|Subject: SMH: Australian soldier facing
charges over Timor allegations
Sydney Morning Herald April 17, 2003
Soldier facing charges over Timor allegations
By Deborah Snow and Cynthia Banham
The Chief of the Australian Army has admitted the need to overhaul some of the force's "operational procedures" following a 2-year inquiry into 19 allegations of serious misconduct by members of the Special Air Service and an intelligence unit during the East Timor deployment in 1999.
Releasing a final report yesterday, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy said a charge of kicking a dead body and an alternate charge of prejudicial behaviour against a former SAS soldier would go before an Australian Defence Force magistrate next month.
The trial will be open but witnesses' names will be suppressed, and the army has asked that the soldier not be named as he is still serving in another branch of the special forces.
There was "absolutely no evidence" to support an allegation of unlawfully killing an anti-independence militiaman, which the Herald understands had been made against the same soldier, General Leahy said.
He said that of the 19 allegations, "elements" of another four had been substantiated. While it was decided no offences had been committed, the inquiry had identified "a clear need to amend a number of army's operational procedures" as a result of those four allegations.
They relate to the use of alleged excessive force against two Timorese on October 12; and more serious claims of alleged mistreatment of anti-independence militiamen who were taken prisoner by the SAS following an ambush on a convoy it was escorting near Suai on October 6, 1999. The detainees were said to have been deprived of food, sleep and "hygiene facilities" at an Australian Army interrogation centre set up at Dili heliport.
Defending the decision not to lay charges over those incidents, General Leahy and the Director of Army Personnel, Colonel Gerard Fogarty, said detainees had been held in "robust situations", with hands tied and deprived of some sleep as part of the interrogation process. But they had not been deprived of food or hygiene facilities.
"We're talking about the very early days of Interfet [International Force in East Timor], we're talking about uncertainty, a lot of confusion, we're talking about ... a lot of threat and danger", General Leahy said.
"We apprehended some militia, some people who turned out to be civilians. We needed information from them. At all times that information was acquired using the Geneva Convention. But this was not meant to be a four-star resort".
Colonel Fogarty later said there had been differing "understandings" of various terms in the Geneva Convention. For instance, soldiers had "different definitions of what would be an appropriate amount of food and an appropriate amount of access to hygiene facilities".
He said the overhaul of operational procedures would make more "black and white" some of these "generic" terms.
General Leahy said independent legal counsel in Queensland, NSW and Victoria had reviewed the results of the investigation and "confirmed various of the findings".
The inquiry was conducted behind closed doors , despite original promises by the Defence Department to make it "transparent".
The federal Opposition said yesterday that the inquiry's findings raised more questions than they answered.
April 17, 2003 Thursday All-round Country Edition
SAS soldier to face trial for body kick
AN SAS soldier has been charged with mistreating a corpse after an exhaustive inquiry into allegations of misconduct by Australian troops in East Timor in 1999.
But allegations that Diggers unlawfully killed a militiaman and mistreated prisoners were found to be unsubstantiated following the two-year inquiry into 19 reports of misconduct against Australian soldiers in the Interim Force in East Timor.
However, rules of engagement will be tightened to include stricter controls over the manner in which detainees are interrogated.
The inquiry followed an ambush near Suai on October 6, 1999, in which two militiamen were killed.
Army chief Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy said yesterday 13 of the allegations had been found to be unsubstantiated. In addition to the charge of mistreatment of a corpse, another soldier had been counselled for harassing a colleague after the inquiry had been launched.
Elements of a further four allegations, relating to the mistreatment of up to 15 militia who where captured the same day and flown to Dili for interrogation, "were found to be substantiated, but no offences had been committed", he said.
the detainees were deprived of sleep and tied.
However, he said the actions were consistent with Australia's international legal obligations.
The soldier charged with mistreatment of a dead body will face trial before a defence force magistrate on May 2. The trial will be public but the name of the accused and all witnesses will be suppressed.
"He continues serving. He's on duty. But he's innocent until proven guilty," Lieutenant-General Leahy said.
"Army demands the highest standards of behaviour from our soldiers. There is no place for unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour.
"The allegations went to the heart of Australian army values and the bond of trust that exists between the Australian public and the army."
Asked whether the incidents could result in changes to army rules on the treatment of corpses and treatment of detainees, Lieutenant-General Leahy said they were "two particular positions that we're going to have a look at".
Wayne Douglas, a friend of the charged SAS soldier and a former SAS intelligence officer in East Timor, said last night there were circumstances under which a soldier might need to kick a dead combatant.
"If you were in a contact with someone firing at you and you are returning fire it could well happen," said Mr Douglas, who has now left the ADF.
"As you sweep forward you kick the weapon away from the body, and kick the body to determine whether there's still a threat."
A defence force source told The Australian there could be circumstances in the heat of battle where a soldier used a foot to turn over a combatant, to determine whether they were alive or dead.
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