Nicky Hager is author of the book – investigative journalist, Jon Stephenson is the other.
Here is a collection of articles to give a background to yesterday’s revelations.Jon Stephenson talks about NZ's involvement in the war in Afghanistan
Marae Investigates TVNZ 24 April 2011
Investigative journalist Jon Stephenson talks about NZ's involvement in the war in Afghanistan Marae Investigates TVNZ 24 April 2011 Ep23
3 May, 2011
Prime Minister John Key has attacked the credibility of the journalist who has raised questions about New Zealand's elite soldiers in Afghanistan and whether they were complicit in torture.
And the Defence Force has released unprecedented details about SAS operations in a bid to discredit an article in this month's Metro, written by journalist Jon Stephenson.
The article outlined two instances last year where SAS forces allegedly captured suspects and handed them to Afghanistan authorities, including the Afghan secret police, the National Directorate of Security, which has a reputation for torturing prisoners.
New Zealand has signed several international conventions outlawing the inhumane detention of prisoners, including torture.
Stephenson last night countered by challenging the Defence Force to face an independent inquiry. "I'm happy to put my information before an inquiry. Any fair or impartial inquiry will show that they are the ones misleading the public.
Mr Key said the assertions outlined in Metro did not stack up under the NZDF microscope.
"I've got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I've found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible," Mr Key said.
"Jon Stephenson's a guy that texted me one night impersonating [TV3 political editor] Duncan Garner ... I hung up on him, because when people impersonate somebody else, I don't take them seriously."
Stephenson said he sent the text two years ago believing the recipient to be Garner. He was surprised when Mr Key called him, but he identified himself immediately and the two had a brief, friendly conversation.
Earlier, Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said incidents outlined in Metro were either inaccurate or did not happen.
The SAS did not detain anyone in an operation last Christmas Eve, and had never intervened when Afghan authorities were about to tie a prisoner to a vehicle and drag him.
General Jones also said a commander at the Crisis Response Unit, quoted in Metro, told the NZDF that he had never spoken to Stephenson.
He said the SAS had a reputation in Afghanistan for their "assiduous attention" to human rights, and followed processes that were legally and morally sound.
Stephenson said General Jones was playing "legal gymnastics".
There were no detainees in the incident last Christmas Eve in the sense that no suspects were taken to prison, he said, but he reported that the SAS had detained people by holding them at gunpoint and forcing them to their knees as they searched the building.
Stephenson also said the source of his story about the SAS intervention was credible. His translator could confirm the interview took place, he said.
"I go to great lengths to ensure that my reporting is accurate, fair, and I regard [this] as an unjustifiable attack on my credibility."
- NZ Herald
28 July, 2013
Journalist Jon Stephenson has accused the Defence Force of spying on him.
An article written for Fairfax by investigative journalist Nicky Hager claims the New Zealand military had received help from US spy agencies in monitoring Stephenson's phone conversations while he was working in Afghanistan.
According to the article, members of the New Zealand Defence Force had copies of intercepted phone metadata for Stephenson.
The reports, which related to Stephenson's phone conversations in the second half of last year, showed who he had called and who those people had called, Hager wrote.
At the time, Stephenson was working as a Kabul correspondent for the US McClatchy news service and for various New Zealand organisations.
Calls of Stephenson's associates were also monitored.
The monitoring was believed to have been co-ordinated from the main US intelligence centre at Bagram, north of Kabul. According to the article, GCSB staff have been posted at this unit since early in the Afghanistan war.
Information exposing the spying had been obtained from anonymous "sources".
Comment is being sought from the Defence Force.
The reports of monitoring follows a case in which Stephenson sued the Defence Force for defamation in the High Court at Wellington after the Defence Force denied details in several of his articles regarding activities of the organisation's personnel in the Afghanistan war.
The jury could not reach a verdict and Stephenson has yet to decide whether to seek a retrial.
The Defence Force has accepted Stephenson had been at an Afghanistan base and conducted interviews but has yet to issue a statement correcting it.
An internal Defence Force manual, which refers to "certain investigative journalists", as "subversion" threats was also referenced by Hager's article.
The manual, which was leaked, was issued as an order by the head of the Defence Force.
The manual said some journalists may be classed as hostile individuals as they pose a threat of subversion, according to the article.
"Counter intelligence" methods, which are "activities concerned with identifying and counteracting the threat to security" by such individuals or organisation can be sanctioned by the by the Defence Force chief in New Zealand.
The Green Party called for inquiry to look into New Zealand intelligence services following the reports of spying on Stephenson.
"These new revelations that the NZDF categorise journalists as subversives is alarming. It is time for a Royal Commission into New Zealand's intelligence services in order to protect our democracy, our freedom, and our free press," co-leader Dr Russel Norman said.
Prime Minister John Key said he did not know anything about Stephenson being monitored by the Defence Force aided by US agencies while in Afghanistan.
"I haven't had any advice that he is and I'd want to see facts in support of that to see if it's true."
He said if that was the case he would be asking why it had happened.
Mr Key said he had already had questions about Stephenson in relation to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) put to him last week.
"The advice I've had from the GCSB is that he isn't a target and has never been a target."
30 July, 2013
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says he must accept assurances from the Defence Force that it did not spy on a Kiwi journalist.
Defence bosses said yesterday that they had spent the weekend trawling through a decade of records from the Afghan war and found no evidence the Defence Force had ordered surveillance on the investigative journalist Jon Stephenson.
Writing in the Sunday Star- Times, journalist Nicky Hager said the New Zealand military received help from United States spy agencies to monitor phone calls by Stephenson and his associates while he was reporting on the war.
Dr Coleman said he believed his chief advisers when they said the Defence Force did not spy on Stephenson.....
1 October, 2015
The Defence Force has settled a long-running defamation claim against it by war reporter Jon Stephenson.
It has agreed to make a payment to Mr Stephenson and has expressed "regret".
Mr Stephenson had claimed $500,000 in damages.
Mr Stephenson this morning said in a statement that he could not comment on the amount.
"The sum is confidential, but I can say that I am very happy and consider the outcome a victory." Settlement was reached last Friday, three years after Mr Stephenson sued.
"I pursued legal action for the simple reason that journalists holding the powers-that-be to account should not be subjected to false claims. It is regrettable that the defendants chose to prolong this matter, at significant cost to the taxpayer, when it could have been resolved much earlier."
The journalist sued the Defence Force chief at the time Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, and the force, claiming he was defamed in a press release Mr Jones issued in May 2011 in response to a Metro magazine article by Mr Stephenson about the handling of detainees in Afghanistan and whether SAS troops had passed prisoners to authorities known to use torture.
The journalist argued that words in the press release meant that he had made up an account about visiting an Afghan police Crisis Response Unit base in Kabul and interviewing the commander there.
In a statement this afternoon the Defence Force said it and Mr Jones now accept that Mr Stephenson did in fact gain entry to the base and interviewed the CRU commander.
"They regret that their statement may have been interpreted as suggesting that this had not happened.
The parties have reached a settlement in this matter. This statement is issued as part of that settlement, which also includes a payment to Mr Stephenson."
Prime Minister John Key also attacked Mr Stephenson's credibility at the time.
"I've got no reason for the NZDF to be lying, and I've found [Mr Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible," Mr Key said in May 2011.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister today said Mr Key has nothing to add.
The press release was still on the Defence Force website two years later when the trial started.
But in the course of the hearing and in response to testimony by the journalist, Mr Jones accepted Mr Stephenson had gone to the base and probably spoken to the commander.
Despite the judge directing the jury that there was now no challenge to Mr Stephenson's account of the visit, the jury didn't reach a verdict at the end of the trial in July 2013.
The defendants argued the words in the press release didn't hold the meaning alleged, or were defamatory.
An attempt to strike out part of Mr Stephenson's claim on this basis was unsuccessful; the High Court decided it would leave it to a jury at retrial to decide what Mr Jones' words meant.
With the parties having reached settlement, that will now not occur.
Mr Stephenson's Metro article, Eyes Wide Shut: The Government's Guilty Secrets in Afghanistan, won the international journalism award, the Bayeux-Calvados Prize for War Correspondents and the top investigative award at the 2012 New Zealand Canon Media Awards.
Simon Wilson, the magazine's editor at the time, recently described the article as "the single most important piece of journalism" published in his six years at the helm.
"I told my boss that we had this story and it was going to be extremely embarrassing for the government - though I didn't tell them that we were going to publish it without talking to them, because they [the Government] would try and close us down," Wilson, currently Metro's editor-at-large, told website The Spinoff.
"But when I told [the publisher] about the story and what it was, he took a deep breath and he said, 'we've got to do it'."
Lieutenant General Tim Keating replaced Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, who left the Defence Force after a 35-year career, in January 2014. Mr Keating is a former head of the army and has also commanded the elite SAS group.
The full horror of what the NZ Army did to Jon Stephenson
29 February, 2016
So now we are finally seeing the lengths the NZ Army went to to destroy Jon Stephenson.
A failed challenge to the credibility of a journalist by the Defence Force has blown up in its face, cost taxpayers more than $1 million and resulted in an Afghan police unit commander whose evidence did not survive scrutiny seeking to stay in New Zealand as a refugee.
The commander was flown out to be the Defence Force’s key witness in a defamation case but the Herald can reveal he did not return home after the retrial was abandoned and is seeking to stay permanently.
In response to one of a series of Official Information Act requests by the Herald, the Defence Force confirmed only one of two people it flew from Afghanistan for the retrial boarded their return flight on December 15, 2014.
“No further information is able to be provided on the second person,” it said.
The Herald understands the person who returned to Kabul was an interpreter and that the commander remains in New Zealand and is pursuing an application to be accepted as a refugee.
It is unlawful under the Immigration Act to deport a person until their refugee application has been determined.
The Defence Force abruptly changed tack in its defamation case against journalist Jon Stephenson after the commander testified at a secret High Court sitting in Wellington on December 2014.
According to the court list, the hearing was “to take evidence”.
After the hearing, the Defence Force settled with Stephenson, paid him a six-figure sum and expressed “regret”.
During the three-year battle, the Defence Force used 15 lawyers at a cost of $643,000.
Stephenson sued the Defence Force chief at the time, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, and the force, claiming he was defamed in a press release General Jones issued in 2011 in response to a Metro magazine article by Stephenson about the handling of detainees in Afghanistan. The article raised whether SAS troops had passed prisoners to authorities known to torture.
The journalist argued the press release accused him of making up a visit to an Afghan police Crisis Response Unit base in Kabul and interview with the commander.
The commander did not give evidence at a trial in July 2013 during the course of which, and in response to testimony by the journalist, General Jones accepted Stephenson had gone to the base and probably spoken to the commander.
Despite the judge directing the jury that there was now no challenge to Stephenson’s account, the jury did not reach a verdict.
The Defence Force proceeded towards a retrial but in a statement last November said it and General Jones now accepted Stephenson did in fact gain entry to the base and interview the CRU commander.
The Defence Force paid for the commander to fly to New Zealand on November 10, 2014.
The secret hearing was in early December and he was booked to fly back to Kabul on December 15 but did not board the flight, a Defence Force spokeswoman confirmed.
The spokeswoman said the Defence Force had not offered support for the commander’s immigration application.
No explanation was given for abandoning the planned retrial.
Prime Minister John Key attacked Stephenson’s credibility at the time.
“I’ve got no reason for the NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible,” Mr Key said in May 2011.
Mr Key’s office last night said the Prime Minister had nothing further to add.
Those who think Nicky Hager is just another left-wing stirrer and dismiss his latest book accordingly should think again.
Likewise, the country’s politicians should read Other People’s Wars before condemning it.
Whatever Hager’s motive for investigating New Zealand’s contribution over the past decade to the United States-led “war on terror”, it is pretty irrelevant when placed alongside the mountain of previously confidential and very disturbing information his assiduous research and inquiries have uncovered.
With the help of well-placed informants and thousands of leaked documents, Hager exposes the cynical manner in which the Defence Force has purposely misled the public by omission of pertinent facts and public relations flannel.
having CIA operatives inside the Kiwi base fitted poorly with the deployment’s stated goals. Why would the New Zealand authorities risk the New Zealanders working at Kiwi Base, and the credibility of the New Zealand peacekeeping mission, by mixing them up with a CIA operation? After the suicide attack on the FOB [forward operating base] Chapman, the issue of CIA operations inside a provincial reconstruction team was widely discussed. The Times wrote that “PRTs have been criticised widely for endangering civilian aid workers by blurring the line between development staff and the military.