McCully, sheep and Saudi Arabia

Murray McCully, sheep and Saudi Arabia are back in media focus.

The Nation covered it in the weekend. It featured Labour MP David Parker.

Inside the Saudi sheep deal

It was the deal that cost New Zealand taxpayers $11.5 million and is now being looked at by the Auditor General.

So what really happened in the Saudi sheep deal?

Video

In that it is claimed that McCully may have misled Cabinet twice.

Newshub also had an item on it on Friday:

Camera confiscated in Saudi sheep investigation

A freelance camera crew sent by Newshub to film the controversial farm at the centre of the Saudi sheep deal was arrested and had his memory cards confiscated.

Newshub sent the cameraman to the Al-Khalaf Agrihub to film for an investigation into the Government’s role in the Saudi sheep deal.

“They surprised me actually, they said, ‘What are you doing, it is not allowed to be here’, and they are starting to be intense with me,” the cameraman says.

“I tell them there is no need to be intense or to scream on my face.”

The next day the police visited him, detained him for three hours, and confiscated all his memory cards.

The Agrihub is meant to promote New Zealand tech in the region and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully has said it’s open and managed by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and local parties.

The Auditor-General is investigating the deal and Mr McCully won’t comment until her report is out.

Also:

On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews John Key

Headlines: Prime Minister confirms Cabinet told there was a legal “risk” from Saudi billionaire

And at 7 pm tonight Waatea 5th Estate is also covering it:

The Saudi Sheep Bribe – how is Murray McCully still a Minister?

Joining us tonight to discuss the latest allegations in the Saudi Sheep Bribe Scandal…

In studio,

Labour Party Shadow Attorney General – David Parker

Political Commentator, author and blogger – Chris Trotter

Former Green Party MP and human rights activist – Keith Locke

And on the phone – Executive Director of Animal Rights group SAFE – Hans Kriek

That will be live streamed here at the Daily Blog and available later on demand.

Secret pages of the 9-11 report

The final 28 pages of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report into 9-11 have been kept a closely guarded secret, but President Obama may decide later this year whether they should be released or not.

NZ Herald: Hidden papers: The secret final chapter of the 9/11 reports

For thirteen years, these classified documents, known as the “28 pages”, have been kept under lock and key, with just a handful of eyes having the opportunity to see what’s inside.

In 2004, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced an 838 page report outlining the events leading up to the September 11, 2001, attacks. But one giant piece of the puzzle was missing – the final chapter – which was blanked out by the Bush administration for reasons of “national security”.

Known to contain vital information pertaining to the attacks, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have refused to unseal the documents, claiming its release would jeopardise national security. In later years, the FBI would also refuse to unseal the pages.

According to 60 Minutes, who ran a story last week in the US on the secret pages, former Florida Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committe and co-chairman of the inquiry, has been trying to get the them released since the day they were classified.

“I remain deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from this report,” Mr Graham said at the time.

“Those are a lot of coincidences, and that’s a lot of smoke,” said Mr Roemer.”Is that enough to make you squirm and dig harder and declassify these 28 pages? Absolutely.”

According to 60 Minutes, the 9/11 report says “Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al-Qaeda funding through its wealthy citizens and charities with significant government sponsorship”.

Yet in the report it states, “we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organisation.”

Though lawyers for the families of the 9/11 victims believe the line is one of the most misunderstood in the report.

“When they say that we’ve found no evidence that senior Saudi officials individually funded al-Qaeda they conspicuously leave open the potential that they’ve found evidence that people who were officials that they did not regard as senior officials had done so,” said lawyer Sean Carter.

The Saudis believe that sentence exonerates them from any wrong doing.

The world may or may not see what is in the final chapter of the report soon. It is reported that US President Barack Obama will decide whether to declassify the 28 pages in the coming months.

Former Florida senator Bob Graham told Fox News the White House had informed him that a decision on whether to declassify the documents would be made in one to two months.

Yet asked about the renewed information requests last Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he did not know whether President Obama has read the 28 pages but they were the subject of an intelligence community “classification review,” reports Fox.

This is complicated by a difficult relationship between Obama and Saudi Arabia.

US President Barack Obama will visit King Salman and the Saudi royal court in Riyadh next week in a bid to mend increasingly frayed ties between the allies.

So the public’s right to know may be overruled by diplomatic ‘pragmatism’.

60 Minutes links:

  • 28 Pages
    Former Sen. Bob Graham and others urge the Obama administration to declassify redacted pages of a report that holds 9/11 secrets
  • Saudi Arabia calls 60 Minutes story “myths”

    Following Sunday’s broadcast, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia calls “28 Pages” report a “compilation of myths and erroneous charges”

  • How to report on a top-secret document

    60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft explains the challenges of reporting on a 28-page, classified document about the 9/11 attacks

Greens, capital punishment and trade

There has been a mixed reaction to the 47 beheadings recently in Saudi Arabia. National and Labour (officially) say the executions shouldn’t affect trade.

The Greens responded strongly: New Zealand shouldn’t prefer human rights abusers

The New Zealand Government must halt its free trade discussions with Saudi Arabia after the latest in a long line of very public human rights atrocities.

Green Party Co-leader James Shaw said that New Zealand was sending a distressing signal by continuing to negotiate for a free trade agreement giving preferential treatment to Saudi Arabia while they continued to execute people, often with the flimsiest of evidence.

“Once there is a clear demonstration that Saudi Arabia is following international law and protecting the rights of people then we are happy to see a free trade agreement continue.

“In the meantime, New Zealand should use its position on the Security Council to push for human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia and others to be accountable for every execution.”

That is something we should do through the Security Council. But should we do it through suspension of trade talks? Or suspension of trade? If we followed the Green line of thinking we may not have many countries to trade with.

On December 3 last year the Greens called for human rights inquiry, lodging a joint submsission with the Australian Human Rights Commission – see Australia and NZ Greens call for human rights inquiry

Green Party human rights spokesperson Marama Davidson has written to the Commission on behalf of the New Zealand and Australian Green Parties, saying people from both countries were deeply concerned about the human rights abuses occurring in Australian facilities and the impact these were having on innocent family members.

“Just because these people were once in trouble with the law does not mean they waive their basic human rights, and the human rights of their families, forever,” Ms Davidson said.

In that case the Greens didn’t mention trade, but they have strongly opposed trade agreements with China and the USA – and in effect with Australia and ten other countries through their opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement).

Opposing trade is normal for the Greens for a variety of reasons.

If New Zealand opposed trade with countries who carry out capital punishment who would that involve?

Countries with capital punishment and the number of estimated executions in 2013 include:

  • China 2,400
  • Iran 369+
  • Iraq 160+
  • Saudi Arabia 79+
  • United States 39
  • Japan 8
  • Vietnam 7+
  • Taiwan 6
  • Indonesia 5
  • Malaysia 2+
  • Bangladesh 2
  • India 1

Those countries represent a large portion of world trade – and New Zealand trade.

China is the world’s leader in solar photovoltaic installations. Their development and manufacturing must mean potential for trade with New Zealand in technology the Greens favour. Greens must also be keen on China’s rapid increase in use of solar energy, it must help counter their fossil fuel use.

If they could would  Greens refuse to trade with China over their capital punishment policies? And the US and India and Japan and Vietnam?

If so New Zealand may not advance towards being fossil fuel free based just on our own clean green sustainable Treaty of Waitangi compliant initiatives.

Saudi Arabia beheadings and trade

There’s been widespread international condemnation of the beheading of 47 dissidents in Sauda Arabia.

The mass executions were concerning enough, but are only a part of a comparatively large number of executions in Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian reports: Saudi Arabia: beheadings reach highest level in two decades

Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide.

Amnesty International said in November that at least 63 people had been executed since the start of the year for drug-related offences. That figure made up at least 40% of the total number of executions in 2015, compared to less than 4% for drug-related executions in 2010.

Amnesty said Saudi Arabia had exceeded its highest level of executions since 1995, when 192 executions were recorded.

While some crimes, such as premeditated murder, carry fixed punishments under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of the Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offences are considered “ta’zir”, meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that of the first 100 prisoners executed in 2015, 56 had been based on judicial discretion and not for crimes for which Islamic law mandates a specific death penalty punishment.

Any executions, and especially mass executions, may seem abhorrent to most of us in New Zealand but we used to have capital punishment, with 83 verified executions and the last execution here in 1957. Executions were abolished finally in 1961.

All New Zealand executions were by hanging, initially in public. Is death by hanging any more or less humane than beheading?

The general response to the Saudi beheadings from the New Zealand Government has been in opposition to the executions but to take it no further.

Newstalk ZB: NZ criticises Saudis, but not at expense of trade talks

Duty minister Chris Finlayson said New Zealand is a long-standing opponent of the death penalty, and executions are always wrong in all cases and any circumstances.

Finlayson insists the government regularly raises human rights issues during diplomatic talks.

The Greens had a much stronger response: New Zealand shouldn’t prefer human rights abusers

The New Zealand Government must halt its free trade discussions with Saudi Arabia after the latest in a long line of very public human rights atrocities.

Green Party Co-leader James Shaw said that New Zealand was sending a distressing signal by continuing to negotiate for a free trade agreement giving preferential treatment to Saudi Arabia while they continued to execute people, often with the flimsiest of evidence.

I’m not sure how well Shaw or the Greens check the legal processes and evidence in Saudi cases that result in executions. The main export from Saudi Arabia is oil so Greens probably don’t favour trade with them anyway.

The most interesting response was from Labour…

Labour foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer did not agree with the Greens on the issue.

“Trading links enables us ot get a foot in the door to talk about human rights issues that we would not otherwise be able to do if we didn’t have those links. I don’t believe it’s necessarily in our interests to take this stance in banning trading talks with either country.”

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/world/293442/saudi-arabia-breaks-ties-with-iran

…and the response to that from The Standard. Greg Presland in Saudi Arabia and the free trade deal:

Davis Shearer’s response has shall we say been disappointing.

Promoting free trade so that our ability to discuss human rights violations with trading partners is frankly silly. And there should be a moral dimension to trade relationships. If a foreign nation is involved in widespread human rights violations then all forms of pressure, including the suspension of trade agreement negotiations, should be available to try and effect change.

All forms of pressure are available to New Zealand, no matter how futile or practical. If we suspended trade negotiations with every country the was deemed by us to have violated human rights we might not have a lot of trade.

Comments were more damning of Shearer’s and Labour’s stance.

Frances Cohen:

It’s absurd for Shearer to think that we can influence Saudi Arabia through free trade deals.

Macro:

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard David Shearer on the radio this morning. Really and truly – what a wet response! Has NZ Labour lost all its principles?
This is not a matter of whether or not there is a trade deal to be signed (and if it is it will be a very bad one). This is a matter of taking a stand on human rights.
Both NZ First, and the Greens get it. Why oh why can’t Labour?

Robert Glennie:

Labour is too scared to take back its principles in case it loses a part of the political spectrum that they do not realize is not actually theirs.

Savenz:

Crucifixion no barrier to trade in NZ!

Human rights breaches and democracy breaches and funding ISIS from Saudi, no barrier to trade either!
(or any other neoliberal country, if the US says friend then turn a blind eye, if US says foe, invade or sanction). What happened to an independent foreign policy??

Karen:

So that idiot Shearer thinks we can influence Saudi Arabia’s human rights through trade deals. So how has that been working out so far? If anything Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been getting worse.

Gordon Campbell has a good post on this.
http://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/2016/01/06/gordon-campbell-on-our-feeble-response-to-atrocities-in-sa/

Adam:

David Shearer proves once again the labour party is the party of liberalism. So how is raising human rights issues going there David, any luck? Or just more b.s word games from you and your flock of professional politician’s.

Dialey:

This is precisely why Labour is bleeding to death – no principles, no standing for what is right. For once I have to say I agree with a John Key statement: “Get some balls!” Shearer had the opportunity to show that Labour does actually offer something different from National, but I guess he just wants to be part of the big boys’ club.

And it goes on.

Perhaps Shearer knows more about the realities of international relations and trade than vocal left wingers at The Standard.

Should human rights figure more in our trade agreements with other countries? More on this in Greens, capital punishment and trade.

Dunedin, Syrian refugees and Saudi Arabia

The anti-refugee campaign continues at Whale Oil, with Spanish Bride using ‘Face of the Day’ as an excuse to repeat nonsense.

She posts what looks like an out of date file photo of Dunedin mayor Dave Cull and a report on violence in the city.

Dunedin’s Mayor is urging caution after a spate of violent incidents in the city…

In a sense there’s nothing that the community can do to prepare or prevent in some circumstances that sort of thing, you just have to deal with it.”

“But Dunedin is probably one of the safest communities in New Zealand” added Mayor Cull.

-newstalkzb.co.nz

Atkins uses this as an excuse to launch into another anti-refugee rant.

I am glad that Dunedin is a safe place to live. It will not stay that way if it takes too many Islamic refugees. At the moment the numbers appear small but as each person can apply to bring family members into the country after they settle, the numbers we are told are not the true numbers.

The numbers are small. Dunedin will be one of six centres taking 750 refugees over two and a half years. It’s likely some of them will already be family groups.

Saying “the numbers we are told are not the true numbers” is meaningless.

Even if a hundred or so refugees settled in Dunedin – and stayed in Dunedin – and that number doubled through more family being able to join them – that’s a very small proportion of the Dunedin population, a fraction of a percent.

Atkins launches into bigger bull:

All the rich Muslim countries who are part of the UN like Saudi Arabia, have taken ZERO refugees…

The Guardian: Saudi Arabia says criticism of Syria refugee response ‘false and misleading

Saudi Arabia has said reports about its response to the Syrian refugee crisis are “false and misleading” and it has in fact given residency to 100,000 people as war rages in their country.

The kingdom’s statement followed a similar defence issued by the United Arab Emirates after questions were asked about how wealthy Arab states had reacted to the outflow of more than four million Syrians.

Saudi Arabia “made it a point not to deal with them as refugees” but had issued residency permits to 100,000 Syrians who wished to stay in the kingdom, the official said.

“With that came the right to free education, healthcare and employment according to a royal decree in 2012 that also states that Syrian students visiting the kingdom be admitted in public schools,” the official added.

The kingdom had supported Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and other countries in co-ordination with the host countries, while providing a total of about $700m in humanitarian aid, he said.

More on this in Western Media’s Miscount of Saudi Arabia’s Syrian Refugees.

And from Wikipedia:

Syrians in Saudi Arabia include migrants from Syria to Saudi Arabia, as well as their descendants. The number of Syrians in Saudi Arabia is estimated at around 500,000 people in August 2015 and consists mainly of temporary foreign workers.

According to the UNHCR’s representative for the Gulf region, there are 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia, but in “official documentation they are referred to as “Arab brothers and sisters in distress”” and not as Syrian nationals

So the “ZERO refugees” claim is at least highly debatable.

When in Saudi Arabia

Patrick Gower reported:

PM’s wife to comply with Saudi Arabia dress code

John Key’s wife Bronagh will submit to a strict Muslim dress code when they visit the Islamic stronghold of Saudi Arabia this week.

She will be covering up in the traditional robes women are required to wear rather than taking a moral stand.

I don’t know why this is news. It’s not uncommon to comply with local customs.

When in Rome visitors are asked to ensure they are appropriately covered up if entering a church. It’s not uncommon to need to respect local customs.

And it can be more comfortable fitting in with local dress codes rather than standing out as the only one who is different.

I don’t think Gower will take a moral stand and walk down a Saudi street drinking beer or smoking (if he’s a drinker of smoker).

He probably won’t stake out a Saudi politician’s house either, demanding they come out and talk to him.

UPDATE: An interesting comment on this from Evadne at Kiwiblog:

Gower’s comments on Bronagh Key are interesting: “She will be covering up in the traditional robes women are required to wear rather than taking a moral stand.”

I wonder, then, if he would applaud a delegate or official visitor to NZ who refused to attend a Maori welcome as a “moral stand” against nudity of men (bare buttocks), provocative glorification of violence & beheading (the various aggressive gestures, along with with the eye popping & tongue protrusion), the strict roles of women within the ceremony, mutilation of flesh by tattoos, or any of the many other things which run contrary to other cultures. Or would such a refusal be seen as “insensitive” or insulting?

Good point.

I’ve heard people say that Maori welcomes can be quite intimidating.