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Transcript of interview with Russell Woolf: ABC 720: 30 August 2013: Afghanistan allegations of misconduct.



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Minister for Defence - Transcript - Excerpts from interview with Russell Woolf, ABC 720

30 August 2013

TRANSCRIPT: EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL WOOLF, ABC 720

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 30 August 2013

TOPICS: Afghanistan allegations of misconduct.

RUSSELL WOOLF: I wonder, if I can, to get your response to the investigation that is

underway into an incident in which we believe Australian troops have mutilated the body of

an Afghan insurgent. What can you tell us?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well pretty much what the Chief of the Defence Force issued today. Back in

April/May, he and I became aware of this suggestion. He put out a release at the time saying

that we were investigating a possible incident of misconduct by Australian soldiers, Special

Forces soldiers. We didn’t provide any details at that time, and I subsequently alluded to it in

the Parliament, but we didn’t provide any details because the suggestion being made was

unusual, puzzling, but also very concerning. And so in some respects it’s regrettable that the

issue has come out today, but nonetheless we instituted an inquiry, we want to see the

outcome of that official inquiry before we come to any conclusions.

The essential allegation is that after a very fierce fight, our Special Forces Task Group was

partnered with Afghan National Security Forces, a very fierce fight, four insurgents were

killed. The suggestion or the allegation or the incident is that in order to take identification,

the hands of one of the dead were removed to provide what’s described technically as

biometric evidence. So that’s the suggestion, there’s no suggestion of mutilation of people

who were alive. But nonetheless, that’s highly concerning and we’ve been dealing with that at

that level ever since. And as the Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley made clear today,

once we’ve got the outcome of that the inquiry will be able to take it further.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Has it taken a long time, if this was [indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: In the fog of war, you’ve got to be very careful to make sure that you’ve

got all of the evidence and all of your best assessments. So in my experience as Defence

Minister over the last three years, when we institute an official inquiry under the Defence Act,

they always take time. So we’ve been dealing with this one for a few months now, and we

want to get it right, and we have to deal with it very carefully.

We have of course, as soon as we became aware of it, and it did come up the chain of

command, when we became aware of it General Hurley immediately made sure the

commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General Dunford, was made aware

of it. We made sure that Afghan officials at the highest level were aware of it, so we’ve done

all of the right things in that respect. And now we just have to await the outcome of the

inquiry.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Is there any doubt Minister that it was done?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t, it’s difficult for me to prejudge, but the available evidence

suggests that what is essentially asserted occurred. We now have to try and work out what

were the facts and circumstances associated with that. When General Hurley and I were

together overseas when we were informed, we both found it puzzling, unusual and

concerning, so it’s not the ordinary course of event that we would expect from the Australian

Defence Force or Special Forces. But this was a fierce fight, circumstances in extremis, and

we don’t want to rush to judgment.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Okay, and if it is found that it did happen in the way that we believe that

it’s happened, is that then against the rules of law [indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: We have clearly said both at the time in April and May when we announced

that we were having an inquiry that it’s potential misconduct. But again, one wants to and

needs to take it step by step. If the facts are, as generally asserted, are correct, then we also

want to know and need to know what was the motivation, what was the reason for

proceeding along that path which, in our experience, is unusual, if not from an Australian

perspective, unique.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Defence Minister Stephen Smith.