Wednesday, August 18, 2004

US lawyers seek Australian abuse reports

By Marian Wilkinson
United States Correspondent

American lawyers acting for some of the accused Abu Ghraib prison guards are trying to get access to documents written by Australian military lawyer Major George O'Kane about abuse complaints by the Red Cross.

The documents were written by Major O'Kane while he was working at coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

Major O'Kane's numerous reports to his Australian commanders about his dealings with the International Committee of the Red Cross between November and January are one of the few clear paper trails that have emerged in the Abu Ghraib scandal, despite weeks of US Senate hearings.

"We're very interested in this Australian officer," said Gary Myers, a lawyer representing military police officer Sergeant Ivan Frederick, who is facing a court martial for his role in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. "We have already asked for the relevant documents in a discovery request," he told The Age.

Major O'Kane worked in the legal office of General Ricardo Sanchez, the head of the US-led coalition forces in Iraq, when the Red Cross made detailed complaints about abuses at Abu Ghraib and another Iraq detention centre, Camp Cropper.

Those complaints went to the head of the legal office, US Colonel Marc Warren, more than two months before photographs of the abuses were uncovered.

Most of the American military police who have been charged over the abuses depicted in the photographs claim they were instructed by US military intelligence officers at the prison to "loosen up" detainees for interrogation.

Evidence at the Australian Senate hearings in Canberra on Monday confirm that two working papers from the Red Cross, spelling out its abuse concerns, were given to Major O'Kane at coalition headquarters in Baghdad in November.

As a result, Major O'Kane visited Abu Ghraib to discuss the allegations with US military police and military intelligence officers on December 4.

But until Monday's Senate hearings, Major O'Kane's activities had not surfaced anywhere in the US media or during lengthy testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, which has been investigating the scandal.

General Sanchez told the Armed Services Committee on May 19 that he was not aware until February that the Red Cross working papers had been sent to his coalition headquarters in November. His top legal officer, Colonel Warren, told the committee that the Red Cross reports came into the office "in a haphazard manner".

However, evidence from Australian military officers in Canberra on Monday suggest that Major O'Kane handled the complaints systematically.

In a draft response to the Red Cross, Major O'Kane acknowledged receiving two working papers from the organisation on their visits to the two jails on November 12. Those visits turned up evidence of violations of the Geneva Convention.

US military legal expert Professor Scott Silliman said the draft letter responding to the Red Cross, while drawn up by Major O'Kane, appeared to be cleared by more senior legal officers, possibly even back in the Pentagon in Washington because of its careful wording on applying the Geneva Convention to detainees at Abu Ghraib.

• The army has opened investigations into at least 91 cases of possible misconduct by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a total not previously reported and one that points to a broader range of wrongful behaviour than defence officials have acknowledged.

The figure, provided by a senior army official, includes the mistreatment of dozens of Iraqis in US custody outside detention centres and as many as 18 instances of US soldiers in Iraq allegedly stealing money, jewellery or other property.

-with Washington Post.

First published on June 2,2004 in The Age of Australia



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