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Written press category - international jury

Jon STEPHENSON (Metro Magazine)
"Eyes wide shut" – Afghanistan - Juily 2010 to may 2011

The Bush Administration’s efforts after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to subvert the Geneva Conventions and other laws governing the treatment of “war on terror” detainees are well-known. Less well-known is the extent to which “coalition” nations like New Zealand have breached their obligations under international conventions by transferring prisoners captured in Afghanistan to US and Afghan authorities, despite strong evidence those prisoners were likely to be mistreated, abused, or even tortured.

Eyes Wide Shut shows how, since “9/11,” political and military leaders in New Zealand have responded to the illegal detention practices of US and Afghan authorities by denying knowledge of, or responsibility for, the mistreatment or torture of transferred prisoners. In doing so, they’ve lent tacit support to a brutal system of detention that has seen thousands deprived of the right to humane treatment and due process of law.

This investigation was carried out primarily in Afghanistan, but also in New Zealand, and is based on extensive first-hand testimony as well as military documents that were leaked to the writer. It has generated tremendous controversy in a country whose supposed committment to human rights and international law has now been brought into question.


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   Jon Stephenson is a New Zealand foreign correspondent and investigative journalist, with extensive experience reporting conflict and trauma. In addition to the 2001 US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, he has reported on the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, and from Gaza, Pakistan, East Timor, South Africa and Zimbabwe – as well as on natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province.

A graduate of the University of Auckland in history and philosophy, Jon began his career as a staff writer for The Independent – a New Zealand newspaper that specialised in political, economic, and investigative journalism. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he has worked as a freelance reporter, focusing on issues and events associated with the so-called “war on terror.” In recent years Jon has been researching and writing about the complicity of “coalition” countries like New Zealand in human rights abuses committed by US and Afghan authorities.

His work is published in leading New Zealand media, including Metro magazine, and the nation’s largest national newspaper, The Sunday Star-Times. From 2005-2008 Jon was a producer for TV3’s foreign team, playing a central role in the team’s highly-acclaimed coverage from conflict zones around the world. He also provides coverage and commentary on overseas events for other broadcast media such as Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand.

Jon has received a number of awards for his journalism, including numerous Qantas (national journalism) awards for his work in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gaza; the Bruce Jesson Journalism Prize; and the 2006 Prix Bayeux-Calvados for print journalism. He has had five Knight Center Fellowships to the University of Maryland to study US foreign and defence policy, was a 2008 Ochberg Fellow at the US-based Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and is a member of the Center’s Australasian advisory board.

Jon is a frequent guest speaker at New Zealand universities and journalism schools, and has lectured at: the University of Auckland; the Auckland University of Technology; Unitec (Auckland); Whitireia Polytechnic (Wellington); the Christchurch Broadcasting School; and Otago University (Dunedin). He has also spoken at Monash University (Melbourne), at Temple University’s journalism school (Philadelphia), and is a Research Associate at the Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre.