Matt McCarten on politics
Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Real threat is not these guys

Tame Iti could have been dealt with by the iwi liaison cops. Photo / Alan Gibson
Tame Iti could have been dealt with by the iwi liaison cops. Photo / Alan Gibson

Most of us have probably forgotten the action taken against the Tuhoe people four years ago - dawn raids on so-called terrorists.

This week it's been revealed that defendants in the case won't be allowed trial by a jury of their fellow citizens. They will face a lone judge.

The reasons for this decision are suppressed, but it is puzzling.

On what is known publicly, this case has been quite simple since the nonsensical terrorism charges were thrown out by the Solicitor-General.

Of the charges left, most are firearms ones, which I would have thought was fairly clear one way or the other.

Why can't a jury decide them?

We also now know the defendants have been split into two batches and the groups will be tried separately. This too seems weird.

Frankly it's all political and it's been a botch-up from start to finish.

If the state anti-terror unit would have us believe Tame Iti is a terrorist mastermind, it shows how divorced from the real world they are. Anyone who knows Tame knows he's a Tuhoe rights leader and not averse to a bit of media showmanship when it suits.

But terrorist? Don't make me laugh.

It seems the best that they can come up with are a few firearms and some household paraphernalia.

The state would have us believe they were saving us from the apocalypse.

The special terrorism task force co-ordinated the round-up and breathlessly informed us that they had smashed a home-grown terror plot by hardened Maori radicals, diehard communists, revolutionary anarchists and wild environmental activists. Anyone who knows anything about politics knows any such combination is the opposite of the tightly-wedded force necessary for a terrorist cell. They don't even believe in the same things.

At the time the Ureweras were sealed off and locals living in the area were detained, handcuffed and had their homes ransacked, presumably for weapons and sneaky plans for insurrection.

The revelation that none of these locals were suspects or were ever charged was forgotten. It added to the drama and the media lapped it up.

When roadblocks started detaining kids and checking their school bus for explosives, it was obvious our cops in US Swat gear were getting a bit carried away with their own hype.

The Urewera defendants are unlucky because their case has too many careers and reputations in the state bureaucracy riding on them being convicted and jailed to get a fair trial. I'm not saying the people arrested for attending a camp, where perhaps firearms were involved, haven't broken certain laws. But I'm sure the whole silliness could have been fixed at the start with the iwi liaison cops in the area being sent up to Tame to pick up any weapons and give him a kick up the backside.

But vested interests need to embellish the threat for their own reasons. It gives an excuse to introduce laws so the state can spy even more on its citizens, increase funding and powers for our paramilitary police and deny legal defence rights for anyone charged under these new laws. In the past four years this is exactly what's happened. If I was a conspiracy theorist I'd think the whole thing was a set-up. At the very least the state has milked the situation for all it's worth.

The last thing the establishment wants is a jury trial where ordinary citizens see this nonsense for what it is and laugh it out of court.

That's the real crime.

- Herald on Sunday

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