Australian war crimes
The Brereton inquiry will deliver a jolt to the national psyche
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds were especially grave at a press conference this afternoon to announce the government’s response to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s four-year Afghanistan Inquiry, which delivered its final report last week. The inquiry, by Justice Paul Brereton, was set up to investigate allegations of war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. Investigative journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters – who first reported some of the most serious allegations, including against Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith – recently wrote that special forces commander Adam Findlay had told troops in Perth that Brereton’s findings would be so bad it would take the Special Air Service (SAS) 10 years to rebuild trust with the Australian community and government. A flavour of the allegations was contained in a Nine newspaper report, after the Federal Court ordered Roberts-Smith – who is suing for defamation – to hand over some preliminary findings of the Brereton inquiry. The documents confirm Roberts-Smith was a focus of the inquiry over allegations of unlawful killings, including that of Ali Jan, a farmer who in 2012 in Darwan was kicked off a cliff while handcuffed and then shot dead. The redacted findings of the Brereton inquiry will be released by Defence Force chief Angus Campbell next week, along the with the ADF response, but Reynolds said today she had “no doubt whatsoever that this is likely to be a very difficult and a very distressing time for those impacted by this report”.
Morrison and Reynolds announced that a new special investigator – a senior counsel or retired judge – will address potential criminal matters raised by the Brereton inquiry, and will investigate allegations, gather evidence and (where appropriate) refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. The PM stressed that the new Office of the Special Investigator represents the “continuation of a process, not a new process”, and said it is necessary because the AFP – who would normally prepare a brief of evidence for the CDPP – does not have the scale or expertise to investigate allegations of war crimes in a foreign country, and would be “overwhelmed” by the task. The time frame for the investigation of the allegations was “indeterminate”, he said.
Morrison and Reynolds also established the independent Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel, chaired by former inspector-general of intelligence and security Vivienne Thom, to ensure that the ADF responds adequately to the Brereton inquiry in terms of cultural, organisational and leadership changes. Neither Morrison nor Reynolds would be drawn today on measures that might be announced, such as disbanding the SAS.
In a joint statement, shadow defence minister Richard Marles and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus welcomed the government’s announcement, saying: “We must have confidence in the behaviour, standing and culture within the ranks of those who wear our nation’s uniform.”
Australians have been shocked by a string of revelations by reporters over recent years. Aside from Masters and McKenzie’s work, there was also Dan Oakes and Sam Clark’s 2017 “Afghan Files” – which triggered sensational AFP raids against the ABC last year and a long-running criminal investigation which was only recently dropped – and the recent Four Corners episode “Killing Field”, reported by Mark Willacy, with its shocking headcam footage of an apparent execution.
Both Morrison and Reynolds were at pains to stress that most of the 26,000 Australian men and women who have served in uniform in Afghanistan since 2001 – including 41 who lost their lives – have served with “great distinction”. Next week’s revelations – and the ADF response – will undoubtedly deliver a jolt to the national psyche.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds were especially grave at a press conference this afternoon to announce the government’s response to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s four-year Afghanistan Inquiry, which delivered its final report last week. The inquiry, by Justice Paul Brereton, was set up to investigate allegations of war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. Investigative journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters – who first reported some of the most serious allegations, including against Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith – recently wrote that special forces...
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