CANBERRA -  Australia is harbouring murderers, torturers and other war criminals, including a former bodyguard of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a new probe has found.

Oday Adnan Al Tekriti, who helped track down fleeing dissidents for Saddam's son Qusay, lives in Adelaide.

Others identified in the Sydney Morning Herald investigation as perpetrators of crimes against humanity included self-confessed Lebanese and Sri Lankan torturers, and another Sri Lankan who admitted taking part in a massacre of refugees.

The revelations follow a long series of similar cases that began with alleged Nazis after World War II. The Government established a Special Investigations Unit in the 1990s to find and prosecute alleged war criminals. It was shut down without a prosecution, despite evidence about alleged war criminals living in Australia. Revelations of Australia's acceptance of people alleged to have committed similar crimes followed the Balkans wars.

The Herald probe has renewed outrage, especially with the identification of Al Tekriti, 38, whose former leader is now on trial for crimes against humanity. Australian troops fought against his regime during the Iraq war and diggers remain in Iraq.

The Herald reported that Al Tekriti was a major in Saddam's private security system and acted as a personal bodyguard to the former dictator before joining Qusay's Special Security Branch. He fled Iraq after the poisoning of his father, a senior official who fell out of favour.

Al Tekriti paid US$600 ($840) to people-smugglers for passage by boat from Indonesia to Ashmore Reef off northern Western Australia, where he was arrested and placed in detention.

Although he claimed not to have taken part in atrocities committed by the Special Security Branch, immigration officials initially refused him refugee status because there were serious reasons to consider that he had committed crimes against humanity.

This finding was overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Al Tekriti later married a Singapore-born Australian doctor, Bernice Pfiztner, and is now allowed to remain in Australia while is case is being reviewed.

Australian laws allow for the prosecution of people who are alleged to have committed crimes against humanity overseas.

The Herald said Al Tekriti and other - often self-confessed - war criminals could not be charged because their crimes predated the legislation.

Decisions on guilt or innocence were made by immigration officials without legal training, and, if war criminals were deported, no details of their crimes were disclosed to their Governments under laws designed to protect genuine refugees.

Many were able to stay in Australia for long periods - if not permanently - because of the slowness of the appeals system.

The Herald said it had found more than 30 published court decisions where asylum seekers living in Australia had appealed against immigration decisions to deny them visas after finding there were serious reasons to consider they had committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.