What do you do when the state locks you in jail and calls you a terrorist - but refuses to say why? John Keir tells the inside story behind New Zealand's biggest security scandal in Enemy of the State: The Ahmed Zaoui File. Today: Episode 4, Fighting Windmills.
"Outski". One word led to the dramatic departure of a former High Court judge with a key role in the Ahmed Zaoui case and changed the course of the Algerian refugee's fight for freedom.
As the Herald's Enemy of the State podcast explains, Zaoui's case was due to be heard by the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence, retired High Court Justice Laurie Grieg, because of an unusual quirk in the law which kept him in solitary confinement in Auckland Prison at Paremoremo.
It was a security risk certificate – never used before or since - issued by the New Zealand Government in March 2003, four months after Zaoui arrived in New Zealand on a fake passport and asked for political asylum.
The certificate meant that the final decision on whether Zaoui could remain in New Zealand or be deported rested with the Minister of Immigration, at that time Lianne Dalziel. Her decision, ultimately, could be influenced by the head of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and its then-boss Richard Woods.
Because the SIS claimed the evidence it had against Ahmed Zaoui was classified 'top secret', any chance his defence lawyers had of getting him out of prison lay with the Inspector General, who was supposed to be independent.
While not part of the SIS, Grieg had his own security clearance and could decide that the SIS would be required to release to the Zaoui defence team.
But then in 2003 he gave an interview to the Listener, which included the throwaway phrase, "I make my report and outski."
Justice Grieg also had some comments on refugees in general.
"I understand that our passport is very desirable because it's accepted almost without question all over the world and if we lost that then you and I would have much greater difficulty getting into America or Germany or wherever," he told journalist Gordon Campbell.
"We certainly don't want, I'm not talking as the Inspector General, I'm talking just as a personal New Zealander, we don't want lots of people coming in on forged passports and then throwing them down the loo in the plane and saying, 'I'm a refugee, keep me here'."
His words pushed the Zaoui defence team into immediate action.
"I was amazed that he would, given his background, give an interview at all," lawyer Rodney Harrison QC explains.
The issue was whether Justice Greig – who had the statutory power to review the evidence against Ahmed Zaoui's fate – had already made up his mind to recommend the deportation of the asylum seeker before he had heard the case.
"It did raise eyebrows in our team about a number of things," Zaoui lawyer Richard McLeod remembers.
"And there were obviously statements and comments said in that interview that you could say possibly revealed his honour's views about refugees coming into the country on false passports and it could also be construed as giving even a hint of predetermination of the outcome."
The Zaoui defence team went back to court to seek to have Justice Grieg removed on the grounds of "apparent bias".
The High Court agreed, noting its decision was based on the interview overall rather than the word "outski".
Justice Grieg declined to be interviewed for the podcast.
Enemy of the State: The Ahmed Zaoui File was made with the support of NZ On Air.