Have our spies signed us up to war in Yemen?

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 11:47 25/05/2014
Zaoui
CIARA PRATT/Fairfax NZ
ONE OF US: Ahmed Zaoui has been granted New Zealand citizenship.

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OPINION: More than a decade after he arrived in New Zealand seeking political asylum, Ahmed Zaoui was last week granted citizenship.

Beaming widely after receiving the certificate that allows him to apply for a New Zealand passport, he expressed gratitude for the right to be officially a citizen of a democratic society. It nearly wasn't so.

On evidence provided by the Security Intelligence Service, Zaoui was publicly accused of terrorist activities and denied refuge. A "security risk certificate" against his name was withdrawn six years ago - the SIS admitted Zaoui was not involved in terrorism, although it claimed his associates were.

Intelligence services get it wrong. The Zaoui case aside, New Zealand's foreign spy agency was found last year to have illegally spied on dozens of Kiwis.

So, alarm bells should be screaming when the Prime Minister John Key acknowledged that same agency - the Government Communications Security Bureau - shares data that is likely used in the controversial United States drone strike programme.

It follows revelations that some unmanned drone strikes have relied on intercepts by Australian satellite-tracking station Pine Gap.

Key made his admission with a verbal shrug of the shoulders. He's "comfortable" with the US programme. "For the most part, drone strikes have been an effective way of prosecuting people that are legitimate targets," he said.

Kiwis are a little slow to this debate, even after the death of dual national Daryl Jones last year. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, in Auckland to promote his book and documentary Dirty Wars, raised the issue last weekend. This prompted Key's disclosure.

Precious little is known about Jones. Key has said he was monitored by the security services, under warrant, had links to al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula and was in an AQAP training camp. Whether this is correct, Muslim convert Jones was not the intended target of the Predator strikes. He and Australian Christopher Harvard were "collateral damage" and paid the ultimate price for their association with Islamic militants.

While Jones was on a watch-list, he was never brought to trial, not least "prosecuted" for terrorist activities. With his execution, he was denied the legal process that would have been guaranteed in New Zealand - trial by jury, right to appeal.

The secretive nature and the lack of transparency of the intelligence-gathering community permit the Government to say what it likes to justify Jones' death, and New Zealand's role in US counter-terrorism. Many voters would have little sympathy for a man who got caught up with jihadists in a country that the US is actively targeting.

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In Australia and the US, debate is raging about the policy, which Scahill calls an "assassination programme". Estimates put the number of civilian casualties at as many as 2500 - with reports suggesting that 50 innocents die for every terror suspect.

Controversy arose with the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen alleged to be a key al Qaeda figure, by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Two weeks after his death, his teenage son was killed - collateral damage in another attack. Chillingly, one of Obama's advisers said the teenager "should have had a more responsible father".

The Obama Administration agreed to release (some of) the legal advice justifying the use of lethal force against US citizens during counter terrorism operations. The -called "Barron memo" argues it is an act of war, not an execution.

In which case, New Zealand's spy agencies have quietly joined us up to a war in Yemen.

- Stuff

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