Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Urewera fiasco pointless and expensive shambles

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Tame Iti may need to have his bag packed. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Tame Iti may need to have his bag packed. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The state finally threw in the towel this week on continuing with the case against the so-called Urewera Four.

After spending millions of public dollars in trying to get us to believe Tame Iti was heading the New Zealand franchise of al Qaeda, they want us to pretend it never happened.

Most of us do want to move on, but it is important in a civil society to not let the state misuse its immense power, then sweep it under the carpet when it becomes a mess.

The fact is the people we pay to keep us safe abused our trust by terrifying a small community unnecessarily. Our protectors hysterically overreacted by branding a group of people terrorists - and it could have led to them languishing in prison for the best part of the rest of their lives.

After the smoke has cleared, the best the police have got is a few minor firearms charges against Iti and three others out of the original 18 terror suspects.

In normal circumstances, the culprits would receive a fine. But if that happened, the establishment would be more humiliated than they already are.

Therefore when Iti turns up for sentencing I advise him to take a packed bag and expect a term of incarceration. That's the only way the establishment can keep a straight face when claiming victory in the War on Terror.

That these so-called terror suspects have been legally permitted to wander freely among us for more than three years - and for nothing bad to happen - tells us what the terrorist threat actually was: none. Surely in any sane world real terror suspects don't get let out to carry through on their mission?

If anyone still believes this nonsense was ever more than a group fantasy in the minds of our secret police and some senior politicians watching too many television cop shows, then you haven't been paying attention.

When the Urewera raids took place, the media were tipped off in advance. I wonder in whose interest it was for the public to have the media give us ringside seats watching a propaganda exercise of the armed state saving us from terrorism?

The fact that innocent people, including children, were deliberately terrorised by armed stormtroopers in masks was cavalierly dismissed by the establishment as collateral damage for the greater good. Even after the case fell apart they kept up the pretence.

Allowing Iti, the alleged mastermind, to leave the country to visit Europe was beyond farce. The fact that New Zealand and other countries allowed an alleged terrorist to freely travel the world insults the intelligence of even the dimmest of us.

What worries me the most is our police, legal and political establishment still can't see what they did wrong and seem to still believe Iti and his mates really were terrorists and only got away with it because their lawyers bungled the paperwork and the anti-terrorism laws were badly written.

Do they still think all the original suspects should have had their lives ruined and be locked up for lengthy terms of imprisonment? What for? Running around in the bush with a few firearms? The worst crime it seems is that some of the younger ones were caught up in bravado revolutionary talk. From what I know of the transcripts, I've heard worse in the pub. Even the cops admitted the defendants didn't have any actual plans, let alone the means, to carry out any crimes.

It's no wonder that when police raided the home of Kim Dotcom more mistakes were made. We have form.

I wonder if it even occurred to them to just send a couple of cops to Iti and Dotcom's homes to ask them to accompany them to the police station?

It's not as exciting as paramilitary raids, but it might have saved them the embarrassing climb-down this week, and avoided the expensive mayhem inflicted on hundreds of the citizens they're supposed to serve.

- Herald on Sunday

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