Australian troops held Taliban suspects in dog pen
By KRISTEN GELINEAU
Associated Press / September 2, 2008
SYDNEY, Australia – Australian special forces in Afghanistan detained four suspected Taliban militants captured in April in pens sometimes used to hold dogs, the defense minister said Tuesday.
Many Muslims consider dogs impure and the head of Australia’s main Islamic group strongly criticized the actions of the special forces. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Australia Amanullah Jayhoon said the reports were troubling but stopped short of criticizing the soldiers.
Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon defended the special forces, saying the detainees arrested on April 29 were held in the most secure place available before they were transported to a detention center in the town of Tarin Kowt in southern Uruzgan province. He confirmed the four suspected insurgents were held for 24 hours in a compound occasionally used to house dogs.
“Our people were patrolling far away from our main base in Tarin Kowt near one of our forward operating bases. They did detain people suspected of the worst and most atrocious acts. And they detained them in the most practical way available to them at the time,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Fitzgibbon said it was misleading to characterize the holding facility as a dog pen.
“They were in a compound I’ve had described to me as a walled compound which I’m sure is used for a variety of purposes,” he told ABC. “I’m advised that the compound is from time to time used to hold dogs, yes. Dogs are a very important part of our operations there.”
The revelation follows complaints by an Afghan soldier about mistreatment of the detainees, who were held following a battle with Taliban fighters. An Australian defense inquiry last week found that medical evidence and witness statements did not support allegations of abuse.
“It is quite appalling that the Australian soldiers are in any way caught up in the inhumane treatment of human beings — irrespective of who they are,” said Ikebal Patel, head of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. “I think it’s quite despicable that something like that could happen and that the Australians are party to it.”
But the Australian admission may not stir such a negative reaction in Afghanistan, where people are less averse to dogs than in many other Muslim countries. Afghans are accustomed to seeing dogs on the street and dog fighting is a popular pastime in the country.
“It is a matter of concern because … it provides propaganda for the Taliban, and at the same time it is not good to treat a human being inhumanely,” said the Afghan ambassador Jayhoon. “(But) we have not launched any formal protest.”
The Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman and the provincial police chief in Uruzgan, where Australian troops operate, said they had not heard of the allegations. There are 1,000 Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Brig. Brian Dawson, a defense department spokesman, said one of the four detainees was released the following day after it was decided he was not a threat. The three others were handed over to Dutch authorities who manage the Tarin Kowt facility. Dawson said he did not know the detainees’ current whereabouts or status.
Bob Brown, leader of Australia’s opposition Greens party, criticized the Australian troops.
“For Australia to find itself keeping prisoners in dog kennels, dog pens — even overnight — is a big mistake,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Associated Press reporter Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.