There’s no success like failure, as Bob Dylan once pointed out, and failure is no success at all. A reward for failure is the only way that one can treat the utterly astonishing appointment of Richard Woods to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) for a term of two years.
In his previous incarnation as SIS director, it was Woods who instigated and ran the case against Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui.
The defining feature of that case was Woods’ reliance on shoddy investigative work from the outset, and then – long, long after the outright errors of fact and leaps of logic that characterized the SIS/Police investigation had been brought to light by the diligent work of Zaoui’s lawyers, Woods stood by that half-baked litany of accusations regardless, apparently lest he and the organizations concerned lose face.
Offhand, I can hardly think of any other New Zealander less qualified to a post that is supposed to inspire confidence in the public that their complaints against Police conduct will be handled fairly, pursued objectively and brought to public attention.
I don’t intend to retrace the entire Zaoui case. Suffice to point to the SIS reliance on a Police report that misidentified which party in Algeria Zaoui belonged to, and then misidentified his party as a terrorist organisation. Zaoui’s innocuous travel video was then identified by Woods and his team as ‘looking suspiciously like a casing video’. Selectively and systematically, the SIS investigators distorted Zaoui’s history in Algerian politics in order to link him to extremists while ignoring the evidence of his peace-broking role. Frankly, this is the kind of behaviour the public would expect the officers of the IPCA to investigate and condemn, not have on their record.
Just as the public can feel no confidence in Woods’ inclination to bother the Police with charges of misconduct, the media should be feeling similarly concerned. Through-out his career as a diplomat and as SIS Director, Woods’ commitment and training has been to conceal and to with-hold information from the public, and not to disclose it. To date, he has shown no sign of recognizing the legitimate role of the media in holding the Police or security services to account. After all, it was Woods’ entirely improper dealings with then-SIS Inspector-General Laurie Grieg – as the pair conspired together to find a way to frustrate a reasonable media inquiry – that was partly responsible for the courts deciding that Grieg should play no further role in the Zaoui case, on grounds of perceived bias.
This is not ancient history. The appointment of Woods to the IPCA comes barely a week after Police Minister Judith Collins blamed the media for the public’s loss of respect for the Police.
In Collins’ world, if the media hadn’t reported the rapes and other abuses of power by Police, the public wouldn’t know about them and would still hold the force in high esteem. Appointing Woods looks like a step in the same direction, as a measure to ensure that (a) complaints against the Police are not upheld and (b) the public will quickly lose whatever residual faith they had in the complaints procedures and give up. That way, Collins can then argue that the filing of fewer complaints means that the public has developed – on her watch – greater confidence in the Police. It looks more like a campaign to smother the public’s willingness to complain about the Police.
Oh, and now that Woods has been promoted on the basis of his past failures on the Zaoui case to this new position of trust, you may be wondering what happened to Terence Arnold, the Solicitor-General who led the court cases against Zaoui so ineptly? Yep, Arnold got promoted too, and he sits these days as a judge on the Court of Appeal.