Chapter 2 - Participation and knowledge of Australian personnel in questioning Iraqi detainees
This chapter deals specifically with the involvement of
Australian personnel in the interrogating or interviewing of persons detained
in relation to the war in Iraq.
To start with, it examines the policy framework within which Australian
personnel serving in the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) operated in Iraq.
Personnel in this group were the most likely Australians in Iraq
to be engaged in questioning Iraqi detainees. The chapter looks specifically at
the concept of operations and the stated duties of senior analysts working in
the ISG. It then determines whether Australian personnel were involved in interviewing
or interrogating Iraqi detainees.
The Iraq Survey Group (ISG)
The ISG, created in June 2003, performed highly
specialised tasks. Australian personnel in this group were deployed to Iraq
and 'embedded into teams' within the group. They shared technical intelligence
with the UK and
US elements and, more particularly, provided 'analytical effort to the
locating, identification and elimination of Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction (WMD)'. Their
stated mission was to:
...identify, account for and eliminate WMD, WMD weapon delivery
systems and associated technology in conjunction with US and UK
Duelfer, Special Adviser for WMD in Iraq,
briefly summarised the activities undertaken by the ISG:
We do not just look for stockpiles of weapons that could be
hidden in the country. It is the mission of the ISG to determine all that was
potentially being done related to WMD and the delivery systems for WMD. In
addition to site exploitations for weapons, ISG has conducted debriefings of
former Iraqi regime officials, examined research and production facilities, and
evaluated documents recovered from the regime. Special focus has been given to
the senior leadership figures captured after the war.
He explained further:
ISG’s initial strategy was to examine sites associated with the
former WMD programs or sites suspected of involvement. Some regime figures were
captured and interrogated. Some documents were recovered.
As site exploitations revealed WMD was not stored or produced at
the primary known or suspect sites, the ISG moved to a strategy of finding and
debriefing higher-level and mid–level scientists and engineers and military
officers. Senior regime officials were debriefed. Site exploitations continued,
and an interim report was provided last fall.
This description of the work of the ISG clearly
anticipated the likelihood that those in this group would be involved in the
'interrogation' or 'debriefing' of Iraqi detainees. The following section looks
at the stated policy governing the activities of Australian personnel deployed in
Iraq with the
Concept of operations
The key document applying to Australians serving in the
ISG was the Concept of Operations. Brigadier Steve
Meekin prepared this document in April 2003
before the deployment of Australian personnel to the ISG. It set out the role
and related matters, including some restrictions, on how they could do their
business. Specified tasks for the Australian contingent were to:
- assist in the identification of WMD, their
delivery means and associated technology;
- collect battlefield intelligence on captured and
abandoned Iraqi equipment that may relate to WMD;
- share technical intelligence with UK and US
forces in the ISG;
- ensure that the government of Australia is
informed et cetera;
- arrange for the recovery of selected items of
- coordinate reach–back arrangements for
harnessing the support of other agencies.
Senator the Hon
Minister for Defence, noted in particular that this document imposed
limitations such as the restriction 'that Australian personnel are not to
participate in interrogation'.
Brigadier Meekin told the committee that in drawing up
the document he had 'very clear' guidance that personnel were 'not to be
involved in interrogation' and that this advice is reflected in the document. Indeed,
the Concept of Operations states explicitly that:
...personnel will not be involved in the interrogation of Iraqi
prisoners but will concentrate their efforts in the Discovery and Exploitation
of WMD as part of the Sensitive Site Exploitation and the full accounting and
subsequent elimination of Iraq's
According to Brigadier Meekin, he subsequently issued
oral guidance along the same lines to his subordinate contingent commander, who
in turn conveyed the same message through his group orders to his contingent. He summarised the process:
The guidance was, first, that original concept of operations
that I prepared before deployment and, second, through instructions from their
superior headquarters, headquarters Joint Task Force 633, the senior
Australian headquarters in Iraq,
located in Baghdad.
Pezzullo, Head Coordination and Public
Affairs, Department of Defence, supported Brigadier Meekin's account of how the
content of the Concept of Operations was conveyed to personnel in the field. He
told the committee:
Each contingent commander deployed with instructions that he
promulgated to his troops and to public servants. It was up to each contingent
commander to translate the higher intent down the line, as is the tradition and
form in the Australian military. Most of them did that by word because they
were reasonably small parties. They literally gathered them in rooms—that
certainly was the experience with team 1.
Brigadier Meekin explained, however, that interviewing
and debriefing 'were not explicitly ruled out, largely on the basis that part
of the role of the Iraq Survey Group was to find out about the weapons programs
of the former regime'. It was accepted that members of the ISG would, as part
of their duties, interview former senior officials of those weapons programs. 'Indeed,
some of the publicly released ISG documents mention that task as a key part of
the strategy'. Brigadier Meekin
understood that not all Australian personnel in the group would be involved in
the interviewing process. He stated that 'a very small number of subject matter
experts with a deep understanding of perhaps biological or chemical weapons
were the ones most likely to be involved'.
Barton, an Australian
senior analyst with ISG, was such an expert. He was in team 2. According to Mr
Pezzullo, however, the head of this team was
deployed in mid–November before Mr Barton
arrived and left in mid–May after Mr Barton
had returned to Australia.
described at length how those in team 2 were instructed. He explained that the
head of team 2 conducted a personal briefing 'plus a reiteration through his
chain of command'. This instruction, based on the CDF's general instruction,
directed that 'Australian Iraq Survey Contingent members were not to be
involved in interrogations, were only to be involved in debriefs of Iraqi
personnel voluntarily offering information and were to be involved in these
debriefs in their capacity as subject matter experts...providing technical advice
in their area of expertise to the individual running the debrief'. Although intimated, it is unclear from
explanation whether Mr Barton
received such instructions.
The following section looks at the specific
circumstances of Mr Barton's
employment and duties in Iraq.
Duties of senior analyst—Mr Rod
was engaged under the Concept of Operations. He had an employment relationship
with the International Policy Division of the strategy group of the Department
of Defence and was engaged for the purposes of public sector employment. He was employed in the context of his
ISG deployment as a non–ongoing employee under three separate contracts that
were not completely continuous. They covered the following periods:
- 8 December 2003 to 23 March 2004—Iraq;
- 29 August to 17 September 2004—London and Iraq;
- 2 October to 11 October 2004—Washington and New
While operating under the general requirements of the
Geneva Convention and the Concept of Operations, Australians working in the
Iraqi Survey Group were also under instructions particular to their duties as
members of this group. Brigadier Meekin explained:
A number of the people that were involved, subject matter
experts, are either members of the ADF or members of the Australian Public
Service, and as such they did not have a specific duty statement. They were
assigned to a particular part of the Iraq Survey Group, and it is from that
part that they received their instructions on what they were to do. They were
to perform those instructions, provided that they were not in conflict with
guidance that had previously been provided from documents such as my concept of
operations, that we have previously mentioned, and subsequent guidance provided
by contingent commanders. In other words, they were not to be involved in
interrogation of enemy prisoners of war or high–value detainees.
stated duties were to:
- be a member of the Iraq Survey Group senior
- operate as a command team leader of the Iraq WMD
- direct WMD related efforts as required;
- direct the analysis and targeting of
- direct, plan, and assist, where appropriate, in
the interviewing of scientific and high–value Iraqi personnel;
- if needed, assist in the conduct of exploitation
operations in the field;
- prepare planning documents, mission assessments,
recommendations and other similar documents as required.
The duty statement clearly anticipated that Mr
Barton could be involved in interviewing
Iraqi detainees. Indeed, he told the committee that he questioned Iraqi detainees
and further that he knew of other Australians who had also been involved in
similar activities. Although he did not see Australians involved in interviews,
Because I was a senior person within the ISG, I had regular
briefings on what was going on. I read the reports that came out of the
questioning, and I was aware that other Australians were involved.
Perhaps they would not do quite what I did because I had more
experience than they had and I was senior, but they would sit in on interviews,
they would ask questions.
It is clear that the Concept of Operations mentioned by
Brigadier Meekin applied to Mr Barton
as an Australian contracted by Australia
to work with the ISG. However, on
more than one occasion Mr Barton
has insisted that he was not briefed on the Concept of Operations, let alone
involved in any discussion on the difference between interrogation and
interviewing. He told the committee
that he knew nothing about the CDF's executive orders; received no
instructions; and was 'certainly ignorant of the concept of operations'. Moreover, he was under the impression
that others in similar positions were also not informed about the Concept of Operations.
He told the committee:
I am not aware of it happening in any other case. As I said, I
had a colleague who was employed with an almost identical duty statement to
mine—I think it was actually identical. He was not briefed on this either or
given any instruction.
I had no Defence guidance. In fact, as I pointed out, I returned
to Iraq in
September and still no–one had given me any instruction when I went back.
The Department of Defence and the Minister for Defence
stand by their assertions that Australians were under clear instructions not to
detainees and in fact to their knowledge none did so. Brigadier Meekin stressed that Australian
personnel in Iraq
were under instructions to withdraw if an interrogation was being conducted or
if they became part of an interrogation and to report the circumstances to
their contingent commander. He
The guidance that was provided to our people in Iraq—and this
particularly applies to a small number of people who are subject matter
experts—was that, in their involvement in an interview, it was to be a compliant
situation. In other words, the interviewee had to agree to participate, there
was to be no duress, it certainly was not to be an interrogation and, indeed,
they were to withdraw from that situation if it was an interrogation or
appeared to them to be an interrogation.
The Minister for Defence had a definite understanding
of what constitutes an interrogation. He maintained that there is a clear
distinction between interrogation and debriefing or interviewing. He stated
'one is a voluntary act, and one is obviously under a certain amount of duress'.
disputes the Minister's and Defence's interpretation of interrogation. He stated
that he had his own understanding of what constitutes an interrogation and that
it was a layperson's understanding. He stated that he was quite angry about the
Minister's statement that 'Australia
did not interrogate prisoners'. According to Mr
Barton, when he contacted Defence about the
statement, it responded by saying, 'Well, we regard that you did interviews and
In answer to a question without notice, the Prime
Minister told the House of Representatives that Mr
Barton was not a qualified interrogator. He
stated further 'I don't know whether he's had any exposure to the interrogation
process. But it's quite common for people with no understanding of the process,
or little understanding of the process, to misunderstand the things they see
and the safeguards employed'.
Contrary to the above views, Mr
Barton was of the opinion that:
An interview is between equals, and someone was brought to me in
an orange jumpsuit with a guard with a gun standing behind him and, all right,
you call it what you wish, but I think it's misleading. I believe it was an
interrogation. The Iraqis regarded it as interrogation...the Americans I think
regarded it as interrogation.
In referring to the detainees at Camp
Cropper, he stated that they were
all prisoners of war and had little choice in whether they were going to participate
in this questioning. He stated:
the prisoner who was brought to me really had no choice about
whether he was brought there, there was coercion in certain forms, there was
always a threat of force. As I mentioned, some of them had been beaten before
they got to Cropper, so there was always that implied force.
however, told the committee that he did not see any abuse and noted that the
process of questioning detainees at Camp
Cropper was 'normally cordial'.
view is supported by Dr David
Kay, first Senior Advisor to ISG, who maintained
that he would not make a distinction between an interview or an interrogation.
He stated that he would tend to say that he had an interview or discussion with
detainees and although he did not often use the word interrogation 'that's what
it was'. He assumed that anyone 'that was in a room with a prisoner was engaged
in interrogation. You weren't playing bridge, and so you had to play by the
rules that were established for interrogation'. Mr
Duelfer also used both terms 'debriefing'
and 'interrogation' when describing the work of ISG (see para. 2.4).
In addressing term of reference (a), the committee
finds that there were some Australian personnel present, or who had duties
which included being present, during the questioning of persons detained in
relation to the war in Iraq.
Given that those interviewed were being forcibly detained, the meaning of the
terms 'interview' and 'interrogation' appear to merge. Indeed, some people,
such as Dr Kay and Mr Burton, made no distinction between terms such as
'interview', 'debrief' or 'interrogation' when describing their work in ISG.
While acknowledging that the debate about what
constitutes an interview and an interrogation is important, the committee
believes that a far more serious issue warrants consideration. The committee understands
that an officer clearly required to interview Iraqi detainees was apparently
not instructed on the Concept of Operations. As noted earlier, the Concept of Operations
states explicitly that 'personnel will not be involved in the interrogation of
Iraqi prisoners'. It is concerned that uncertainty surrounds the instructions
or advice given to Mr Barton regarding his duties under the Concept of Operations.
Defence should have been able to state unequivocally that Mr
Barton had been briefed appropriately about
this Concept of Operations and had a clear understanding that he was not to
participate in interrogations. It did not do so. The Committee
can only concluded that the ADF failed in its responsibility to ensure that Mr
Barton was made aware of the Concept of Operations
and any other obligations he would have toward detainees.
2.30 The committee recommends that the ADF review its
procedures for instructing personnel about the various codes of conduct, ADF's
instructions or Concepts of Operations governing the conduct of Australian
personnel while engaged in overseas operations especially where Australian
personnel are deployed with third country operations. All Australian personnel must
be made aware of their obligations with regard to human rights issues which
includes their obligation to report any activity that seems illegal.
Taking account of the changed circumstances
also raised a second point about the principles applying to the handling of
Iraqi prisoners by the coalition forces. He was particularly concerned about
the status of such captives after sovereignty was returned to Iraq
on 28 June. He stated:
I felt, just as the British government did, that any involvement
with those prisoners was probably illegal. The British government actually
issued an instruction—I do not know whether the Australians did the same thing.
I never saw it. I asked but no-one could tell me. But after 28 June—after
sovereignty—the British government issued an instruction to all their
interrogators that they were not to question the prisoners, not to prepare questions
for others, not to help others in preparing for interviews and not even to use
the product that came from any other interviews. In other words, after June,
with respect to any information that was coming out of there, the British
government wanted nothing to do with it.
I do not know what the Australian policy was. I asked at the
time, but I decided, too, that I felt that the prisoners probably were being
held illegally now and that I was going to absent myself from it. When I said,
'I cannot do the interview', it was put to me, 'Well, perhaps you can write some
questions for some others.’ I said, 'No, I can't do that either', and I was not
forced any further. They said, 'Okay, right, I understand'.
He sought clarification from the commander of the Australian
contingent at the ISG on his understanding of the status of prisoners. According
to Mr Barton, the commander was unsure and did not know what the policy was. Mr
Barton also raised the question with
officials on his return home:
I did a debrief with the Iraq
task force and I raised the same issue with them: what was the Australian
policy? I did not get an answer then either. I do not even know whether we had
a policy after June. I know—or at least, I was
told by the lieutenant colonel—that we had stopped questioning prisoners, but
whether we had any involvement after June I do not
The committee is concerned that ADF personnel in Iraq
were unclear about Australia's
position on the handling of prisoners after Iraq
gained its sovereignty.
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