Former governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove says he is “dismayed” at the revelation of Australia’s closest ally, New Zealand, secretly investigated torture allegations against soldiers under his command in East Timor in 1999.
- Sir Peter Cosgrove says no New Zealand officials raised concerns with him about Australian soldiers’ treatment of detainees
- The New Zealand Defense Force says its then-chief ordered a senior official to raise concerns with the Australian INTERFET commander
- A senior NZ official wrote that he raised concerns with Major General Cosgrove and that Major General Cosgrove had said he had directed that details were not to be ill-treated
Four Corners has revealed the New Zealand military ordered its legal officer within the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), Andrena Gill, to discreetly investigate claims that details were tortured in a secret Australian-run interrogation center in Dili in 1999.
Secret documents seen by the program reveal Captain Gill’s report raised alarm bells in the top ranks of the New Zealand Defense Force, with a senior official contemplating the extraordinary step “that we do not hand details that we have captured to INTERFET for interrogation”.
Sir Peter – who at the time was an Australian general and commander of the widely lauded INTERFET peace-making mission – told Four Corners in a statement after the program aired that this was “the first I have heard” of New Zealand responses to alleged detainee mistreatment.
“I am dismayed to see it alleged that a New Zealand legal officer was instructed to conduct a secret investigation into Australian actions in INTERFET,” he said.
“Equally, I am dismayed at the claim that any people detained by NZ personnel would not be placed in the INTERFET Detention facility.”
Four Corners also revealed the chief of the New Zealand Defense Force despatched an envoy to meet the then-Major General Cosgrove in East Timor to reinforce the Kiwi “unease” about the allegations.
Sir Peter – who said he “did not see the Four Corners episode where this issue was raised” – has denied any senior New Zealand military official raised concerns with him.
The New Zealand Defense Force told Four Corners that its then-chief, Carey Adamson, ordered a senior military official to raise concerns with Major General Cosgrove.
“The New Zealand Defense Force was made aware of concerns of detainee mistreatment that were raised by the NZDF Legal Officer in October 1999,” it said.
“Upon receipt of the concerns raised, in November 1999, the Chief of the New Zealand Defense Force at the time instructed the NZ senior national officer to raise issues with [Major General Cosgrove] and recommended [Major General Cosgrove] initiate an investigation.
“This was an appropriate response consistent with our obligations under international law.”
A secret memo seen by Four Corners shows New Zealand Brigadier Louis Gardiner reported back to Air Marshal Adamson on December 12, 1999, that “my discussions with Commander INTERFET [Major General Cosgrove] in regards the management of details clearly outlined your concerns “.
Brigadier Gardiner, in the memo, said Major General Cosgrove had “stressed that he had clearly directed that details were not to be ill-treated” and that intelligence officers knew that interrogation was “not to include depriving details of food and water [or] having personnel survive long periods without sleep “.
The New Zealand Defense Force seemed satisfied with Major General Cosgrove’s assurances.
Sir Peter told Four Corners that concerns about detainee mistreatment were never raised with him by New Zealand officials.
“I can categorically say that, if this was the late Major General Lou Gardiner, an officer I knew well, on a visit to INTERFET… [he] at no stage raised with me issues concerning details, nor any other matters concerning conduct, “he said.
“No other NZ officer raised this matter with me.”
In 2003, a special inquiry by Australian military police found 14 Timorese men and boys were deprived of food and sleep, restricted access to hygiene facilities and mentally abused over three-and-a-half days of interrogation.
It recommended torture charges against three commanders of the interrogation center.
Four Corners was told the Australian Defense Force received legal advice that the evidence supported torture charges, but it was unfair to prosecute the commanders because they were following their training.