Subject: SMH: Amputation, execution, suicide: Australian troops in Timor
Sydney Morning Herald June 7, 2003
Amputation, execution, suicide: Timor troops accused
By Deborah Snow
Misconduct allegations against Australian troops during their 1999 deployment to East Timor included a claim of "unnecessary amputation" of a suspected militia member's arm, and suspicions about the reasons for the suicide of an Australian soldier.
These are among the claims outlined in a full list of the 19 allegations, released for the first time by the Defence Department after an investigation by the Herald.
More than half of the remaining allegations relate to controversial practices at a prisoner interrogation centre set up by some members of the elite Special Air Service regiment and army intelligence in Dili on the day two SAS troops were wounded in a militia ambush on October 6, 1999.
Despite a 3-year army investigation that found no offences proven in relation to the treatment of detainees, the Herald has uncovered disturbing new questions about who was in charge and what occurred at the Dili interrogation centre, where prisoners were blindfolded and bound, deprived of sleep, and paraded past the bodies of two militiamen. There are also new questions about the treatment of wounded detainees.
Sources close to the inquiry are concerned that the truth has not been fully uncovered about a range of allegations, despite the marathon investigation that ended earlier this year.
One source complained that trying to question the SAS had been akin to tackling the Cosa Nostra. "It was that sort of brick wall. The regiment [SAS] is family. It does not shit on its own. They think they're above the law . . . and they're never going to be held accountable."
The army released the findings of its inquiry into the 19 allegations in April, declaring that only one claim, "misuse of deceased", had been found to be substantiated.
That allegation, which arose from the aftermath of an ambush of the SAS by suspected militia members near the East Timorese town of Suai, has led to a former senior SAS soldier being charged with kicking a dead body.
There have been unexplained delays in bringing the case to trial, despite Defence promising early last month that a date was about to be set.
Among the allegations not previously known was a claim of "inappropriate behaviour" toward exhumed bodies in the enclave of Oecussi, and use of excessive force against a militia member who tried to escape. The department says neither was proven.
The investigation also found no evidence to support an alleged summary execution by an SAS soldier of a militia member. The suicide case, of an Australian soldier soon after his return from Timor, was eventually dismissed as being due to domestic causes.
The amputation allegation concerned a militiaman nicknamed Stumpy wounded in a clash with pro-independence Fretilin fighters, whose arm was amputated because of infection. There was a question mark over the amputation and also whether the stump had been "manipulated' during interrogation.
Defence says these allegations too were shown to be groundless.
Sydney Morning Herald June 7, 2003
Rough justice, buried truths
By Deborah Snow
"The downer was having to pick up two corpses (very smelly) We placed them inside our Land Rover Discovery and it was putrid . . . In the evening I was called to see a detainee . . . very agitated and trying to escape by any means, including self-harm. I therefore sedated him . . . I confess I do not like being involved in the detention of people.'
October 8, 1999, Dili.
When she wrote this Major Carol Ferguson was 31 and a medical officer attached to the Australian Army's elite Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment in East Timor.
She'd often send letters in diary form back to her husband, Graham, in Perth. This one struck him with its graphic content, but he didn't give it much further thought at the time. That changed dramatically in December 2000, when he got a call from military police in Canberra.
They were investigating allegations of misconduct by some troops in Timor and they wanted access to portions of Carol's diary.
By the time Graham Ferguson got this call, his marriage had disintegrated.
Soon after her return to Australia at the end of 1999, Carol Ferguson had become emotionally involved with a fellow soldier she'd got to know during her posting, Warrant Officer Wayne Douglas. He was the intelligence officer attached to the SAS in Timor, and the "we" in her diary entry referred to him.
In time, Carol would end up living with Douglas and his wife, Teresa.
Carol Ferguson was not among the targets of the Timor investigation herself. Indeed, she was one of most highly decorated women in the Australian Defence Force, with a gallantry medal for service in Rwanda.
Wayne Douglas, however, was a target. He stood accused of assaulting wounded prisoners in a Dili hospital in the early weeks of Australia's military mission to Timor in 1999. And Carol had been the doctor officially accompanying him at the time.
Graham Ferguson, a former SAS colonel, was hurt and angry. He handed over the diary extracts as requested. He heard nothing more until 18 months later, when military police asked for a sworn statement detailing the relationship between his former wife and Wayne Douglas.
Its purpose, he understood, would be to challenge Carol's impartiality as a witness if the case came to court.
Graham submitted a detailed chronology of the whole painful affair to investigators in July last year. Then abruptly, just a few weeks later, he heard Douglas had been cleared.
Douglas left the army shortly afterwards, insisting, with Defence Department backing, that he'd been exonerated by the internal investigation.
Ferguson was mystified. He understood the matter had been forwarded with a brief of evidence to a prosecutor, who would make the decision on laying charges.
"At the time it was looking good for a prosecution," a well-placed source told the Herald.
Why the matter was not tested in court is one of many questions which have been left hanging by the 3-year official inquiry into the claims of misconduct by Douglas and other SAS and intelligence officers in Timor.
Of 19 allegations in all, only two concerned Douglas. The rest ranged from harassment through to an allegation of "unnecessary amputation of suspected militia member's arm", and an allegation concerning the "suicide of Australian soldier".
The most serious was a suggestion that a senior SAS soldier had unlawfully killed a Timorese militiaman in an execution-style shooting.
So concerned was the army over this last claim that it authorised the exhumation by United Nations investigators of two bodies from a mass grave outside Dili late last year. The contents of the resulting pathology report have never been revealed. Nor has much else.
Despite the Defence Department's original promise that the inquiry into all 19 allegations would be "open and transparent", the whole affair took place behind closed doors.
The investigation itself was a marathon. Three hundred and fifty people were interviewed across four countries. SAS and intelligence units bore the brunt of the inquiry, even as the the SAS undertook high-risk deployments to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq.
But the legendary team spirit inside the regiment - its greatest strength in times of peril - became in the eyes of investigators a near-impenetrable barrier. Many involved in the process profoundly doubt the truth has been established.
Said one: "Heard of the Cosa Nostra? It was that sort of brick wall. The regiment [SAS] is family. It does not shit on its own. They think they're above the law, beyond the law, can do what they damn well like and they're never going to be held accountable."
Compounding the air of frustration was the army's failure to issue a final, detailed report when it declared the investigation over on April 16 this year. The upshot was that one soldier, understood still to be serving in the Special Forces, would stand trial on a date yet to be fixed on a charge of kicking a dead body. No other charges were to flow.
As to the rest, the army chief, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy, declared: "I don't think it's appropriate for something that's unsubstantiated that we release the details of the investigation."
Now Graham Ferguson has decided to break his silence. And Wayne Douglas, who previously has told only part of his story in public, gives it in full for the first time. All strands in this tale flow from events near the town of Suai on October 6, 1999, just 2 weeks after Australian troops arrived in East Timor to help quell the brutality which erupted after the independence ballot.
It was a time when Canberra had still not openly said whether it thought the Indonesian army was behind the anti-independence militias. But within the SAS, says Douglas, there was little doubt.
"There was a great difference in the way the SAS and the rest of the army thought about the situation," says Douglas. "We believed the militia had a number of Indonesian special forces [Kopassus] among them."
On October 6, the SAS and elements of the New Zealand and British Special Forces had set up a roadblock at Suai on the main road leading to the West Timorese border.
Some 120 Timorese were detained as the day wore on. Of these, 10 were culled as particularly suspect and flown by helicopter to Dili for questioning. At one stage, a vehicle failed to stop at the Suai roadblock and was fired on, wounding two of its occupants. The two injured men were also flown to Dili for questioning and medical treatment.
Late that afternoon, the SAS formed a convoy of the Timorese who remained at the checkpoint and were escorting them back to the border area when the SAS vehicles at the rear of the column were ambushed from bush beside the road.
The ensuing firefight left two Australian SAS troops seriously wounded, one in the neck and the other in the leg, and two Timorese militiamen dead. The troops were medically evacuated and the militia corpses flown back to Dili by helicopter.
Emotions were on a hair trigger. It was the first time the Australian army had taken serious casualties in a clash with an enemy since the Vietnam War, and no one had any idea what might lie ahead.
Douglas, who was in Dili as these events unfolded, recalls the backdrop as chaotic. "We had never gone out as an army and practised what we were doing. No one had trained and made it all fit together.
"The SAS couldn't talk to the rest of the army because we had our own special spooky-type communications that didn't fit with theirs. At one stage they hooked the secret computer system up to one that the Malaysians and all that had access to. It was just one catastrophe after another."
In this charged environment, a number of vivid rumours began circulating within days of the Suai clash: the claim of an execution-style killing at the ambush site; a rival version saying the body had been abused after death; and claims about the abuse of prisoners.
A hasty initial inquiry at Dili headquarters which focused on the wounded prisoners found nothing. But within a year, the Department of Defence had reopened and broadened the investigation.
Earlier this year, Perth's Sunday Times newspaper published claims from an anonymous army witness that the prisoners flown from Suai to the SAS base had been held there and tortured.
Now Douglas has confirmed some key aspects of the newspaper's report, but he puts a different spin on them.
The source said the prisoners were held without food or water for 90 hours, deprived of sleep and forced to sit blindfolded and with bound hands in positions designed to maximise stress for lengthy periods. They were terrorised by being paraded past the two dead militiamen, and had their faces thrust within centimetres of the corpses, one of which had a "head that looked like a smashed pumpkin". Several prisoners soiled themselves with fear.
Douglas, the SAS intelligence officer, was at Australian commander Peter Cosgrove's temporary headquarters when he got the call that the Suai prisoners were being brought to Dili heliport, which doubled as the SAS base.
He says he found few SAS left when he arrived (most were still at Suai) so he "grabbed anyone who was available - mechanics, cooks, clerks" to act as guard. Two weeks into their deployment, he maintains, the army still hadn't set up a formal reception centre for prisoners.
Douglas confirms the detainees were bound and blindfolded.
"Sure," he says. "But it was an open field, no fences. We had less people on guard than the detainees. If they had seen the set-up they would have bolted."
He denies the captives were deprived of food and water: "We had no kitchen up and running, so they had hard rations, same as us."
The periodic banging of a gong was not to terrorise the prisoners, he claims, but to "get them to stand up and sit down . . . to get the circulation going in their legs".
He concedes the prisoners were forced to look at the two corpses, but claims this was part of "tactical questioning" to find out if they and the dead militiamen were linked.
"After we had identified the 10 prisoners, bagged and tagged them [removing and bagging their possessions], we then had to ID the two bodies. We did an exploitation of the bodies for intelligence, looked for maps, documents to tell us who they were. They had nothing on them.
"I needed to find out if there was a link between this group who'd been in the vehicles and the ambush party. How many were there? What were they armed with? What other threats they might pose?"
The SAS mess tent at the heliport became a makeshift morgue, with the two bloodied corpses laid out on wooden tables. The tables later had to be burnt.
One by one, the detainees were brought in, only then having their blindfolds removed. They were forced to confront the bodies. Douglas claims the fifth or sixth prisoner identified both dead men, and the grisly parade stopped.
"They were never put that close to the bodies," he insists. "They were blindfolded . . . because if they'd escaped they would have had a good idea of the detailed layout of the base."
Douglas says the 10 flown back from Suai for interrogation at the SAS base were selected because they looked too fit and well-fed to be impoverished villagers. The suspicion was that some were Kopassus. However, the Herald has been told one of the group was a 17-year-old, nearly deaf and mute, and unable to understand either Indonesian or Tetum, the local language spoken in Timor.
Nor has it been clearly explained why any of the prisoners might have had special knowledge of the ambush, as they had been flown back from the roadblock earlier in the day and were not part of the convoy that came under attack.
Douglas is adamant he had charge of the prisoners for 24 hours, the maximum time he could hold them under the Rules of Engagement. After that he passed them for further questioning to an Australian Army intelligence group known as MISC (the Military Information Support Company), which by then had set up what it called a primary interrogation centre at the heliport.
After their exposure to the prisoners, the bodies were taken to the Red Cross hospital but were later retrieved because "they were homicides due to clashes with the military and they [the Red Cross] didn't want to accept them", according to Douglas.
[These were the "putrid" bodies Carol Ferguson records herself and Wayne Douglas collecting and which, down the track, would be disinterred as part of the investigation.]
According to Graham Ferguson, Carol was disturbed by what she saw at this time. His sworn statement to military police of last July states: "On at least two occasions [after returning from Timor] she told of her discomfort with the interrogation of some detainees by members of Int [Intelligence] at the Heliport, particularly the way the Int people treated them."
The defence Department has consistently tried to draw a veil over this episode. Liam Bartlett, the author of the Perth newspaper allegations, says Defence has not contacted him to try to speak to his source, although the department maintains it contacted the newspaper's editor.
The army's subsequent pronouncements on the affair have been cryptic.
When Leahy, the Chief of Army, put out a press release on April 16 announcing the end of the Timor investigation, he alluded to four allegations which had been found to have "substance", although not sufficient to constitute an offence.
Only at a press conference did it later emerge that these related to the treatment of the prisoners at the heliport.
Leahy admitted the prisoners were held in "robust situations" and deprived of sleep. However, he said they hadn't been deprived of food, water and sanitation.
He talked broadly about the army learning "some lessons" and amending some of its "operational procedures". But he denied there had been any breach of the Geneva Convention.
On the sensitive issue of the display of the bodies there was silence.
When the Herald later approached the head of army personnel, Colonel Gerard Fogarty, for clarification he said it was "inappropriate" for him to "get into a discussion of interrogation techniques" .
Fogarty added: "This was not meant to be a pleasant environment. This [was] about capitalising on the shock of captivity and getting information."
He was also dismissive of Wayne Douglas's role at the heliport. "The now Mr Douglas . . . had no formal function at the PIC [primary interrogation centre]. He was not formally involved. It was set up and run by other people . . . The persons of interest [the prisoners] were flown to Dili and were received and looked after by the then Warrant Officer Douglas until the PIC was established, and the PIC was established at 1800 hours [6pm] on the night of the 6th [October, 1999]."
In total, Defence maintains Douglas had charge of the prisoners for about four hours at most.
Yet Douglas insists he was in charge of the prisoners overnight, for nearly 24 hours. Other sources say they have no doubt Douglas was involved in the interrogation process for considerably longer than the army concedes.
Douglas has provided the Herald with a small portion of his formal record of interview, which shows the only official allegation against him from events at the helifield was the claim he had "created a disturbance" by grabbing and yelling at detainees and by shoving one into the back of a helicopter.
He says this was because "one of them had a vial around his neck, a substance they called 'mad dog'. He was struggling because he didn't want it removed."
His explanation to military interviewers was that "all the principles . . . taught to me through my time at the Military Intelligence . . . is to maintain a shock. And that is to unbalance persons who are not in a steady state of mindset; they're more likely to answer the questions truthfully and straight up . . ." The other complaint against him centred on the two prisoners wounded in their car at the roadblock on October 6 - before the ambush. The two had been flown to Dili for treatment, and Douglas and Carol Ferguson, as SAS medical officer, collected them from the army field hospital on October 8 to take them to the SAS base for questioning.
Why they needed to do so is unclear, because by now two days had elapsed since the ambush and, according to Defence's timetable, responsibility for the prisoners had long since passed from Douglas to the PIC.
Douglas says he was initially accused of kicking and dragging the wounded Timorese from the hospital, and of throwing one into the Land Rover which he and Carol Ferguson were driving.
At Douglas's instigation, the Provost Marshal in East Timor, Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Grutzner, conducted an immediate informal investigation which on October 21, 1999, found no evidence to support the claims.
But the allegations surfaced in more substantial form, and a year later Graham Ferguson received the email from Major Sally Reeves, then head of the investigating team in Canberra, asking him to go through Carol's diaries.
"I am interested in any entries concerning the treatment of detainees," Reeves wrote, "in particular one that she and Douglas removed from 1 FST [the army hospital] on or about 6 Oct name is [sic] Nadus Bua or similar.
"Also of interest is any entry concerning the Regt's activities at SUAI on or about 6 Oct where the two guys were shot," the investigator wrote.
Exactly what happened at the hospital remains the subject of conflicting witness accounts. Douglas maintains that when he arrived he was angered by the way a military police corporal was sitting on the bed playing cards with the two injured detainees.
"He [the MP] was fraternising with potential combatants. I said to the MP, 'They're part of a group that's just shot two guys from our unit.' I was concerned because when you go to interview someone you want them apprehensive; it lowers their ability to resist questioning.
"This MP had singlehandedly undone their susceptibility to questioning. They were there for medical treatment, not for a holiday."
Yet Douglas denies meting out physically abusive treatment to the two men wounded at the Suai roadblock.
"Half the hospital came out to watch me collect the detainees . . . Major [Carol] Ferguson was driving the vehicle because they had to be released into a doctor's care. I backed the vehicle up to the ward, one guy was on crutches, and I carried the other."
The rival version of events at the hospital is that two junior military police were on duty when Douglas arrived, showing family photos to the detainees who were lying on stretchers in a small treatment room off the main emergency area.
Douglas grew angry, as he has stated, but in this version ordered the MPs out and assaulted the prisoners in the room, which was out of view of other witnesses. The Herald understands one military police corporal allegedly saw and the other allegedly heard the assault.
Douglas insists this angle was never raised with him at the time or in the investigators' interview and that the MPs "re-engineered" their claims as payback for his rebuke of them.
It is understood the interview did not run its full course because, after an hour, Douglas invoked his right to say nothing.
Douglas also insists that his closeness to Carol Ferguson was irrelevant. "Our relationship didn't start until after we got back to Australia . . . If she was the only person who'd spoken on my behalf I could understand it. But if they've interviewed all the people at the hospital I don't see what my relationship has to do with it . . . There were dozens and dozens of witnesses."
But in his formal statement to investigators, Douglas talks of "probably half a dozen witnesses". These were Carol Ferguson and three other doctors, who, it is understood, couldn't see into the treatment room, while the others were the military police.
According to one source, the matter "went nowhere because of a difference of opinion" over how to weight the conflicting witness accounts.
Investigators later tried to track down the two wounded Timorese, but it became impossible once they'd returned to West Timor. At least one needed treatment for severe wound infection after his spell at the interrogation centre.
Institutionally, the army chose not to concern itself with the relationship between Wayne Douglas and Carol Ferguson.
In July 2001, Graham Ferguson wrote a letter of complaint to the army's then Director of Personnel Operations, Colonel Terry McCullagh, who also happened to be overseeing the Timor investigation at the time.
McCullagh replied: "The relationship between your wife and Warrant Officer Douglas would only constitute fraternisation if it entailed certain public expressions of intimacy or affection within the workplace, or if sexual relation took place within the workplace. Your letter has provided insufficient evidence of either . . ."
McCullagh concluded by saying he did not intend to order a formal investigation because he didn't believe it would be "conclusive". GRaham Ferguson has been accused of betrayal by some former SAS colleagues for going public with this story, and faces partial ostracism from those circles. But he's convinced the secretive and erratic response to that part of the Timor investigation which intersects with his own life has made a mockery of the entire inquiry.
Defence, he says, "did not have the moral courage to prove or disprove the allegations without a shadow of a doubt. They took the soft option."
Douglas, for his part, believes he has been persecuted because of Graham Ferguson's support among the SAS old-boy network, and because the military police wanted to settle old scores, pursuing him for three years and "finding nothing."
He says it was only when he threatened Federal Court action that Defence agreed to discharge him.
"Socially [getting together with Carol] was the dumbest thing I've ever done."
Many others close to the inquiry have been left with no sense of closure. For them the human and institutional costs, the friendships torn apart and the lives left in turmoil have been for virtually nothing.
Says one: "It is the old SAS syndrome - 'We stand between society and absolute anarchy. We are entitled to run everything the way we want to and they ought to be damn well grateful for it.' That sort of thinking makes it perfectly understandable why people will not speak.
"My feeling is the same as it is with most military investigations - it leaves a lot to be desired."
The army claims it has "comprehensively run [the allegations] to ground" . That claim appears hard to support in the face of the unanswered questions, and the public and private contradictions running to the heart of the matters this inquiry was meant to settle.
The whiff of a cover-up, somewhere in the system, will persist until the army releases a full and detailed report on how far the investigation was able to get.
Sydney Morning Herald June 7, 2003
From her nightmare to his
First there was the broken marriage, but behind the other man was the other woman.
Graham Ferguson met Carol Vaughan-Evans a decade ago when he was in the special forces in Sydney and she was finishing her army medical training.
In 1995 Carol was deployed to Rwanda, where she was caught up in a massacre of civilians by tribesmen. Her action in helping save lives won her a Gallantry Medal, but it also left her with nightmares.
According to Graham Ferguson's July 2002 statement to military police, she was "deeply affected by the trauma she experienced".
In 1998, Carol joined the SAS as the regimental medical officer in Perth. Graham left the army to accompany her and they married later that year. However, Ferguson says his wife had some difficulty feeling "fully accepted" by all members of the elite unit.
In September 1999, Carol and other SAS members were deployed to Timor. She began writing to Graham about her growing friendship with Warrant Officer Wayne Douglas, the intelligence officer.
Ferguson initially supported the friendship as a boost to his wife's confidence, but he grew concerned as it intensified after the pair returned home.
The Fergusons continued to have confrontations over Douglas until June 2000, when Carol told Graham their marriage was over.
Two months later, Ferguson and Douglas had a fierce altercation in Douglas's backyard, which resulted in police being called and Ferguson being charged and convicted of assault. The conviction was not recorded. Each man accuses the other of starting the fight.
Brigadier Chris Roberts, a former SAS commander, tendered an unsolicited reference to the court saying: "Graham's most notable qualities are his unswerving integrity, his high ethical standards and a level of moral courage that is rare ... "
Douglas later accused Ferguson of pursuing him and Carol when they moved east, a claim Ferguson vehemently denies.
Douglas continues to deny that Carol left Graham Ferguson for him, claiming "she moved in with Trish [also known as Teresa], my wife, who is now her primary partner ... The three of us live in one house here, but the full relationship isn't between Carol and I, it's between Trish and Carol.
"I love them both, but this is not a grubby menage a trois. Trish and I have been married for 15 years ... and we have a very happy and stable family."
Since making these statements, Wayne Douglas has moved out on his own. Carol was not available for comment and is understood to be using a new name.
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