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.