Leaked cables: US concern about NZ terrorism

Leaked diplomatic cables after the Urewera police raids reveal that United States officials were alarmed New Zealand had no law to deal with local or international terrorism.

Police had told the US embassy that those arrested in the October 2007 raids were likely to face only a fine, not a jail term, says the cable from the ambassador at the time, William McCormick.

"In the post-9/11 world, one would expect that New Zealand would have an adequate law to deal with foreign as well as domestic terrorism – it does not."

A separate cable, also sent by Mr McCormick and published by WikiLeaks last week, reveals that the Labour government hastily deported a "9/11 hijacker crony" in 2006 to avoid political embarrassment.

Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, who was deported in June that year, had roomed with and studied flying in the US with one of the hijackers who crashed into the Pentagon.

Mr McCormick's cable says: "Some local commentators have accused the government of overreacting, as Ali had allegedly been extensively interviewed after 9/11 by the FBI in America and was released for lack of evidence.

"As a practical matter we would have preferred that Ali remain in New Zealand, where close law enforcement co-operation would have let us keep an eye on him." But the government had preferred to be rid of him quickly, to avoid the Opposition getting wind of his presence and Ali becoming a "Green Party cause celebre", as Ahmed Zaoui had been.

US concern over the Terrorism Suppression Act also related to possible activities of foreign terrorists. "Critics of the TSA say that the law was never envisaged to apply to domestic terrorism, but one wonders if it would have applied to foreign terrorists plotting much the same activities as those leaked by the press," says the November 2007 message.

The cable also says Solicitor-General David Collins, QC, described the act as "unnecessarily complex" and "incoherent" when he denied a bid by police to use it to charge 12 of the Urewera accused.

"We hope that the law commission, which will review the law and make recommendations, will find a way to preserve peaceful political dissent and civil liberties without leaving the country vulnerable to those, foreign or domestic, who would do it harm."

However, the US did not propose to get involved in that review. In contrast, another WikiLeaks cable shows that the embassy in Wellington offered the government the help of US officials to redraft copyright law changes and dispel "public misperceptions" about intellectual property rights.

A spokesman for Commerce Minister Simon Power said yesterday that the Parliamentary Counsel Office drafted that legislation "with no input from US government officials".

The planned Law Commission review of the anti-terrorism law was halted last year by Mr Power in his capacity as justice minister.

The review was to look at police methods of obtaining evidence, and the Crimes Act, Arms Act and Terrorism Suppression Act. Law Commission deputy president Warren Young said it was put on hold after discussion with the minister, "partly because it wasn't a high priority and partly because ... there were trials arising out of the Urewera situation".

The Dominion Post