Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Killers too deserve due process

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Abu Hamza has been tried and fairly convicted in a court of law. Photo / AP
Abu Hamza has been tried and fairly convicted in a court of law. Photo / AP

Last Monday I sat in Auckland Town Hall and watched people from 65 countries taking an oath that made them New Zealand citizens. They were exhorted to be proud of their new country. I wonder how proud they were by the end of the week.

A new element has entered the debate - if you can dignify the ranting with that label - over drones, killing New Zealanders because of where they happen to be standing, and the involvement of our spy services. A lip-smacking, they-deserve-everything-they-get bloodthirstiness has entered the talk.

The trouble with the argument that if you hang out with terrorists you deserve to get killed is that it drags us down to their level.

You don't have to listen to radio very long before you hear someone telling you "we" are at war with terrorists, although they're more likely to describe them by the easier-to-understand label "bad guys".

According to the new reasoning, if you associate with people who may be terrorists you should expect to be killed. Questions of process, justice, fairness, evidence don't come into it. Just ask, say the enthusiasts for auto-killing, the families of the 9/11 victims how they feel about it. I hope those families would not want their loved ones to have died so that mob rule and vengeance can hold sway.

It's notable that one of this country's most conspicuous victims of terrorism, the rightly lauded Mary Quin, has got justice over her ordeal by going through the process that is set up for that purpose. She has had her day in court and the murderous Abu Hamza has been tried and convicted. This is as it should be.

But our Prime Minister is not an enthusiast of open and transparent processes. He is comfortable with the possibility that our intelligence information may have fed into US attacks like that which killed New Zealander Daryl Jones.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Key had spoken about Jones' case only because details of the strike came out in Australian media.

Which is a little rich.

It's one thing to have the US running our foreign policy; it's flat-out galling to have Australia determining what we can and cannot be told about it. We used to be known for speaking out against immoral acts by foreign powers - even our friends. It brought us a lot of respect - more than comes from any number of kowtowing photo ops in the Oval Office.

It's hard to argue with the notion that spying by its nature needs to be covert - that's why they're called secret agents, after all. And, inevitably, sometimes regrettable actions will have to be taken in the interests of a greater good. But the people performing those secret actions are acting in our name and on our behalf so we need to be confident they are acting on the strictest moral principles.

John Key's record of prevarications and forgetfulness makes it extremely difficult to have this confidence.

It has been reported membership of the World Clown Association has fallen about 30 per cent since 2004. The reasons are unclear. One obvious explanation was ruled out when it was discovered the number of politicians hadn't increased by 30 per cent in the same period. Perhaps clowns aren't joiners. Maybe they developed coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. The most plausible explanation seems to be reality has outstripped their efforts to make the world look ridiculous and clowns no longer have a job to do.

- Herald on Sunday

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