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Whistleblower Claims Waterboarding Occurred At Nauru Detention Centre

But the security company in charge of the centre has categorically denied the allegations of torture.

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A former guard working for Wilson Security has told a Senate committee about waterboarding of asylum seekers at the Nauru detention centre.

Parliament of Australia

Jon Nichols, who worked in the Bravo compound, said he heard members of the Emergency Response Team talking about how they had waterboarded detainees.

Waterboarding is an “enhanced interrogation” technique where the recipient feels as though they are drowning.

"I've seen detainees coming out of a tent, covered in water and coughing," Nichols told the committee.

"I've heard members of the ERT boast and brag about how they've waterboarded people, and it's never come out until now," he said.

Pressed on specifics by WA Liberal senator David Johnston, Nichols said he had not personally witnessed the event, but believed he saw the reaction afterwards.

"So you've seen people with water on them coming from a building?" asked Johnston.

"I've seen them with water coming out of their mouth, they were coughing up water," Nichols said.

He also gave evidence about hearing from other guards about the practise of "zipping", where detainees were ziptied to a metal bed with cable ties.

The committee also heard how Wilson Security changed their staff members' phones from iPhones to old Nokias in 2014, so they couldn't take pictures or videos.

Department of Immigration

"It came after they clamped down on people taking phones into the centre and I believe that was due to pictures being on Facebook or provided to the press," Nichols said.

He also told the committee that the camp was run like a "military style operation", with a culture of keeping things quiet.

He described "a strong RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] culture" and said many of the ex-military guards still saw the asylum seekers as the enemy.

In giving evidence about alleged spying on Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young Nichols said he was regularly told to shred paperwork, such as incident reports. The shredder was even given the nickname "File 13".

Other nicknames on the island included the Emergency Response Team being labelled Eating, Relaxing, Texting, because the staff were often idle, he said.

John Rogers, executive manager at Wilson Security was next to give evidence and said the torture claims were "preposterous" and "absurd".

Parliament of Australia

"I categorically confirm there has never been a report or the slightest rumour of activity of this nature," he told the committee.

"If these claims prove to be accurate it would be despicable and a complete departure from the culture we have built," he said.

Rogers was questioned about allegations that a Wilson guard had framed an asylum seeker, falsely claiming that he had been bashed. He confirmed that the matter had been passed on to Nauruan police.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton dismissed the claims on Thursday afternoon.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

"I am aware that there is legal action between Wilson and...a disgruntled employee and all these matters need to be put into context," he told reporters in Canberra.

John Nichols was questioned about a compensation claim lodged with Wilson, but he declined to provide details.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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