Saturday August 31 2013
– Australian elite special forces soldiers are being investigated over claims they cut the hands off at least one Afghan insurgent’s body to identify him by his fingerprints.
A “potential misconduct” investigation against members of the Special Operations Task Group centres on claims that soldiers amputated the hands and took them back to their base to use for fingerprint identification, it is understood.
The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, issued a statement on Friday saying the military was continuing to investigate “an incident of potential misconduct” in Afghanistan after the amputation claim was reported yesterday by several media outlets.
Last night Defence Minister Stephen Smith told ABC Radio that while puzzling and confusing, the allegations appeared to be true.
Mr Smith said he and General Hurley were shocked by the news, but he did not want to rush to judgement.
“It’s difficult for me to prejudge but the available evidence suggest that what is essentially asserted occurred. We now have to try to work out what were the facts and circumstances associated with that.”
The claims stem from an operation on April 28th in which Australian special operations soldiers, along with Afghan special forces, killed four Taliban fighters. The operation in Zabul province targeted a Taliban leader responsible for an insurgency network in and around Oruzgan province, according to a statement released in early May by General Hurley.
That statement announced the Australian Defence Force was investigating potential misconduct, but provided no details. It said the complaint had been reported through the Australian chain of command.
Yesterday General Hurley said the April 28th operation had been “a high-intensity, complex and dangerous battle”. He said the misconduct investigation was continuing.
Australian soldiers are obliged where possible to identify the bodies of suspected insurgents they kill.
The special operations group – made up of the SAS and 2nd Commando Regiment – had access to a high-level, US-operated biometric database that includes photos, fingerprints and retinal scans of many Taliban commanders and soldiers.
The investigation appears to be focusing on the claim that soldiers cut of the hand of the Taliban commander to identify him by his fingerprints, rather than take the whole body back to their base at Tarin Kowt.
While mutilating a corpse is forbidden by the Geneva Convention, the alleged amputation might not be illegal if it was done out of “military necessity”, said Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defence Association.
– David Wroe and Bianca Hall