The Government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on Afghanistan, including to the Parliament.
I will update the Parliament generally on Afghanistan following my attendance with the Prime Minister at the NATO / International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Leaders Summit in Chicago at the end of this month. The Summit follows on from the recent meeting in Brussels of NATO/ISAF Foreign and Defence Ministers which I attended together with Foreign Minister Carr.
Today, I update Parliament on a range of issues relating to Australia’s detainee management in Afghanistan, in keeping with my commitment to provide regular updates to the Australian people on detainee management and to be open and transparent on these matters.
Getting Australia’s detainee management arrangements right is important, including for Australia’s international reputation.
Australia takes very seriously its responsibility for ensuring detainees are treated with dignity and respect. This reflects and underlines the professionalism of our forces and our desire to act consistently with our domestic and international legal obligations.
Australia has had two priorities in mind in developing our detainee management framework for Afghanistan:
- First, the critical need to remove insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, ISAF and Afghan lives, and
- Second, the need to ensure humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our domestic and international legal obligations.
Our detainee management framework draws on applicable international standards and advice from international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The framework is consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict and the relevant Geneva Conventions on international humanitarian law.
In line with the commitment to transparency, since I announced Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan in December 2010, I have provided regular updates including three specific updates (17 February, 11 October and 24 November last year), and six separate Statements to Parliament on Afghanistan (23 March, 12 May, 7 July, 13 October and 24 November 2011 and 9 February 2012) which include reference to detainee management.
This update also follows my announcement on 1 February this year and my subsequent Statement to Parliament on 9 February outlining that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had deployed a highly trained team of interrogators to Afghanistan, and that interrogation operations had commenced.
Australia’s detainee management framework sets out the circumstances in which it is appropriate for Australian forces to transfer people they capture during operations to Afghan or United States custody in Afghanistan.
These transfers are supported by arrangements negotiated with the United States and Afghan Governments, which include assurances and safeguards regarding the appropriate treatment of transferred detainees.
The arrangements also allow access for Australian officials and human rights organisations to monitor the welfare of transferred detainees.
In developing our detainee management framework, we have worked to ensure it is robust and reflects best international practice and governance arrangements.
Australia’s detainee management framework is underpinned by the deployment of professional ADF personnel trained in the Laws of Armed Conflict and appropriate detainee handling, rigorous recording and reporting requirements, and the high priority Australia places on addressing all allegations of mistreatment reported to Australian officials, including ADF members.
After capture, detainees are held at a purpose-built screening facility – the Initial Screening Area (ISA) – at the Multi-National Base Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province.
I again visited the ISA during my April visit to Uruzgan Province. I was briefed by staff from the Detainee Management Team and the interrogation unit. They are making an important contribution to Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
Again an opportunity was given to show accompanying Australian media this facility, reflecting Australia’s commitment to transparency with respect to these matters.
The screening facility is under constant camera surveillance and the facility is open to regular ICRC inspection.
Detainees in the ADF’s custody are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, sustenance, suitable sleeping arrangements and other amenities.
Once initial screening is complete, the detainees are transferred either to Afghan or United States custody, or released if there is insufficient evidence to justify ongoing detention.
Those assessed as posing a less serious threat are transferred to the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) in Tarin Kot.
Those assessed as posing a more serious threat are transferred to the United States-run detention facility in Parwan Province. This provides a level of security appropriate for housing high-risk insurgents. The US currently runs this facility and has agreed to transition the facility to Afghan control over the next four months.
When detainees are transferred, the ADF provides evidence packs to support further investigation and possible prosecution under Afghan law.
Detainee management is complex and implementing a strong detainee management framework in Afghanistan requires constant attention.
I continue to receive ongoing and regular advice from the Department of Defence on the implementation of Australia’s detainee management framework and any issues that may arise in the course of operations.
This includes being able to respond to changes to the ISAF’s detention policy, engaging with international and Afghanistan human rights organisations, learning from past lessons and experience, and working with our Afghan partners towards transition of security responsibility, including detainee management.
To ensure we meet our own high Australian standards and continue to improve our systems, the ADF’s detainee management processes in Afghanistan are subject to regular audits.
Since the introduction of Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan on 1 August 2010 following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan, two comprehensive audits have been undertaken, with two more audits planned for 2012.
The first of the 2012 audits is currently underway.
With the recent introduction of an interrogation capability, future audits will include reviewing the interrogation capability and processes.
These audits are essential to verify that a strong governance framework remains in place and that we are able to address any issues that might arise.
The last detainee management audit undertaken late last year found that all detention activities conducted at the ADF ISA over the period of the audit were in compliance with Australian policy, and Australia’s international and domestic legal obligations and ISAF requirements.
The outcomes of these audits are shared with relevant Australian Government agencies.
As part of our detainee management framework, we monitor all detainees transferred from ADF custody to Afghan or US custody.
This is to confirm that detainees continue to be treated humanely following transfer from Australian custody and in accordance with the detainee transfer arrangements we have with the Afghan and US Governments.
Australia’s monitoring regime includes an Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team (IDMT) led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team visits each detainee shortly after transfer and approximately every four weeks after the initial visit. We continue to monitor detainees up until sentencing or release. This reflects the practice of our ISAF partners.
Between 1 August 2010 and 7 May 2012, the Monitoring Team has conducted 95 monitoring visits. This includes: 48 visits to the National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Tarin Kot; 14 visits to the Tarin Kot Central Prison; and 33 visits to the Detention Facility in Parwan.
These visits are very important: they are an essential mechanism to ensure detainees apprehended by Australian forces are being treated appropriately after they have been transferred into the custody of others.
To date, our monitoring of ADF-apprehended detainees in Uruzgan and Parwan has not identified serious issues of concern that would warrant consideration of the suspension in transfers.
Human Rights Reports
Australia has suspended the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities in a different context.
As I advised the House in October 2011, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report on the treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan custody.
While the National Directorate of Security facility in Uruzgan was not named as a facility of concern by UNAMA, as a precaution and in cooperation with our ISAF partners, Australia implemented a suspension on the transfer of detainees to this facility until the outcomes of the UNAMA report were fully considered.
In November 2011, the Australian Government approved the resumption of transfers of ADF-apprehended detainees to the National Directorate of Security in Uruzgan.
This decision was based on consultations with human rights organisations, ISAF partners and the Afghan Government.
Upon resuming transfers to the National Directorate of Security in Uruzgan in November 2011, the frequency of monitoring visits to ADF-transferred detainees was increased to a fortnightly basis.
The Monitoring Team has confirmed that detainees transferred to National Directorate of Security authorities in Uruzgan are being treated in accordance with the assurances contained in the arrangements with Afghanistan, including assurances relating to humane treatment.
Based on this advice, monitoring visits have now returned to the regular monthly basis.
In March, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, together with Open Society Foundations, released a report on the treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan custody.
Importantly, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Tarin Kot, to which ADF-apprehended detainees are transferred, was not identified as a facility of concern in either the UNAMA or Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reports.
In addition to discharging Australia’s national responsibilities for detainees apprehended by the ADF, Australia supports ISAF’s efforts to ensure that detainees held in Afghan detention facilities are treated humanely.
ADF personnel regularly contribute to the implementation of ISAF’s remediation plan and inspections program. Issues of concern identified during the course of these activities are managed through ISAF channels to be addressed with the Afghan Government.
Numbers of Detainees Apprehended
During the period 1 August 2010 to 7 May 2012, the ADF has detained 1355 suspected insurgents. Of these: 106 detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at the National Directorate of Security in Tarin Kot and 70 detainees have been transferred to US authorities at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
Since the commencement of interrogation operations in February 2012, approximately 20 per cent of detainees apprehended by the ADF have undergone interrogation. Of these, six detainees have subsequently been transferred to US custody at the Detention Facility in Parwan and three detainees have subsequently been transferred to Afghan custody in Uruzgan.
The size and composition of the interrogation capability is sufficient to support the requirements of our forces operating in Afghanistan.
Incidents and Allegations
Allegations of Mistreatment
Australia takes all allegations of detainee mistreatment seriously.
I have provided regular updates on complaints and allegations of mistreatment the ADF has received against it since August 2010.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 7 May 2012, there have been 91 allegations of mistreatment against Australian forces. Of these, 83 relate to treatment or an incident at the point of capture.
To date, 79 of these allegations have been considered and have been assessed as unsubstantiated, while 12 allegations remain under investigation.
In Australia’s detention operations, the term ‘allegation of mistreatment’ is used to describe any perceived or alleged incident involving an individual who is in Australian custody.
When a detainee is brought into our ISA, each detainee is specifically asked if they have any complaints about their treatment.
Any complaint is treated as an allegation.
This terminology does not imply any wrong doing on the part of the ADF, simply that a person has made an allegation or complaint about the treatment they, or another individual, has received or witnessed during the course of their interaction with the ADF or the Afghan National Security Forces.
Every allegation of detainee mistreatment received or observed by the ADF is reported through the Australian Military Chain of Command.
The ADF reports all complaints or incidents involving detainees as allegations in accordance with the robust framework in place, and ensures that all allegations receive attention.
In line with Australia’s commitment to implementing a robust governance framework, regular document reviews, separate to the technical audits, are undertaken to ensure all allegations are appropriately recorded.
The most recent review identified four allegations that had not been reported immediately. Two of these allegations have subsequently been assessed as unsubstantiated, while two remain under review.
Once reported, allegations are promptly assessed or investigated.
This process may include taking witness statements, examining any medical evidence, as well as reviewing records and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) footage.
Allegations and the outcomes of any assessments are reported to ISAF and key human rights organisations.
Many of the allegations relate to the circumstances of capture.
Often minor injuries such as bruising, cuts and scrapes are sustained during a contact, as ADF personnel operate in a complex, dangerous and hostile environment.
ADF actions during operations in Afghanistan are conducted in accordance with the rules for authorised use of force, as well as Laws of Armed Conflict.
Fifteen of the 91 allegations involve the use of ADF military dogs.
The use of ADF military dogs significantly contributes to force protection for the ADF in Afghanistan. On a number of occasions, ADF military dogs have protected Australian personnel by exposing the locations of insurgent ambushes, Improvised Explosive Devices and weapons caches.
All such allegations are treated seriously and are reported and assessed or investigated.
I am regularly briefed by the Chief of the Defence Force on any detainee incidents or allegations of mistreatment.
Treatment of Detainees by ANSF
We have received allegations against the Afghan National Security Forces at the point of capture. If a detainee consents, we bring the specific allegation to the attention of the Afghan authorities and it is investigated.
During the period 1 August 2010 to 7 May 2012, 33 allegations of detainee mistreatment have been made against the Afghan National Security Forces at the point of capture.
During operations with Afghan National Security Forces in Uruzgan, Australian forces promote conduct in accordance with applicable human rights standards and other international legal obligations relevant to the treatment of detainees and the protection of the local civilian population.
As part of the ADF’s role in training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces, we advise Afghan personnel on the correct procedures for handling detainees under applicable international law.
Afghan personnel also receive practical advice on these issues in the field.
If ADF personnel witness any incidents of mistreatment of detainees in the custody of Afghan forces, they are required to report the matter to Australian authorities so it may be raised with Afghan authorities.
Australia’s Initial Screening Area (ISA) was designed to be Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) monitored 24 hours a day to ensure the humane treatment of detainees in our custody, and to protect the ADF personnel working within the Initial Screening Area from erroneous allegations.
I have previously reported to the House on the temporary loss of CCTV footage at the ADF ISA.
The CCTV system helps ensure the safety of detainees and staff, and provides the ability to review footage in the event of any questions regarding any allegations or incidents that occur in the facility.
A functioning CCTV system is important to the operation of the Initial Screening Area, in order to maintain Australia’s reputation and protect our personnel from vexatious allegations of mistreatment.
CCTV footage can be reviewed as part of ADF’s process for assessing allegations.
CCTV is an integral part of Australia’s governance measures for detention operations within the Initial Screening Area.
To support the introduction of the new interrogation capability, and to strengthen the existing CCTV system, two new CCTV systems have been installed, with one purpose-built to capture the conduct of the screening and interrogation of detainees.
The new systems include an increased number of cameras and improved redundancy measures to ensure that all interrogation sessions, and other areas of the facility, are monitored 24 hours a day.
The system is operating significantly better than the previous system with minimal impact on continued detainee operations. The ADF is working actively to maintain a system that provides Australia with a key governance tool for the Initial Screening Area.
Juveniles and Children
Under Australia’s detainee management policy, the ADF may apprehend juveniles suspected of insurgent activity who pose a threat to coalition forces and the security of the local population.
Juveniles are categorised as persons between the ages of 15 and 17.
All juveniles apprehended by the ADF while on operations in Afghanistan are treated humanely, with dignity and respect, and in accordance with all of Australia’s obligations under domestic and international law.
There are some circumstances where children under the age of 15 may be detained by the ADF in Afghanistan. In all cases, children under the age of 15 are treated in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
There has been an increase in the exploitation of children by the insurgency, including the use of children as spotters for IED attacks and to carry out suicide bombings. There are clear international norms that call for the protection of children from being used as participants in conflict.
The ADF has the ability to detain anyone who may pose a threat to our forces, in order to protect ADF personnel, our coalition and Afghan partners, and the local population.
Sometimes, this will require the detention of a child who may be suspected of involvement in the insurgency.
The ADF may also take children into their care if the accompanying family member or adult is detained and this would leave the child without a supervising adult.
In all cases where the ADF has held a child in custody, they are provided with treatment appropriate to their age and efforts are made to release them to a family member as soon as practicable.
As part of the screening process, the ADF assess whether a detainee is a juvenile or child, so that we can provide treatment appropriate to their age.
This includes accommodation separate from adults.
It is difficult to determine the age of some detainees in Afghanistan, given the lack of birth records or identification; often detainees are not aware of their exact age.
ADF personnel make every effort to determine the age of detainees in Australian custody, including through medical assessments by health professionals.
If there is any doubt whether an individual is a juvenile or an adult, they are treated as a juvenile until proven otherwise.
Detainee Management Issues
On occasion some issues do arise with respect to the implementation of our detainee operations. In accordance with the Government’s commitment to transparency, I now update the House on those issues.
Allegations of Procedural Misconduct
In February 2011, I advised in a public update on detainee management that in late January 2011 the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS) initiated an investigation into allegations made by a Defence member that previous members of the Detention Management Team in Afghanistan, responsible for managing the ADF Initial Screening Area at Multinational Base-Tarin Kot, may not have complied with procedures relating to the management and administrative processing of detainees.
As I have advised the House on a number of occasions, that matter remained under consideration throughout 2011. I committed to advising on the outcomes of the investigation in due course.
I am now in a position to do so.
Following the ADFIS investigation and subsequent referral of a brief of evidence to the Director of Military Prosecutions, three members of the previous Detainee Management Team have been charged with disciplinary offences relating to falsification of service documents relating to detainees.
There is no allegation or evidence to suggest that the detainees were mistreated by the Detainee Management Team.
As this matter is subject to disciplinary proceedings, I am not proposing to comment further at this stage. Once these proceedings are complete, I will provide a further update to the House on this matter.
Review of questioning techniques
The ADF is conducting a review into aspects of the questioning techniques used during the initial screening of detainees in Afghanistan during 2010 and 2011.
During 2010 and 2011, the ADF was limited to conducting the tactical questioning and debriefing of detainees apprehended in Afghanistan.
The CDF has advised that a recent review of records from this period has identified the possible use of unauthorised questioning techniques when interviewing detainees in the ISA.
The irregularities identified during the possible use of unauthorised questioning techniques are limited to inappropriate language and do not include any alleged physical mistreatment of detainees in the ISA by ADF personnel.
Once the review is complete, I will provide a further update to the House in due course.
Detention Facility in Parwan
The final matter I wish to advise the House on relates to the United States-run Detention Facility in Parwan.
Australia’s detainee transfer arrangements include the ability for those insurgents assessed as posing a serious and continued threat to Australian or ISAF forces, and the Afghan people, to be transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan.
The United States and Afghanistan signed an agreement on 9 March 2012 to commence the transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghan control.
It has always been our understanding, and expectation, that the Detention Facility in Parwan would transition to Afghan control at an appropriate time.
This is a positive development for the Afghan Government and is a step towards the transition of security across Afghanistan.
There are currently 56 detainees apprehended by the ADF in the Detention Facility in Parwan, who would be included in the Memorandum signed by the United States and Afghan Governments.
Australia has a detainee transfer arrangement with the Afghan Government, which includes assurances that detainees apprehended by the ADF and held in Afghan custody will be treated humanely.
The arrangement also provides access for Australian officials to monitor the welfare of ADF-transferred detainees.
These detainees have been regularly monitored by the Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team and, to date, no major concerns have been identified with their treatment.
I discussed the transition of the Detention Facility in Parwan with my Afghan counterpart, Minister Wardak, in Brussels, and with the Afghan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Rassoul, in Kabul.
I asked for, and was given, assurances that as the Detention Facility in Parwan transitions to Afghan control, Afghanistan would ensure continued access for Australian officials to monitor detainees transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan by the ADF.
I will continue to provide regular updates to Parliament and the Australian people on ADF detention operations in Afghanistan, as well as on the broader aspects of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.