Tag Archive for "paramilitary"

The Terrorism Files

So, Fairfax Media have released the “Terrorism Files” – a summary of the facts from the evidence the police submitted to get the search warrants that led to those over the top Ninja-Police raids a few weeks ago.

I’ve read through this cherry picked summary and so far my response consists of “Is that it?” The two main thrusts appear to be:

  • a lot of talk about what they want to do but no actual evidence of plans to do any of it
  • a bunch of people doing paramilitary training in the Ureweras

There are two main questions that come to my mind:

1. Should what they were doing be illegal?
2. What is an appropriate response to people engaging in such behaviour?

Planning Crime

On the first count I’m going to give a qualified no. In general, the Police are claiming that these people were preparing to commit terrorist acts and the quotes definitely indicate that they were discussing them and even training for them. However, there seems to be no evidence that they had gone to the stage of planning these acts, let alone doing them.

I’m wary of “crimes of intention”, where we arrest people because we think they’re going to do something but they haven’t actually done it yet. There’s a huge gap between talking about doing something and actually doing it (otherwise we’d all probably be healthy, fit, successful and rich!) On the other hand, I don’t think that it’s necessary to wait for the bomb to go off before we arrest the people planning to plant it. Where should we draw the line?

I suggest that a good line would be where people cross from planning in the abstract to planning in the concrete. Or, to put it in an example, I don’t think it’s actionable to say “We should kill John Key with a sniper rifle” but I think it is actionable to say “I’ve booked a room with a good view of the target. X will deliver the rifle to you the day before, we expect the official party to be at the target spot from about 10:05 for approximately 15 minutes.” On the evidence published by Fairfax there’s no sign that they were anywhere close to that.

What About Paramilitary Training?

As well as this talk, it appears they also engaged in paramilitary training in the Ureweras. This involved camping, exercises and weapons training. These are all perfectly legal activities and engaged in by tramping clubs, gun clubs and paintball gamers across the country. I’m not sure I see a difference just because they were wearing balaclavas while doing it.

As for the firearms charges, sure, go ahead, but if your only crime is not having the proper license to own a gun that you could otherwise legally own, it’s really pretty trivial.

Appropriate Response

However, just because something isn’t or shouldn’t be illegal doesn’t mean that you should just ignore it. In general I’m against the idea of the state spying on people without reason, but in this case I believe that the evidence we have seen so far does provide sufficient justification. The police were right to be keeping them under surveillance.

Overall, I think it was a mistake to arrest them now. It was wrong as a breach of the civil rights grounds of the accused, and it was wrong on pragmatic grounds because it has brought the police and the state into disrepute.

I think that the appropriate response was to keep monitoring them to see if their plans did start getting more concrete. If they did, only then would charging them with criminal or terrorist conspiracy offenses seem appropriate.