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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13742


Mr STEPHEN SMITH (PerthMinister for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House) (09:08): The government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including and in particular to the parliament. This year I have reported to the parliament on four prior occasions, in March, May, July and October. This will be my last parliamentary report for this year.

The Prime Minister reported to the parliament earlier this week on Afghanistan, describing the day-to-day work of our men and women in uniform and our civilians and articulating Australia's future commitment to Afghanistan. I take this opportunity to provide further detail on the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) operations in Afghanistan. There have been a number of developments since my last update in October, including with respect to detainee management, the focus of my remarks to the House today.

Detainee Management

Australia takes the issue of detainee management very seriously and has a robust framework for detainee management in Afghanistan. In December last year, I announced the details of Australia's detainee management framework in Afghanistan following the Dutch withdrawal from Oruzgan Province on 1 August 2010.

In developing our detainee management framework, Australia has had two priorities in mind: first, the critical need to remove insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, International Security Assistance Force and Afghan lives, and second, the need to ensure humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.

The detainee management framework draws on applicable international standards and advice from international humanitarian organisations. Under the framework, detainees apprehended by the Australian Defence Force, the ADF, are transferred either to Afghan custody in Tarin Kowt, or US custody at the detention facility in Parwan, or released if there is insufficient evidence to seek prosecution through the Afghan judicial system.

Arrangements are in place with both the Afghan and United States governments that include assurances on the humane treatment of detainees and access to those detainees by Australian officials and humanitarian organisations to monitor their ongoing welfare.

During my most recent visit to Oruzgan I again visited Australia's purpose-built screening facility at Multi-National Base Tarin Kowt where detainees captured by Australian forces are held for a limited time for screening. Again an opportunity was given to show representatives of the Australian media this facility, reflecting Australia's commitment to transparency with respect to these matters.

The facility is structured to ensure the humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations. Detainees are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, adequate food and water, suitable sleeping arrangements and other amenities.

Resumption of detainee transfers

In my last statement to the parliament on 13 October, I noted that Australia had suspended the transfer of detainees to the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) in Oruzgan in early July this year. The Australian government's decision to suspend detainee transfers to the NDS in Oruzgan was in response to concerns raised by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) about the treatment of detainees in southern Afghanistan. It is, however, important to emphasise that ISAF's concerns did not relate to any allegation of detainee mistreatment against the NDS in Oruzgan where Australian Defence Force-apprehended detainees are transferred.

In my last statement to the House, I also welcomed the release of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report into the Treatment of conflict-related detainees on 10 October this year. The report raised serious concerns about the torture and mistreatment of detainees in a number of NDS and Afghan National Police (ANP) facilities across Afghanistan but found no evidence of detainee mistreatment against the NDS in Oruzgan Province. The Afghan National Police (ANP) headquarters in Oruzgan was listed as a facility of concern. ADF-apprehended detainees are not, and have not been, transferred to that ANP facility in Oruzgan.

It is important to emphasise that UNAMA found that detainee mistreatment was neither institutional nor Afghan government policy. In addition, UNAMA's report did not raise any concerns about the NDS in Oruzgan, and specifically named this facility as one of two in Afghanistan where UNAMA had found no evidence of detainee abuse.

Despite these findings, the government wished to fully consider the report's implications and seek assurances from Afghan officials. Australia strongly supports a unified ISAF approach to concerns about detainee mistreatment. ISAF has since directed that transfer of detainees to Afghan facilities not identified by UNAMA as a facility of concern may be resumed.

Since the decision to suspend transfers was made, the Australian government has undertaken extensive consultations with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), ISAF partners and the Afghan government. During this process, no basis for concerns with the treatment of detainees by the NDS in Oruzgan has been raised. As a result, the government has now determined that the transfer of ADF-apprehended detainees to the NDS in Oruzgan will resume. The resumption of detainee transfers to the NDS in Oruzgan will support ADF operations and help Australian personnel and the Afghan National Security Forces remove suspected insurgents from the battlefield, enhancing the protection of ISAF and Afghan forces, as well as the security of the local population in Oruzgan. The detainee monitoring team of Australian officials will continue to work closely with Afghan authorities and security forces to provide mentoring and guidance in detainee management and handling practices. The detainee monitoring team visits detainees who are transferred from the Initial Screening Area to Afghan custody within 72 hours of transfer. The detainee monitoring team already conducts regular visits to monitor the welfare of all ADF apprehended detainees transferred to Afghan or United States custody until the point of release or sentencing. The frequency of the monitoring will temporarily increase following the resumption of transfers to assist in ensuring current standards regarding the humane treatment of detainees are maintained.

Efforts to improve detention standards within Afghan detention facilities are also being supported by ISAF at the national level. In close cooperation with the Afghan government, ISAF is undertaking remedial measures in detention facilities of concern, including facility inspection, training in human rights, formal certification of facilities and monitoring the welfare of detainees in the longer term. Australia not only takes our obligations for ADF apprehended detainees seriously but we are also committed to seeing improvements in the wider Afghan detention system. Australian personnel are involved in ISAF's broader program focused on improving standards in Afghan detention facilities.

We are also exploring the provision of training on human rights for Afghan personnel in Oruzgan. Through their participation in this ISAF-led process, Australian personnel may become aware of allegations of detainee mistreatment. Any such incidents are reported through the ISAF system. The Australian government is committed to continuing transparency with the Australian public on detainee management practices in Afghanistan. Australia will continue to work with our Afghan partners, as well as the International Committee for the Red Cross, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on detention issues to promote the humane treatment of detainees.

Update on detainee allegations

Australia continues to make clear its commitment to open and transparent detainee arrangements in support of ADF operations in Afghanistan. In the period from 1 August 2010 to 18 November this year, Australian forces have apprehended 1,074 detainees. Of these, 154 have been transferred to Afghan authorities, namely, the NDS in Oruzgan, or United States authorities. The remaining detainees have been released following initial screening.

In the same period, I am advised that the ADF has captured 11 people who were subsequently released, and then recaptured. Six of the individuals in question were released as there was insufficient evidence to warrant their continued detention. Of the remaining five detainees, five out of the 11 recaptured, there was sufficient evidence to warrant their transfer and prosecution. Two were subsequently transferred to United States custody at the detention facility in Parwan, and three were transferred to Afghan custody at the NDS detention facility in Oruzgan.

I also provide an update on the number of allegations of detainee mistreatment we have received against Australian forces: in the same period 58 allegations have been made against the ADF. To date, 36 of these allegations have been fully investigated and have been found to have no substance. The remaining 22 allegations remain under review and investigation. These allegations and the outcomes of the comprehensive investigations are reported both to ISAF and relevant NGOs.

Deployment of an interrogation capability

In my March statement to parliament, I foreshadowed that the government would consider further developments to the detainee management framework, including the appropriateness of the length of detention in the Australian Initial Screening Area to enable the possible collection of further information. In my July statement, I advised that the government continued to consider this matter. Ongoing careful consideration of all aspects of this matter and preparation for the possible introduction of such a capability has occurred since then.

Today I announce that the government has authorised a team of Australian military interrogators to be deployed to Afghanistan in preparation for next year's northern summer fighting season. The interrogation of detainees is a capability used by other ISAF partners. The capacity to interrogate will allow the ADF to play a larger role in the collection of information against the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Interrogation has proven valuable in detecting and preventing insurgent activity. Australian soldiers have a strong interest in being able to contribute to building this intelligence picture. The knowledge that captured insurgents hold can lead us to the location of the improvised explosive devices and weapons caches that cause injury and death. It can also reveal details of insurgent leaders, transport routes and locations. Interrogation can assist us in obtaining the information that we need to unravel insurgent networks and prevent the harm they intend for our soldiers, our ISAF partners and the local population.

In addition to the deployment of an interrogation team, the Australian government has decided that the length of time for which detainees can be held in our Initial Screening Area may be extended beyond the current 96 hours for an additional three days, with a possible further extension of another three days. While 96 hours is appropriate for our previous role in basic screening, a longer period of time may be required for more complex questioning of detainees of interest. This approach is consistent with the timelines other ISAF partners such as the United States and the United Kingdom use for interrogation. As well as providing credible intelligence, these changes will support the successful prosecution of detainees through the Afghan judicial system. Australian forces will be better positioned to provide evidence and to determine whether an individual possesses intelligence that could assist our efforts or those of our ISAF and Afghan partners, in addition to determining whether a detainee should be released or transferred.

This possibility of a longer period in detention beyond 96 hours and interrogation will not be used for all individuals captured by the ADF. Australia will continue to use the current ISAF mandated timeframe of 96 hours, to establish whether a detainee should be released, transferred or be detained for a longer period. Only detainees who are assessed by intelligence professionals as potentially having information that would make a material difference to the safety of ISAF personnel and the local population will be held beyond 96 hours.

Interrogation is an issue that must be managed carefully and sensibly and it is important to be clear about the conduct authorised under these expanded arrangements. Australian Defence Force interrogators are highly trained and ethical professionals. Their duties in Afghanistan will be in accordance with approved techniques consistent with Australia's domestic and international legal obligations. Physical or mental mistreatment has no place in interrogation: interrogation is an extended questioning process conducted by trained professionals within strict guidelines. Such ADF trained and ethical interrogators will not mistreat a detainee. Like all members of the ADF, the interrogators are trained in and adhere to Australian law, and the Law of Armed Conflict and international human rights obligations. This change is consistent with Australia's domestic and international legal obligations. The ADF has established safeguards and oversight procedures, which the government has reviewed carefully and considers appropriate to the rigorous governance measures required. Interrogation will be subject to audio and visual recording through the CCTV system within the initial screening area, and strict approval processes with senior oversight will be followed. The government and the ADF remain steadfastly committed to ensuring that detainees apprehended by Australian forces are treated humanely and treated in a manner that is consistent with both our domestic and international legal obligations.

Together, these expanded arrangements will help ensure that Australian forces have a larger, more accurate understanding of the insurgency. Significantly, this will improve the protection afforded to our military and civilian personnel and assist the achievement of our objectives in Afghanistan. In line with the government's strong commitment to openness and transparency, I will continue to provide regular updates on Australia's detainee arrangements, including this interrogation capability.

CCTV system

In my March report to parliament, I advised that the then acting Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) had advised that some failures of the initial screening area's CCTV recording system had been identified. I advised at the time that the ADF was addressing this issue and had begun to put in place procedures to resolve the matter, including immediate action to ensure continuous footage is being recorded and archived. In my May report to parliament, I further advised that the CCTV system at the initial screening system was functioning and continuous footage was being recorded and archived. In my July report, I advised that there have been no further issues with the closed circuit television (CCTV) system at the initial screening system and that the system was functioning and continuous footage was being recorded and archived.

I am advised that there was a recent issue with the system's power supply that resulted in the loss of a small amount of footage. There were no incidents during this short period in which the system was not recording and initial screening area staff conducted visual monitoring to ensure the continued safety and wellbeing of the detainees. This issue has since been rectified and additional safeguards, including revised procedures for the operation CCTV system, have been implemented.

Other detainee m atters

In my July report I noted the investigation into allegations that the ADF initial screening area team in Afghanistan did not adhere to administrative procedures. I will advise on the outcome of this investigation in due course. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the House and I present a paper tabled in conjunction with my ministerial statement.