Prime Minister John Howard will be there at Private Jake Kovco’s
military funeral in his home town of Briagolong in Victoria today – as will the continuing
doubts over the circumstances of our first service death in Iraq.

First, there’s this ambiguity stemming from yesterday’s Canberra Times
piece
.
It talks of “fears expressed by investigators that
moving the body, and tampering with the scene of the accident, could seriously
compromise any investigation, and upset the chain or continuity of evidence
upon which any military charges or discipline might depend.”

We were told in reports, like this one from the Herald Sun
last week,
that Kovco “died
in a US Army combat surgical hospital where he was surrounded by his
mates, who
draped his body in an Australian flag and with a paratrooper’s beret on
his
chest as they said The Lord’s Prayer”. Does that bit from the Canberra Times about “moving the body” suggest Kovco died elsewhere?

The Fairfax broadsheets carry details of the findings of the autopsy on Kovco today.
The SMHreports:

Amid
concerns of a military cover-up, the NSW Coroner, John Abernethy, took over the
investigation, with the agreement of the Kovco family. An
autopsy on Sunday confirmed that Private Kovco died of a single gunshot wound
to the head. The Herald has been told the bullet entered the right side of
Private Kovco’s head and that there were no burn marks consistent with the
weapon having been fired at close range.

The
coroner “will now focus on the manner … by which Private Kovco might
have sustained a gunshot wound to the head,” Mr Abernethy said yesterday. “In
these circumstances it would be entirely inappropriate for this office, or
indeed any person, to comment further on this outstanding issue until my
investigation is completed.”

There are also details of investigations to be carried out Baghdad – but the Herald also reports this
“could be delayed by the Defence Force’s insistence that every member of the
coroner’s team do a three-day course dealing with protective equipment and
survival techniques”. Abernethy’s investigation will run parallel to a military
inquiry.

Now, there are concerns over how long it will take for the inquiries to
report. Private Kovco is being laid to rest today, but his full story will
remain untold for some time yet.

Peter Fray

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