So the Urewera Four are serving time, yet no-one can confidently say what they were really up to and the police allegations are all over the place
Has ever so much time and money been spent on gaining so little clarity? Even with Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara now behind bars, no-one seems to be able to say what was going on at the Urewera training camps and who was at risk.
I've seen two interviews with Police Commissioner Peter Marshall this week, heard another on radio and read articles in print, and he clearly can't tell us. On Q+A he said:
"...we don’t know [what was going on in the camps], and I’m sure the people around this country would like to know."
Marshall talks assertively about "antics" and "lots of troubling events"; you can see that he's a copper's cop with plenty of balls. He insists that police are "very clearly vindicated" by the sentences this week. But at the same time he can't say who was at risk, which buildings were being targeted or what the plot was. It's just the beginning of a series of inconsistencies or downright contradictions that don't make sense -- not to me, at least.
In the same sentence as Marhsall says "We don’t know the specifics," he adds "But what we were convinced about, it wasn’t just idle talk".
Convinced by what evidence?
And if that's not enough, he adds that he knows nothing about widely discussed allegations that President George Bush (who's never visited New Zealand) was to be assassinated by catapulting a bus onto him.
"I’m not aware of that particular approach, but I’m certainly aware that President Bush’s name was mentioned in conversations. I don’t know what context. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there were a number of remarks made about the use of explosives, about attacking institutions, and indeed killing people."
Those supporting the Urewera Four are just as ill-informed.
Te Ururoa Flavell says he doesn't know what they were doing in the Ureweras and hasn't even asked. Yet he too is convinced -- in his case, he's certain "nothing sinister" was going on.
The best we've had from those convicted is talk of Iraqi security jobs and connecting with maoritanga; the training camps have been called wananga. All of which seems more like obfuscation than candour.
It's the blind arguing with the blind.
Marshall seems almost willfully ignorant. There have been numerous reports that then-Opposition Leader John Key was a named target (see here, for example). Yet he blandly insists there was not aware of any threat against Key, even though, as Tracey Watkins wrote today:
Evidence published previously suggested Mr Key was referred to by the group as a potential target and Mr Key says he was briefed by police that he was a potential target.
Despite that briefing, Key went into a remote marae in the Ureweras just two months before the raids. A little risky? Heck no, says Marshall. But, er, you've just said assassination attempts were being plotted and you weren't sure who the targets might be...
"...be assured that we would not have let him as leader of the opposition go into that area if we, at that particular stage, thought he was at risk".
Then you've got the claim an armed police officer boarded a bus. Marshall this time doesn't claim ignorance; rather he says that he's asked around and found "absolutely no evidence".
"From my point of view, it simply did not happen".
He may be right. Labour's Education Minister Steve Maharey made the same assertion in parliament at the time of the raid. The wrinkle is that bus driver Isaac Nuku insists his bus was boarded and searched by an armed officer. TVNZ has footage of him making the claim and of his giving his statement to police -- so Marshall must know of Nuku's claim.
And let me toss in one more. Marshall notes that's Iti is hardly in peak physical condition and so the claim of training for a security job in Iraq is laughable; but he's willing to believe that the same over-weight dandy was a "threat to democracy" and a potential assassin. Somehow this performer... artist... protester... is a killer. He was allowed to travel the art galleries of Europe while on bail and anyone who's met him will tell you he's a charmer, a showman and a big-talker, but hardly a serious threat.
Such confusion over events five years and many court days later seems remarkable and worrying. Isn't the justice system - from investigation to prosecution - meant to be about establishing the truth?
Hope for any real answers now lies with the Independent Police Complaints Authority, which is expected to give its findings in the next month or two.
Maybe that will have some answers, because no other blighter does.