Subject: Timor troops face torture claims

The Advertiser (Australia) November 1, 2000

Timor troops face torture claims


AN investigation has been launched into allegations that Australian troops tortured prisoners in East Timor.

The Defence Department last night confirmed that a specially-convened military taskforce had been interviewing soldiers around the country over incidents alleged to have occurred soon after INTERFET arrived in East Timor last year. Senior officers agreed that some of the allegations centred on prisoners being brutalised during questioning.

The army also said yesterday it would investigate additional allegations made to The Advertiser that special forces troops were alleged to have posed for "trophy photographs" with dead militia.

Bodies of dead militia were also allegedly used during questioning to terrify captured comrades.

Major-General Peter Leahy, Deputy Chief of Army, said yesterday there was an "active investigation into serious allegations about the conduct of servicemen in East Timor.

"We are concerned about the nature of some of these allegations and they are being pursued vigorously."

"This is not the Australian way and if any of these allegations are proven to be true, it's against our key values and ethos. But there is a military police investigation that I expect to run for some time and I hope by the end of the year to have a substantial report."

General Leahy said he was unaware of the allegations surrounding the abuse of dead bodies, but said those claims would now be investigated.

He would not identify the units under investigation, saying the taskforce was looking at a number of areas across the army.

The investigating taskforce – made up of an army sergeant, a corporal and a navy chief petty officer assisted by a Royal Australian Air Force legal officer interviewed troops in Brisbane last month about the allegations.

The Advertiser has been told some of the alleged incidents came after Australian Special Air Service Regiment troops shot dead two militia near Suai on the West Timor border on October 6.

The shoot-out, which followed a series of horrific militia atrocities in East Timor, was the first clash involving the peacemakers after their arrival in East Timor two weeks earlier. Two Special Air Service soldiers were wounded in the clash – the first Australian combat casualties since the Vietnam War.

One was nearly paralysed after being shot through the neck.

It is alleged that after this shoot-out, the bodies of the dead militia featured in the trophy photographs and may have been used for interrogation purposes.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Grutzner, now in charge of Australia's military police, was in charge of MP investigations in East Timor. He said the taskforce was investigating allegations of the assaults on detainees, but would not elaborate on other allegations.

General Leahy said the investigation had been active and under his control since the middle of September.

He said the soldiers involved were "innocent until proven guilty" and a number of allegations had already been proven to be unfounded.

"We need to remind you and the public that the tradition of the Australian Army is to serve and protect and that allegations such as these undermine the good work that thousands of Australians did in East Timor."

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