Elite Australian soldiers are charged over torture of troops

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The Independent Online

Military commanders and the Australian government yesterday denied that they had tried to cover up allegations of brutality masquerading as regimental discipline by troops from an élite unit.

Military commanders and the Australian government yesterday denied that they had tried to cover up allegations of brutality masquerading as regimental discipline by troops from an élite unit.

Bruce Scott, assistant defence minister, confirmed a report that six soldiers from the Third Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR)had been charged with assault.Eight others, including officers, were still being investigated.

Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove, head of the army, said allegations of violence and bullying were being dealt with as speedily as possible. "These sort of things... are reprehensible. They are not condoned. We are investigating them and moving as quickly as the legal system will permit to getting some resolution."

The allegations were first aired by Time magazine, which also disclosed that there had been an inquiry in April last year. Time said its investigations had shown members of the regiment were routinely beaten, detained and abused, with one officer said to have been "tortured" for 16 hours and at least 17 soldiers requiring hospital treatment.

The magazine said: "Brutality, or bastardisation, as it is dubbed in the armed forces, has been a perennial problem for the military."

A sergeant-major was said to have told a 3RAR parade that if anyone was caught thieving, "you should beat them to within an inch of their lives". He was quoted as saying: "Drag them bleeding in front of my desk and nothing will be said about your actions."

The charges were brought in a military court after the inquiry but disciplinary proceedings were delayed because of the Australian-led peace-keeping mission to East Timor and a legal hitch. The 3RAR spearheaded the multinational force mandated by the United Nations to end a killing spree by pro-Indonesia militias after the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Yesterday, John Moore, the Defence Minister, described allegations of a cover-up as "completely baseless".

General Cosgrove said: "We have got to... make sure any victims see justice and that, of course, people accused get their share of justice as well." The general, who commanded the East Timor multinational force, said he was partly responsible for the delay in disciplinary proceedings because he had failed to follow procedures to the letter. The military magistrate threw out the case because General Cosgrove had bypassed the battalion commander.

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