27 May 2004

Iraq abuses: Army knew months ago

An Australian military officer stationed in Baghdad was aware of allegations of prisoner abuse as early as last October and passed details to Australian officers in regular reports, the Herald has learnt.

The revelation undercuts repeated Federal Government and Defence Department assurances that they knew nothing of the abuses, especially because Major George O'Kane, a legal officer, liaised directly with the Red Cross from the time it first complained of abuses.

Major O'Kane worked at US military headquarters with the office of the US staff judge advocate, Colonel Marc Warren, the senior legal officer in Iraq, for six months to February.

He was in the post when the photographs of abuse in Abu Ghraib jail first circulated within US military headquarters in Baghdad, triggering the secret investigation by General Antonio Taguba and quiet suspension of the jail's chief, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski.

Major O'Kane knew of the photographs but did not see them, sources said. He had also been aware of the central thrust of General Taguba's report in February outlining 'sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses' at Abu Ghraib.

As well, Major O'Kane was involved in drafting a letter responding to the concerns of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which argued that some prisoners were not subject to the full protection of the Geneva conventions.

Ordinary Australians are going to be outraged by this extraordinary and reprehensible circumstance. The government's previous denials are consistent with the way it's behaved since the war ended.

Last October Senator Hill, the defence minister, denied that Brig Gen Meekin was more than 'peripherally' involved with the Iraq Survey Group. In April the US awarded Meekin the Legion of Merit for his contribution to the Iraq Survey Group.

The Man of Steel is long on record for saying we had withdrawn the ADF from Iraq, until the opposition called for withdrawal when the Man of Steel exercised his tensile strength to say he had not and would not withdraw.

The government has consistently denied that we are an occupying power despite the presence of Australian personnel in the CPA and elsewhere in Iraq. Now the government has denied all knowledge of the Abu Ghraib abuses (Downer actually briefly denied the abuses themselves) and we discover an Australian officer knew of them. Shortly we will learn that the prime minister's staff forgot to inform him. Or perhaps that the report was thrown in the water.

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