The three New Zealanders who said “no” to US aggression

Spending time in New Zealand brings fascinating tales of a nation with a radical and independent streak. Admirable and pretty unique. I’ve been told by a number of different people about this story from March this year, an example of a non-violent protest against US wars that resulted in a great deal of local sympathy and support.

Praise be to New Zealand:

Three peace protesters have been found not guilty of an attack on a top-secret South Island spy base, despite freely admitting causing damage put at $1 million.

Otaki schoolteacher Adrian Leason, Auckland Catholic priest Peter Murnane and Hokianga farmer Sam Land were cleared by a Wellington District Court jury yesterday evening of burglary and wilful damage.

The charges stemmed from the April 2008 raid on the Government Communications Security Bureau facility at Waihopai, near Blenheim.

The jury took only two hours to reach its verdict after an eight-day trial.

Prosecutors accused the three men of cutting their way through fences into the base, then using sickles to slash a plastic cover protecting a receiver dish.

Although the men admitted the attack, they said their actions were driven by a belief that the dish, for receiving and sending satellite communications, caused human suffering.

“That belief doesn’t have to be correct,” said Mr Leason’s lawyer, Michael Knowles.

At the end of the trial, the three men said they were privileged to have helped “uncover the true nature” of the spy base.

Mr Leason said their actions in disabling the base, even if it was only for a short time, stopped the flow of information, which had ultimately helped to save lives in Iraq.

“We wanted … to challenge these warfaring behaviours and I think we have done this. We have shown New Zealanders there is a US spy base in our midst.”

Mr Leason said the group was delighted the case was finally over.

“The jury listened to our story and they listened to the evidence and they came to the decision that clearly, the laws that are there to protect people are more important than the laws that are there to protect plastic domes.

“The point that really has been made is that 12 jurors – 12 regular, ordinary Kiwis – have got very, very serious concerns about the activities of the base.

“Now if 12 ordinary Kiwis have very serious concerns about the base, maybe all Kiwis should have concerns about what this ultra-secret, unaccounted-for spy base is up to.”

Mr Leason, who works in a primary school, said he would “absolutely” be bringing the issue up in the classroom.

Of course, the conservative government here wasn’t pleased:

Officials have begun a review of the “claim of right” defence used by the three men accused in the Waihopai spybase sabotage case, Justice Minister Simon Power says.

Teacher Adrian Leason, 45, Dominican friar Peter Murnane, 69, and farmer Sam Land, 26 – were acquitted last month on charges of burglary and wilful damage at the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) base in Marlborough.

After cutting through alarmed electric fences without setting off any audible alarms or getting electrocuted, the men reached one of two inflatable domes covering satellite dishes, placed their hands on the plastic skin and said “we disarm you in the name of Jesus Christ”, before slashing it with sickles.

The three said they were saving lives in Iraq by disrupting satellite transmissions and were acting for the greater good. A jury in Wellington District Court found them not guilty.

At the time Prime Minister John Key said he could not rule out a law change over the claim of right defence.

Today, Mr Power said he had instructed officials to review the relevant law.

The claim of right defence was connected to the traditional argument that “people should intend for their actions to be illegal before the state will impose a criminal sanction”.

The current scope of the defence “does raise some questions” and it was “complex and detailed law”, Mr Power said.

The review would look at international comparisons and common law.

Mr Power was expecting a report back within two months.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said the review was unnecessary.

Claim of right was a well-established internationally as a defence, he said.

It allows defendants to “claim a higher purpose when technically breaching a law”.

“The Waihopai trial jury accepted that if the spy station had been assisting in the invasion of Iraq — and evidence was presented that it was — then the defendants could ‘reasonably’ believe that their action might help save lives,” Mr Locke said.

The result of this case is a government (like Australia and many other reliant states of the US) keen to help whatever war Washington decides to wage. Alliance duties, you see:

New Zealand’s spy agencies are to come under greater government oversight, but information about their operations and co-operation with foreign agencies will remain closely guarded secrets.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday said the Cabinet had decided to improve “the effectiveness and governance of the New Zealand intelligence system”.

The changes followed a review of the agencies by former head of Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Murdoch and were “designed to ensure the agencies keep pace with changes in the security environment, so we can better meet the security challenges we face”.

The review found the NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) were too fragmented and did not operate together as efficiently as they could.

However, Mr Key yesterday said the review “found no performance failure at agency or system level”.

The announced changes would give the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury and the State Services Commission greater oversight of the intelligence agencies’ performance, priorities and resources.

However, those central government departments would not have any role in overseeing the actual operations of the intelligence agencies.

While the agencies’ operations are under the oversight of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Commissioner of Security Warrants, Green MP Keith Locke – and other critics – says their activities are largely determined by overseas agencies.

New Zealand MPs were “refused basic information such as how much Waihopai costs each year, let alone what it’s doing”, he says.

“Even the Prime Minister’s office hasn’t been able to control very much what they do.”

Meanwhile, Mr Key also said the director of the National Assessments Bureau would now be responsible for a national assessments programme that would include domestic and external intelligence sources.

Mr Key told TVNZ News last night the increased focus on domestic threats “doesn’t mean that we mightn’t from time to time undertake activities which are in the interests of other countries.

“You’ve got to have that balance right between your international and your domestic operations.”

TVNZ’s copy of the Murdoch review had material detailing the extent of co-operation with overseas agencies and the capability of New Zealand’s agencies removed.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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