SAS claims 'unfounded' - Key

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed recent claims about the SAS handling of people detained in Afghanistan operations as "wrong and unfounded".

Metro magazine last month reported three incidents in which the New Zealand SAS handed prisoners over to other forces, one in 2002 and the others in 2010.

According to the magazine, after a raid in 2002, 55 prisoners given to American forces were tortured while in prison. Last year, one prisoner was reportedly handed over to Afghan troops following a raid in Wardak province, and was then badly beaten.

The SAS also handed over prisoners to the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security, known for its torture practices, the magazine reported.

The Geneva Convention prohibits signatories like New Zealand from torturing, humiliating or degrading prisoners, and from transferring them to countries that do so.

In a statement today, Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones disputed the allegations, saying they were "founded upon a number of factual inaccuracies, especially concerning NZSAS operations".

"Our current processes are legally and morally sound," Lt Gen Jones said.

At a post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Mr Key stood by the Defence Force's review of the allegations, and said the Government was not reviewing the SAS operation instructions.

"My understanding is that [the Defence Force] has confirmed that our SAS have always acted in accordance with the responsibilities they were required to act under and that included the way they have dealt with any detainees they may or may not have had," he said.

"So in my view the assertions made in the Metro article by Jon Stephenson were wrong and unfounded."

Mr Key hit out at Mr Stephenson's credibility, saying the journalist had once impersonated TV broadcaster Duncan Garner to get Mr Key to call him.

"I hung up on him because when people impersonate someone else I don't take them seriously," Mr Key said.

"I just don't think he's credible. If you look at the assertions he's made in this article they're actually not supported by the investigation from the New Zealand Defence Force."

The Green Party has called for an independent investigation into the magazine's claims, while Labour leader Phil Goff said today the Government needed to provide watertight assurances that the SAS did not hand prisoners across to "people with a track record of torture".

However, Mr Key said there would be no inquiry.

"As far as I'm concerned there won't be an inquiry unless I could see some evidence that suggests it's warranted. The Defence Force had a good look at it, they've got no reason to mislead me or the New Zealand public."




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