Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
ADF investigates mutilation allegation -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

DAVID MARK: The Australian Defence force is investigating an elite unit of the Special Forces mutilated the body of at least one Afghan insurgent earlier this year.

The ABC understands the hands were removed from an insurgent's corpse and taken back to the Australian base at Tarin Kowt.

The incident occurred during a combined operation of the Afghan national security force and the Australian elite unit in Zabul province on April the 28th. Four insurgents were killed during the operation.

Our defence correspondent Michael Brissenden has been following the story.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Back in May this year, the Defence department issued an unusual press release simply titled Review into Special Operations Task Group operation.

The press release went on to confirm that an investigation was underway into a combined operation between Afghan national security forces and an Australian Special Operations Task Group in Zabul province that occurred on the 28th April this year.

Four insurgents were killed in the operation and a quote from the CDF General Hurley back then said "an incident of potential misconduct during the operation had been raised through the internal national command chain". No further comment, clarification or details were offered.

The ABC now understands that the detail of the misconduct he alluded to involves the removal of hands from the corpse of at least one Afghan insurgent. Australian troops are required to collect fingerprints and eye scans of every Taliban fighter that is killed if it's possible to do so.

The ABC has learnt that an investigator from ADFIS - the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service - lectured a group of Special Forces soldiers and told them that it didn't matter how the fingerprints were taken and that if they could chop off the hands of the dead and bring them back to base for fingerprinting, that would be acceptable.

The ABC understands at least one pair of hands was presented back at the Australian base in Tarin Kowt.

Today the ADF issued a statement saying "Members of the ADF operate under strict rules of engagement designed to protect our troops on operations, while ensuring that the actions of Australian forces are consistent with our obligations under Australian and international law in protecting the lives and property of the innocent."

"The ADF," it says "also takes all reasonable steps to ensure its operations do not breach Afghan customs or cause offence by inadvertently disrespecting religious beliefs or norms.” However given the investigation is not complete the statement says it would be inappropriate for Defence to comment further at this time.

The mutilation or mistreatment of bodies of the dead is a violation of the laws of war under the ICC statute and Federal Australian war offences. Defence analyst Alan Beam says that although there is some ambiguity in the situation in which our troops are fighting in Afghanistan, they should nonetheless adhere to the whole package of Geneva Conventions.

ALAN BEAM: One of the reasons we have all of the Geneva Conventions from 1949 through to the late 70s is because of the atrocities which were committed during the Second World War. So what we learnt out of that is that no matter how badly the enemy behaves, you were still constrained within the principles of the proper conduct of warfare.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's also not so surprising that the mutilation of dead bodies is considered extremely offensive to Afghanis. Last year footage of American soldiers urination on dead Afghan bodies sparked outrage across the country. This is not considered to be on the same scale, but Afghan officials do believe it could add to the anti-foreigner mood in the country.

The intelligence team that the instructing sergeant from the investigative unit was working for has now been disbanded, but the matter is being taken extremely seriously by the ADF and by ISAF - the International Security Assistance Force that has overall command of international troops in Afghanistan.

The investigation is ongoing and no timeline has yet been set for its completion.

Michael Brissenden in Canberra for PM.