Story 2 - Australia’s role in capturing 66 detainees in Iraq on 11 April 2003 and the death in UK custody of a detainee

Soldiers from Security Detachment 16 conduct a medal parade

7. Timeline

11 April 2003: 1:00pm: Australian SAS and one member of the US armed forces detain 66 men in Ramadi, Iraq.

11:30pm: The SAS hands the 66 detainees over to the UK RAF.

12 April 2003: Sometime on this day, Tanik Mahmud ‘sustained a fatal injury’ and died while on the RAF’s Chinook helicopter (Ian Cobain, ‘Iraq Deaths in British Custody Could See Military Face Legal Challenges’,, 1 July 2010, Ian Cobain, ‘British Servicemen Suspected of Murdering Iraqi Civilians’,, 12 September 2010) .

June 2003: The RAF police investigation commences.

7 July 2003: The People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran sends a letter to Australia (Robert Hill) asking for the release of the detainees (Doc 182).

April 2004: RAF police investigators ask a pathologist if a post mortem is worth conducting. This pathologist advised that Mahmud’s body was too decomposed (Ian Cobain, ‘British Servicemen Suspected of Murdering Iraqi Civilians’, Guardian (online), 12 September 2010).

17 May 2004: The UK House of Commons is told an investigation into Mahmud’s death is ongoing (United Kingdom, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 17 May 2004, vol 421, col 663W (Adam Ingram); Severin Carrell, ‘New Allegations of Systematic Abuse of Iraqis by British Troops’ The Independent (online), 23 May 2004)

2 June 2004: Robert Hill states to Senate EstimatesWe don’t know of any suggestion that any prisoners in whose capture Australia was involved have been mistreated.’ (Evidence to Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia, Canberra, 2 June 2004, 142 (Robert Hill, Minister for Defence).

8 June 2004: A minute from General Cosgrove to Robert Hill advises that the detainee died of a heart attack. It is not clear when Australia first became aware of the detainee’s death (Doc 182 CDF 521/04 [7]).

10 June 2004: Robert Hill asks General Cosgrove to find out ‘urgently’ the results of the UK investigation (Doc 182 CDF 521/04, 2).

Before October 2004: The Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) requests information from the Australian Embassy in Tehran about the four detained Iranians (Doc 182 CDF 1046/04).

8 December 2004: The UK RAF Deputy Provost Marshal declines Australia’s request for a copy of the UK investigation report. He states the reason for non-disclosure is because the report is being held ‘for the purposes of criminal proceedings(Doc 183).

Before 20 December 2004: A response to the Iranian MOIS is sent, stating that Australia did not detain the Iranians, as Australia is not a detaining power.

23 January 2005: It is revealed that UK troops will face prosecution for abuses in Iraq. The media consider it likely that one such abuse was Mahmud’s death (Severin Carrell, ‘More Soldiers Implicated in Further Iraqi Abuse Claims’, The Independent (online) 23 January 2005).

April 2009: The UK Guardian begins asking the Ministry for Defence about further information into Mahmud’s death (Ian Cobain, ‘Iraq Deaths in British Custody Could See Military Face Legal Challenges’, Guardian (online), 1 July 2010).

July 2010: UK lawyers representing 102 Iraqi civilians attempt to have a judicial review of the UK Ministry of Defence’s decision to refuse to conduct a public inquiry into all cases of abuse of Iraqi civilians after the March 2003 invasion (Ian Cobain, ‘Iraq Deaths in British Custody Could See Military Face Legal Challenges’, Guardian (online), 1 July 2010).