The Politics    Thursday, November 19, 2020

‘Blooding’ Australia

By Paddy Manning

Image of Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell. Image via ABC News

The Brereton inquiry exposes unlawful killings by our special forces in Afghanistan

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell has apologised to the people of Australia and Afghanistan after the release of a heavily redacted version of Justice Paul Brereton’s Afghanistan Inquiry Report. The report finds credible evidence that some 25 special forces soldiers were involved in the unlawful killing of 39 prisoner, injured or non-combatant Afghanis in at least 23 separate incidents, including summary executions and a practice known as “blooding”, in which “junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill”. So-called “throwdowns” (weapons or devices) were planted to support claims that the killings were justified. General Campbell described the conduct as “appalling” and damaging to the ADF’s “moral authority as a military force”. Ahead of the release of the report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani overnight to express his “deepest sorrow over the misconduct by some Australian troops”, and told him that future investigations into the allegations would ensure justice. Today, General Campbell said he accepted all of the inspector-general’s findings and a plan was being developed to put his 143 recommendations into action. In a statement, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said accountability would be the cornerstone of the Defence department’s response to the report. Shadow defence minister Richard Marles and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus called on the government to accept all of the report’s recommendations and backed the creation of the Office of the Special Investigator to oversee the investigations following this report. “It is now appropriate that it is allowed to do its work free of any prejudice or political interference,” they said.

At a press conference this afternoon, Marles said it was not a day for politics, and he went back to the reasons for Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war – after almost 20 years, our country’s longest. “Our objective was to deny Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism,” said Marles. “We should never forget that Australians lost their lives on September 11. We should never forget that the organisation which perpetrated the Bali bombings utilised training camps in Afghanistan. This objective was achieved. From there, Australia stood in that group of nations which were willing to give help to a country which sought assistance as Afghanistan did.”

At General Campbell’s press conference in Canberra, investigative journalist Chris Masters brought up the same history, asking what had been achieved, given that Afghanistan was still largely in ruin and negotiations were underway with the Taliban. Campbell replied: “Chris, if I ask my people and our veterans, there is a great deal of pride in what was achieved, and I think it is important to think about this from the point of view of seeking to give the Afghani people … and the government of the day an opportunity to find their path forward, and that is what we did. I think that is a good and honourable thing. What they are now doing is entering into a process of negotiation to seek to end the wars that have ravaged their country for many, many years, and I wish them the very best in that process.” 

Justice Brereton also recommended no action be taken against key individuals who helped bring the war crimes to light. Independent crossbench senator Rex Patrick has urged the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to drop charges against former military lawyer David McBride – who blew the whistle on the conduct of Australia’s special forces – describing him as a hero. McBride’s lawyer, Mark Davis, said it was unfathomable that his client was facing jail. “Since 2014 David McBride was alerting Defence to the central matter that has now been highlighted by Justice Brereton – the culture of impunity that was created and overseen by army command. He exposed this at great cost to his career and reputation, and is now facing a jail cell for doing what he saw as his proper duty.” 

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning 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.

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