Media Room | Reports and Publications | Careers and Recruiting | Industry and Contracts | Other Defence Links

Media Room: Media Releases

Department of Defence
Media Release


28/05/2004 MECC 91/04
Defence Media Release


Defence has undertaken a survey of ADF and civilian personnel in Iraq whose duties may have involved contact with Iraqi prisoners or detainees.

While Defence was aware of investigations into allegations of abuse or serious mistreatment of detainees from the time of the CNN media reporting in late January 2004, it only became aware of the extent of the allegations through the publication of photographs in April 2004.

No Defence personnel were aware of the allegations of abuse or serious mistreatment before the public report of the US investigation in January 2004. Major O’Kane’s recollection is that he heard about the seriousness of this issue about the same time as the CNN media reporting in late January. No Australian Defence personnel saw any photographs of abuses before they were published in late April 2004.

Of the more than 3000 personnel that have served in the Middle East, 302 Defence personnel have been identified as possibly having contact, and of these, 298 have been surveyed. The remaining four cannot currently be contacted. Defence is continuing to seek contact with those four people not yet surveyed. None of those surveyed were aware of abuse or serious mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners or detainees, of the nature of recent allegations, during their deployment.

There were no reports about the abuse or serious mistreatment of prisoners or detainees of the nature of recent allegations made, either through the chain of command or informally. In particular, at no time did Major O’Kane report that he held any concerns over the conditions under which the detainees were being held at Abu Ghraib prison.

ADF officers, including Major O’Kane, working in the coalition headquarters and the CPA were aware of the October 2003 ICRC report on detainee treatment. As part of his work in the Coalition Headquarters, Major O’Kane worked on a response to the first October 2003 ICRC report. It is understood from Major O’Kane that the October 2003 report raised general concerns about detainee conditions and treatment, but no mention of abuse.

Defence investigations to date show there is no record of the existence of the October 2003 report being communicated back to Defence officials in Australia. Major O’Kane did not report any details concerning the abuse of detainees and prisoners in his short weekly reports on his work to any Australian authority, and nor did any other Australian officer.

In a subsequent report in February 2004, the ICRC identified serious concerns with the management and treatment of detainees and prisoners. This report was provided by the ICRC to the US and UK. Australian officers did, however, report on the existence of the ICRC report and the process being implemented by the detaining powers to address its concerns. As Australia was not a detaining power, it did not receive either of the reports from the ICRC.

Neither the current Australian Joint Force Commander in the Middle East or any of his predecessors was aware of these allegations of abuse or serious mistreatment of detainees until the publication of photographs in April 2004, and neither was Defence leadership in Canberra.

Defence abhors any violation of international humanitarian law and welcomes the steps being taken to fully investigate the allegations, and remedial actions taken to ensure that abuse will not occur in future.

Media contact:

Defence Media Liaison 02 6265 3343 0408 498 664








Issued by Ministerial and Executive Coordination and Communication,
Department of Defence,
Canberra, ACT
Phone: 02 6127 1999 Fax: 02 6265 6946
Media releases are available by email if you register online