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.