaeda. That’s the real advantage to be gained from Bin Laden’s death – from now on it will be very hard for any mad general, any Fox news anchor or any tinpot tyrant to blame any expression of Third World opposition to the US on the machinations of al Qaeda. In the wake of losing this bogey figure, perhaps the West can also stop viewing a major religion and the entire Middle East entirely through the prism of one man, and his extremist version of Islam.

It is worth remembering that Anzac Day was only a week ago. Perhaps we owe it to ourselves – and to the troops we are currently putting in harm’s way – to be able to say what Mission Accomplished in Afghanistan would look like? Or are we waiting for people in Washington, London and Canberra to tell us when that point has been reached?

PS Those people who say Bin Laden should have been captured and brought back for trial are deluded. One, that’s easier said than done. Bin Laden was a guerilla fighter willing and able to fight back against a US helicopter assault which could have easily gone wrong – witness the disastrous outcome of the helicopter attack mission that President Jimmy Carter authorized in Iran to free the US Embassy hostages.

More importantly, Bin Laden would not have received any kind of due process in an American criminal court. He would have been packed off to a military kangaroo court at Guantanamo, like the one that will hear the charges against his lieutenant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Either way, Bin Laden was going to be executed without trial – and rough justice with a gun is arguably better than a travesty of justice.


Petrobras consultations, of a sort

Tonight, Prime Minister John Key will be meeting with the representatives of local iwi who – in unison with Greenpeace – have been protesting about the impact of the Petrobras explorations in the Raukumara Basin. At yesterday’s press conference, Scoop asked Key if he would be taking any fresh proposals to that meeting. “No,” he replied. Scoop also asked if Key had seen any estimate of the cost to date of the ongoing military presence around the Petrobras protests. No, he didn’t have that information. Apparently, there is no cap for that expenditure, no blowout preventer on the costs of keeping Petrobras’ investment safe and sound from local opposition.

Add that to the extreme vagueness of our objectives in Afghanistan and a pattern starts to emerge: apparently, when it comes to meeting commitments to foreigners offshore, money is no object. Yet when it comes to providing services to New Zealanders, costs have to be endlessly scrutinised, and the money doled out grudgingly. There’s a lot wrong with governing on those terms.


Jon Stephenson, Public Enemy.

One of the main features of the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday was the PM’s extraordinary ad hominem attack on journalist Jon Stephenson, of Metro magazine. Recently, Stephenson wrote an article in Metro alleging that New Zealand was not meeting its Geneva Convention obligations in its handling of prisoners captured in the course of SAS operations in Afghanistan.

You might think that as the only NZ journalist who has regularly been reporting from Afghanistan, Stephenson speaks with some authority. Not to the PM, who wrote off Stephenson’s credibility by citing to the press gallery an incident when Stephenson allegedly impersonated TV3’s Duncan Garner in order to get Key on the phone. End of story, for Key. Had Stephenson been finding it hard to get through to Key by more conventional means ? No, Key didn’t think so.

On the issue of prisoners and their treatment, Key preferred to believe the two in-house reports by then Chief of Defence Forces Jerry Mateparae and the MoD, which – unsurprisingly – had found no case to answer about the activities of the forces under their command.

Some of the points at issue in this dispute seem to be semantic. Article 12 of the Third Geneva Convention says flatly: “Prisoners of war may only be transferred […] to a Power which is a party to the Convention and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention.” Afghanistan signed up to the 1949 Geneva Conventions in 1956, and late in 2009 it also acceded to the 1977 Additional Protocols I and II, which protect victims of international conflicts and civil wars. Has New Zealand really “satisfied itself” that the Karzai regime would treat prisoners decently – and if so, how?

That’s where the semantics kick in. Can New Zealand troops be said to be responsible for the capture and transfer of prisoners, if and when this occurs in the context of joint operations – when it can say that it was its Afghan colleagues who were the actual captors of the people at risk of subsequent torture and ill treatment? For Mateparae and the MoD to be credible, one would have to conclude that the SAS have never taken prisoners, and never been a party to the taking of prisoners – subsequently at risk of torture or mistreatment – in all the years that the SAS has been operating in Afghanistan. Somehow, I don’t think Jon Stephenson is the party with the credibility problem here.


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    1. 13 Responses to “On Bin Laden, Petrobras and Jon Stephenson”

    2. By Dave Kennedy on May 3, 2011 | Reply

      I totally support your comments regarding Jon Stephenson, Gordon. We have returned to the days of Muldoon when if you can’t beat the argument you attack the messenger. We constantly hear comments that denigrate the writer to negate the value of their writing. The problem with this approach at present is that it appears to be successful.

    3. By lurky on May 3, 2011 | Reply

      Can I ask even though this will most likely be blocked or unanswered, but why is it that even scoop who supposedly supplies the news in NZ doesn’t sem to mention anywhere I can see, the multitude of intelligence since 2002 that Osama has been dead for awhile? Or on the poor photoshop skills of whoever made that Obama birth certificate? Seems like osama dying now is a good distraction and seems that even in NZ the media is keeping quiet. I guess investigative journalism is dead unless you want to start looking at conspiracies. Sad days

    4. By Joe Blow on May 3, 2011 | Reply

      I’m not one to go for conspiracy theories Gordon but the timing of bin Laden’s death is just too good to be true. Hillary’s statements about the war on terror not being over is just to stymie attacks from the Republican hawks regarding the Obama administration’s plans to start pulling out troops in July.

      The death of bin Laden really does make the war on terror in Afghanistan look like it’s over especially when he was eventually located in Pakistan.

      His death is perfect timing for making the Obama administration’s plans for starting to bring the troops home in July look all the more like good sense. Much harder for the Republican hawks to gain political capital on the war on terror issue now.

      Na, conspiracy theories are just too damn simple.

    5. By Elyse on May 3, 2011 | Reply

      ‘Much harder for the Republican hawks to gain political capital on the war on terror issue now”
      If only this were true. The right wing neocons are already saying the job is far from over, that the “Islamists” are finding new ways of spreading their message (could this be through peaceful protest, as Gordon says?–they must be stopped!) and they are mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood as one group that should be targeted. They want and need forever war and Muslims, even peace-loving, are a convenient enemy. Sadly, they are now using the fact that so-called vital information leading to OBL’s assassination was obtained through torture as justification to continue same.
      What a Pyrrhic victory. Tens of thousands of innocents dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, trillions of dollars spent and their economy on the brink of collapse. They needed some PR to make them and Obama look powerful and yet the fact that, despite their military might, it took them 10 years to find one man, makes them look puny.

    6. By Lurky on May 4, 2011 | Reply

      ‘Much harder for the Republican hawks to gain political capital on the war on terror issue now” unless ofcourse it’s just a setup for another false flag further scaring the Western world into more direct anti-terrorism campaigns. Im thinking ground troop movements around Syria and Pakistan who like libya were beginning to ally themselves with China. No surprise this all happens at the same time that China stops buying any US debt…
      America’s economy can only be saved my coninuing the military industrial complex, now though they have to directly step on Chinas toes in Africa. Dangerous few months ahead, im not to optimistic

    7. By Joe Blow on May 4, 2011 | Reply

      @ Elyse

      You read too much Republicn hawk (neo-con) babble. They’re just in a fenzy cos their favourite propoganda tool is on the block.

      Wait and see what happens with Afghanistan. I might be wrong but with China no longer buying US debt they got to cut spending some where.

    8. By Joe Blow on May 4, 2011 | Reply

      @ Lurky

      I always feel a little annoyed when I here the old “military-industrial complex” term thrown around. It gets bashed way too much without any real analysis. I mean a Republican American five star general came up with the term and since then it’s seen better days.

      For a start there is always an insinuation that military spending is the driving force behind the US economy when in fact defence spending only annually amounts to about 4-5% of GDP. And they’re having to loan money to pay for that spending right now…

      It’s much more profitable to sell weapons to other people and let them blow each other up. They do this all the time. Imagine all the arms manufacturers rubbing their hands with glee at the potential sales to both rebels and governments alike in the Middle East and Africa in the future.

      Those armed protestors in Lybia were once unarmed protestors weren’t they? Na, they couldn’t have been…

    9. By Joe Blow on May 4, 2011 | Reply

      Here it comes boys:

      Osama bin Laden killing sparks calls for early Afghanistan withdrawal

    10. By Joe Blow on May 4, 2011 | Reply

      And similar sentiments in the Times:

      Killing Adds to Debate About U.S. Strategy and Timetable in Afghanistan

      I thought that this bit was particularly pertinent:

      “But officials in the State Department and Pentagon, as well as key lawmakers, said Bin Laden’s death was bound to alter the debate about a costly war soon to enter its second decade. Those questions will be even more pointed, on the eve of an election year and amid growing alarm about the federal budget deficit.”

    11. By Elyse on May 5, 2011 | Reply

      @Joe Blow

      Dream on

    12. By Joe Blow on May 5, 2011 | Reply

      @ Elyse

      Watch on

    13. By Tara on May 6, 2011 | Reply

      Joe just “doesn’t understand” the costs of war, discretionary spending, emergency and supplimentary spending, interest on debt incurred in past wars.
      5% of GDP, on what planet Joe? Arther Andersen’s budget GDP play world.
      Pro war propaganda figures,( bad guy or Islamabad Ken ) , are a dime a dozen.

    14. By Joe Blow on May 6, 2011 | Reply

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