Sunday 21st of July 2024

his name was yani ndun .....

The Howard government’s response to the gross maladministration within DIMIA stands in stark contrast to its lack of response to an older & significantly more sinister scandal involving the ADF, that now dates back 6 years. 

 

Whilst the government moved quickly to set-up independent inquiries into the events surrounding the appalling DIMIA scandal, its leader in the Senate, Defence Minister Robert Hill, & the ADF have sought to maintain a veil of secrecy over unspecified allegations of torture & possible execution of ADF prisoners in East Timor, way back in 1999. 

 

The government’s insistence that the ADF be allowed to secretly investigate allegations made against its own members, whilst keeping details of those allegations & the progress of its supposed investigations secret – even from the Parliament – strongly suggests that the government has deliberately sought to cover-up criminal acts committed by members of our armed forces. 

 

For the government to pretend that the ADF investigations into these matters are still incomplete after 6 years must mean that both have something significant to hide.  

 

Worse still, the failure of the government & the ADF to resolve the matter effectively & efficiently, with complete transparency, means that the reputation & integrity of the ADF & all its members will remain in serious question. 

 

Back in April, 2003, the ADF held a press conference in Canberra to announce that it had concluded a 31/2 year investigation into unspecified allegations, involving the torture & execution of Indonesian militia prisoners by Australian troops in East Timor in 1999, & that the allegations had not been substantiated. 

 

The ADF investigation had apparently been carried-out in response to persistent reports coming out of Indonesia at the time, as well as to stories circulating within the British, New Zealand & Australian armies. 

 

Shadow Defence Minister, Senator Chris Evans, sought further information regarding the allegations & the ADF investigation during a Foreign Affairs & Defence Senate Committee hearing in June, 2003 however, the Australian Army would confirm only that a charge of ‘kicking a body’ had been brought against a member of the SAS but this had subsequently been dropped when witnesses from the New Zealand Army had refused to give evidence. 

 

On November 5, 2003, Dateline broadcast a program called Timor Torture which detailed accusations by 3 former Indonesian militiamen regarding their treatment whilst prisoners of Australian forces in East Timor, including allegations of abuse, torture & the unexplained disappearance of a 4th prisoner, Mr Yani Ndun. 

 

Whilst Dateline had provided the Australian Army with full details concerning the allegations prior to their program broadcast, it refused to comment or appear on the program however, that afternoon, the Chief of the Army announced that another investigation into the allegations would be launched. 

 

On May 5, 2004, Dateline broadcast a follow-up program called Torture Update which contrasted the urgent & public investigations launched by the US government into allegations of torture of US prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, with the apparent failure of the Australian government & the ADF to pursue its investigations into the East Timor allegations. 

 

Indeed, as the follow-up program pointed out, the Australian Army could not even confirm whether an investigator had yet been appointed to pursue the matter, in keeping with Army Chief, Lt-Gen Peter Leahy’s announcement some 6 months before. 

 

In addition, Dateline confirmed that none of the witnesses identified in its original program had been approached by Australian authorities to investigate their allegations. 

 

Lt-Gen Leahy, Minister for Defence, Robert Hill & Assistant Minister, Mal Brough, all refused Dateline’s request for an interview on the matter & no spokesperson from the Australian Army was available to appear on the program. 

 

In responding to Dateline queries as to the ADF’s progress with its alleged investigation, the Assistant Minister, Mal Brough, alleged that inquiries had not progressed because the program had not provided adequate assistance. This notwithstanding the fact that Dateline had provided full information on the whereabouts of witnesses to the Australian Army at the time its original program aired. 

 

Over the last 18 months, I have corresponded with the Prime Minister, John Howard, the Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, Army Chief, Lt-Gen Peter Leahy, the Chief of the Defence Forces, Gen Peter Cosgrove, & my own local member, Dr Brendan Nelson, in an effort to obtain details of the 18 specific allegations made against members of the ADF; an update on the progress of the ADF’s investigations & details as to what resources had been deployed to mount them. 

 

The responses to my inquiries to-date have been varied & illuminating - in a fashion. 

 

John Howard’s office confirmed that my inquiry had been referred to the Minister for Defence. 

 

The Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, refused to address my correspondence, although his Chief of Staff, Matt Brown, did write on his behalf, with the arrogant & dismissive suggestion that I should check the Defence Department’s website for detail. After seeking further clarification from Brown, he directed me to the announcement made by the Army Chief on November 5, 2003: the announcement of the 2nd ADF investigation into the affair. 

 

Gen Cosgrove & Army Chief, Lt-Gen Peter Leahy, both replied & confirmed that an investigation into the unspecified allegations was ‘in progress’. When I sought further clarification as to the nature of the specific allegations being investigated; the level of resources being brought to bear on those investigations & likely date of their expected conclusion, they stopped corresponding. 

 

As for my local member, Dr Brendan Nelson, he was able to obtain & forward for my information copies of correspondence previously sent to me by the Chief of Staff for the Minister for Defence, Matt Brown. 

 

General Peter Cosgrove, the hero of East Timor, has retired from active service & now sits on the board of Qantas. It is rumoured that he has been paid $800,000 as an advance against the publication of his memoirs but I suspect that the chapter on East Timor will avoid any reference to the seedy allegations forever under investigation by his successors. 

 

Elements of the ADF, including the SAS, are today serving in Iraq & Afghanistan, doubtless blissfully unaware of the fact that their reputation has been forever stained by the failure of their chain of command to secure & uphold it. 

 

Word has it that Defence Minister, Robert Hill, has reached his use by date but refuses to accept the fact. 

 

John Howard maintains his habit of attending military parades, cynically & always awkwardly seeking to bask in the reflected glory of our servicemen & women, whilst doing nothing to ensure that their proud traditions are truly respected & upheld. 

 

And as to the former Indonesian militiamen who alleged they’d been tortured by members of the ADF some 6 years ago? 

 

Unlike the majority of Australians who have never heard of them, they will doubtless forever remember their experiences, as will the family & friends of their long missing comrade, Yani Ndun.