The person responsible for the two week old "New Zealand Civil Liberties Union" website (US-based) hosting the leaked Urewera 16 police "terror" file/affidavit has just sent me the following email:
Please feel free to link Tim. As the site says, it came about as a result of recent abuses by police and judges against civil liberties. The proof of what a communist regime we live in is that - while no one has questioned the accuracy of what has been printed - the entire government is trying to shut it down and has threatened prosecution.
It has all the hallmarks of being leaked, ultimately, by one of the accused for the purpose of countering all the police leaks. It is not entirely successful because people will take from it what their prejudices dictate. For those who see the 16 as terrorists they will think themselves vindicated, for those who see the 16 as wannabe terrorist role-players with a lot of talk and not much else they too will think themselves vindicated.
So what's in it? A year's worth of month by month breakdowns of every txt msg sent between the "Urewera 16" and bugged conversations in cars, in their camp, on the phone and on the internet along with the police undercover/covert surveillance observations and the inside narking of an informant (that has had all their details and content deleted) in this copy of the original search warrant evidence.
Obviously it looks bad for the accused on first reading because it is designed by the police to make them all look bad and convince a court official to authorise a search for firearms; but having read it - 150-odd pages of it - I can see in isolation the quotes are damaging, but if this is all the police could come up with after having intercepted so many conversations and having obtained so much material over the course of a year it is difficult to believe they ever had a realistic chance of laying any Terrorism Suppression Act charges.
There are no money shots here: no gotcha moment, no oath to commit an offence, no plan at all - let alone detail of a plan - that could seriously, credibly be a terrorist act. Some juicy quotes for talkback, sure. But what have we got here? If we go through the basic questions we get these answers: What is this terrorist action going to be? - No idea. When is this terrorist action going to take place? - No idea. Where is this terrorist action going to take place? - No idea. How is this terrorist action going to take place? - No idea. Who is going to participate in this terrorist action? - No idea. Why is this terrorist action going to take place? - Lots and lots of ideas. Conjecture over why without any when, where, how and who was always going to be a completely untenable basis to lay TSA charges. The police knew it would fail and I think they knew that the evidence they were after and would find at the searched addresses would not yield enough to lay those TSA charges. It was just a try-on that would prejudice the suspects and keep them in remand.
There is abstract, vague debate, remarks in passing etc. amongst the participants about everything, but no decisions. And then there's the enthusiasm for the courses: some people keen as, others trying to get out of it, postponements, all sorts of excuses. Some parts of the conversations Iti goes into Yoda mode; some of it is unfathomable, some of it is listed as [inaudible] at key points while other parts are amusing and involve people expressing caution about the desirability of any action. The police build a case around these Urewera camps and tracing the movements of four firearms - that is the crux. The judges involved granted interception warrants and given the information it was based on I think they were wise to allow surveillance - to find out where this whole thing was going because many of the characters involved are loose cannons and the activity sounds potentially sinister and reckless.
The police use the term "quasi military training" in every other sentence - but this is not a crime. But it is also probably a fair characterisation. They could also have been viewed as conducting revolutionary, guerilla, self-defence or militia training. They supposedly had counter-interrogation training as well and were supposedly using scanners in their counter-intelligence against police. This proves what? It seems organised enough and thorough to be NZQA approved. The issue now (post-TSA heat) is were the ones who don't have firearms licences unlawfully in possession of firearms at any point - and were the purchased/imported firearms referred to actually illegal? I have no idea about these issues because I haven't seen enough information.
We do not know what the police have found in their private emails or what was on their computers either (maybe nothing if it hasn't been leaked yet :) All we have to go on is what people from both sides are putting out in the public domain - prejudicially. We ought to remain skeptical until this evidence has been tested in court. Snooping through people's private conversations will always yield incriminating excerpts. If the media and bloggers are to usurp the traditional role of the jury system with our trial-by-media "grand jury" system then we should keep this firmly in mind when we review the "evidence."
So we are left with many questions:
Concerning the activists:
Is any training using firearms an appropriate activity for the activist community? - are monthly trips to the gun club OK?
Is any training using firearms an appropriate activity for the Tuhoe community? - are monthly hikes to the bush wananga OK?
Is it a sound idea for middle class kids and immigrant/foreign nationals to simulate a civil war scenario up in the Ureweras under some form of Tuhoe invitation?
How would an armed confrontation have played out? - and was this ever fully envisioned? If the end result of an armed rebellion by Tuhoe in the Urewera is the UN being called in to keep the peace between them and the Crown then is that a legitimate method? - is it legitimate if firearms are only used in self defence? - why even go there?
Is the activist community split? - and over what issues? - does it need to be?
Concerning the police:
Is the rumoured $8m cost of the police "Operation 8" the main reason they wanted to brand the accused as terrorists? - if the operation only took a month and cost $50,000 would they have bothered with the TSA?
They acted when they did - not to prevent a terror action but because they were satisfied it was unlikely to happen and that is all they would get?
Why did they block in Ruatoki and go over the top?
It was wrong for the police to keep them locked in prison for reasons (the TSA) that they knew would not be substantiated? - is this part of getting more powers? - how does this play with the current review of the Police Act?
Were the police mainly after PR against the activist community as a whole, to tarnish them?
Anyway, given the training undertaken involved how to deal with the police, ending the revolutionary exercise with a real world OTT police crack-down was probably an invaluable lesson - for everyone.