Submission on The Terrorism Suppression Bill

From the Anti-Bases Campaign, Christchurch


30 November 2001

David Sanders
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee
Parliament Buildings


The Anti-Bases Campaign and its predecessor (Citizens for the Demilitarisation of Harewood) have a nearly 20-year history of active opposition to American military and intelligence bases in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This domestic opposition has not escaped the notice of the American Embassy in Wellington and thus the American Government in Washington DC. The names and details of our members (active and former) will have been entered into the files of the Police, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS), the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the American National Security Agency (NSA). It is likely that our home and business telephones are bugged and it is a certainty that our international communications via telephone, email, and fax are routinely intercepted by the satellite spy base at Waihopai.

This Bill will suppress dissent, not terrorism

Because of our opposition to significant aspects of the domestic and foreign policies of the New Zealand and American governments we are very likely to have been designated as threats to the established order. Thus we, and thousands of dissenters like us, have every reason to oppose the Terrorism Suppression Bill in its present form. We oppose the suspension of democratic and legal due process if this bill is passed into law. We fear that those who question or dissent from government policies, especially as they relate to the tragic events of September 11 in the United States, could lead to suspension of civil rights and perhaps even imprisonment based merely on suspicion and innuendo. That is precisely what is happening now in the United States on the basis of racial profiling. Our other dominant partners in military/intelligence cooperation (Australia, Canada and the UK) are proposing even more draconian legislation.

1. Defining Terrorism – licence to suspend due process

The terms “terrorist” and “terrorist act” cannot be precisely defined because they depend heavily on context. The framers of the Terrorist Bill have tried to circumvent this problem by interpreting and defining terrorist acts very broadly and with unworkable, and even bizarre, implications.

  • “Terrorist act in armed conflict” (Section 4) is interpreted as “…an act…the purpose of which is to intimidate a population, or compel a government or international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act”. This interpretation applies to the war on Afghanistan conducted by the American government and military. Is this the intent of the New Zealand Government? We think not since the wording is almost identical to that in the American Patriot Act. Although the ABC, and similar activist organisations, would not expect to fall prey to this designation, it illustrates the utter uselessness of the interpretation.
  • Subsections (3 c, d, and e) in Section 5 refer to unjustifiably broad outcomes of a terrorist act. Damage to property, interference with infrastructure, damage to the national economy are defining only by certain vague adjectives, like serious. These terms would give carte blanche to the Prime Minister (with the Minister of Foreign Affairs) to declare an act to be terrorist in intent. These paragraphs are among the worst features of the bill.
  • We are particularly concerned with the lumping of economic disruption along with the generally accepted terrorist actions like bombing and assassination because of the licence it gives to government agencies to increase covert and overt surveillance of “suspects”. The means to conduct surveillance of New Zealanders by the SIS and the GCSB have recently been increased by several pieces of legislation. The Terrorism Bill would greatly increase the motivation of these agencies to invade the privacy of ordinary people. Why? Because “good cause to suspect” a person or group is all the motivation needed. “Good cause” is totally undefined in the act.

2. Assumption of innocence discarded

Subsection 4 of Section 5 is somewhat positive in that the scope of the bill excludes certain types of protest and dissent. ABC is a totally non-violent activist organisation whose members and activities may fall under the provisions of Subsection (4)(a). But protest and civil disobedience are subject to interpretation as to their intent and participants could find themselves labeled as engaging in terrorist acts at the whim of the police or other enforcement agency in the heat of confrontation. The burden would then appear to fall on the accused to prove their innocence. Our society should not tolerate the abrogation of the basic legal assumption that one is innocent until proven guilty. Political suspicion is all that is necessary to sweep a victim into the terrorist net with only the right of legalistic, not evidential, appeal to the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, not to a court of law.

The Anti-Bases Campaign strongly objects to the setting aside of due legal process in the name of fighting terrorism. All kangaroo-court provisions must be removed from the bill. We challenge the government to provide any compelling evidence from anywhere in the world that such draconian “anti-terrorist” measures are effective. A recent commentary from former American FBI officials is highly relevant:

The aggressive FBI dragnet -- championed by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft -- has provoked much commentary and criticism for its impact on civil liberties. Now, in a series of on-the-record interviews, eight former high-ranking FBI officials have offered the first substantive critique of the Ashcroft program, questioning whether the new approach will have the desired effect. The executives, including a former FBI director, said the Ashcroft plan will inevitably force the bureau to close terrorism investigations prematurely, before agents can identify all members of a terrorist cell. They said the Justice Department is resurrecting tactics the government rejected in the late 1970s because they did not prevent terrorism and led to abuses of civil liberties.

3. Greater licence to spy on New Zealand citizens

Subsection 4 begs the question - How are determinations of terrorist intent to be made by the powers that be, and the Prime Minister in particular in view of her central role (inevitably politically biased) in designating terrorist acts? We suggest that invasions of personal privacy are likely to increase substantially if this bill become law.

In an atmosphere of panicked reaction to the threat of terrorism, governments are rushing through disastrous regulations, followed by ill-considered legislation. With a nod from an all-powerful (but not all-knowing) authority, intelligence and enforcement agencies will increasingly ride roughshod over basic human rights and ignore civil liberties, with little or no effect on terrorism.

What would it be like to swept into the grip of mindless terrorist law, of unbridled police power? A Texas lawyer, Paul Coggins, published his nightmare on the Internet on 21 November 2001. We urge the committee members to put themselves in his nightmare. Is this the road down which New Zealand is trodding?


I toss in an unfamiliar bed. Strange bed. Strange room. Strange town. Strange country. A stranger in a strange land, I sleep fitfully in a country not my own. The hotel door bangs open. Heavy boots shake the room as armed soldiers surround me. Angry voices. Blinding lights. Paralyzing panic. Groggy, I am slow to react. Too slow. Rough hands jerk me off the bed and onto the hard floor. A boot presses on my spine and another on my neck. Face down, I am pinned to the floor. My hands are cuffed behind my back, so tightly that my arm sockets burn with pain. Under the cover of night, I am whisked to a solitary cell in a maximum-security prison. My pleas for a phone call are ignored. I have not been allowed to contact family or friends. I'm terrified that my wife and daughter are worried about me. My requests to see a lawyer also fall on deaf ears. The only people I see are my captors. Every day they haul me into an interrogation room to grill me with questions. No one on the outside knows where I am or if I'm alive. Down to a flicker of hope, I am spirited in the night to a new prison, hundreds of miles, maybe thousands of miles from my old cell. Disoriented by frequent moves and forced isolation, I forget where I am, what country is holding me. Am I a political prisoner in South America? Eastern Europe? Southeast Asia? Have I joined the swelling ranks of "los desaparecidos", the disappeared ones? I'm not in South America, Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. I am a prisoner in the United States. I have been branded a terrorist suspect, though the basis for the suspicion may be vague, flimsy or not spelled out at all. Forget the books and movies. There is no phone call from prison, no lawyer in the visiting room and no judge watching over my case. There are only captors, questions and solitary cells.

4. Bin the Bill

The Terrorism Suppression Bill is unnecessary. It should be binned. Terrorism is obvious to all when it occurs, whether it is the destruction of skyscrapers in New York or the destruction of homes and hospitals in Afghanistan. In a free and democratic society terrorism must be dealt with under the rule of law. Existing criminal law in New Zealand is adequate to cover acts of terrorism, should they take place here.

New Zealand is not America. We may not yet be the subject of intense hatred by the victims of western exploitation of the developing world (although sending our SAS troops to help fight America’s war is immoral and invites that very hatred).

We appreciate the opportunity to make a submission. We would like the opportunity to speak before the committee in support of our submission. Hearings should be held in Christchurch and all the other major centres to give people every chance to be heard.


Robert L. Leonard
For the Anti-Bases Campaign