Prisoners attacked on ADF's watch

AUSTRALIA'S partner forces in Afghanistan have been accused of attacking prisoners under the watch of Australian soldiers. One detainee was hit in the back with a rifle butt, another was struck in the face and a third was so badly injured a medical officer who examined him confirmed the assault.

The attacks have been revealed in censored summary reports to the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, over 12 months. They were posted on the Department of Defence's freedom of information disclosure log website last week.

The documents have been so heavily redacted even the details about who was responsible for the attacks and what follow-up action was taken have been blacked out. A departmental letter with the documents says some of the censored material could damage international relations.

The daily operational reporting summaries will raise new questions about the treatment of detainees under Australian control, even at the hands of others. Groups such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Sydney have been monitoring whether Australia is meeting its obligations under the Geneva Conventions towards detainees captured in the Afghanistan conflict.

The most heavily censored incident occurred on April 1, 2011, where even the complaint was redacted. The only details were of an ''incident'' occurring during the apprehension of a suspected insurgent in the Mirabad Valley, about 10 kilometres east of Tarin Kowt.

''An initial investigation found that there was no ADF involvement [censored]. I will provide separate advice on this incident once the facts become clearer,'' says the summary approved by the then chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston.

The insurgent leader's arrest was announced to the media in April last year by Australia's then commander in the Middle East, Major-General Angus Campbell.

Less than a month later, a detainee complained he had been mistreated by Australian personnel.

An investigation found Australians were not responsible but confirmed the ''detainee had been assaulted'' and Australian Defence Force personnel had been ''retrained and operating procedures amended''.

The rest of the document is censored, making it impossible to ascertain who conducted the assault or what resulted.

About May 10 last year, another assault occurred, involving a detainee and an individual suspected of suspicious behaviour.

The summary says the allegation was corroborated after a medical officer examined the detainee. The report says ''the detention of [censored] for his behaviour was appropriate and the actions of the ADF personnel in detaining [censored] were in accordance with policy''.

In October, a detainee was reported to have been struck in the back with a rifle butt.

An investigation found the Australian soldier ''could not have predicted the mistreatment'' and had acted appropriately by intervening.

A report in December revealed a detainee had been struck in the face. An investigation found Australian personnel had intervened and the matter was closed.

Between August 1, 2010 and May 7 this year, the Defence Force has detained 1355 suspected insurgents.

Last year, three personnel were charged with allegedly failing to comply with procedures relating to the management and processing of detainees, Smith said in May. He said from August 1, 2010, to May 7, 91 allegations of mistreatment were made against Australian forces, of which 79 were not substantiated. Twelve are under investigation.

It is understood the Defence Department is seeking clarification on the impact on partnered operations with Afghan forces.

Do you know more? rcallinan@fairfax.com.au

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