Abu Ghraib puts Aussie minister in hot water

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill has dismissed the censure motion he is facing over his department's failure to tell him about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by occupation forces.

    Hill visited Australia's occupation troops in Iraq

    Hill, who is weathering opposition efforts to link Australia to the prisoner abuse scandal at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib detention centre, admitted that he was embarrassed about mistakes made by defence officials in failing to pass on information collected by Australian military lawyers in Iraq.

    But a defiant Hill insisted that this failure should be overshadowed by what he described as Australia's military successes such as restoring law in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

    Hill has been under fire since it was discovered army lawyer Major George O'Kane sent reports back to Canberra as early as last October that included allegations of prisoner abuse.

    The Labour opposition, backed by the left wing Democrats and Greens which combine as a majority in the Senate, have called for Hill's sacking and intend to censure him on Monday for failing to take ministerial responsibility over the issue.

    But for reasons yet which have yet to become clear, O'Kane's knowledge of the allegations was not passed up the chain of command.

    Hill and Prime Minister John Howard had told parliament that no Australian had know of the abuse until January, although they later said they had done so inadvertently.

    Hill said the department was exploring ways to ensure a similar failure to pass on information did not happen again.



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