“For many Australians, looking back on a history of war heroism, it will be hard to take in what the investigation by Justice Paul Brereton has found: 25 current or former soldiers, from the special forces, allegedly perpetrated, as principals or accessories, war crimes in Afghanistan”, wrote Michelle Grattan in her Friday column commenting on the IGADF Afghanistan report.
Should it be as surprising as it is being made out to be?
Michelle’s answer to that question is a ‘NO’.
How could we end up owning up, allegedly though killing 39 innocent Afghanis and treating other with cruelty? Experts blame the culture within.
39 Killings, Cruel Treatment, “Blooding” and “Throwdowns”
The report has found evidence of 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 Afghan civilians by Australian special forces personnel. There are a further two incidents of “cruel treatment”.
The report says:
Typically, the patrol commander would take a person under control and the junior member would then be directed to kill the person under control. “Throwdowns” would be placed with the body, and a “cover story” was created for the purposes of operational reporting and to deflect scrutiny. This was reinforced with a code of silence.
This practice probably originated for the less egregious though still dishonest purpose of avoiding scrutiny where a person who was legitimately engaged turned out not to be armed. But it evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings.
“Blooding” and “Throwdowns”
The inquiry also found “credible information” that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice known as “blooding”.
“Throwdowns” — other weapons or radios — would be planted with the body, and a “cover story” was created.
President of the Law Council of Australia Pauline Wright has expressed concern over the findings of the Report released by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF).
The report alleges murder, torture and abuse of civilians and prisoners of war as crimes committed by Australians which will now be subject of consideration by the special investigator announced last week by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The Law Council points out that the Report cannot and does not find guilt in any individual case, and the findings are limited to whether there is ‘credible information’ of breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict.
Welcoming the establishment of a special investigator office to explore these allegations against members of the ADF, Law Council president Pauline Wright said, “the government has an obligation to deal with the allegations in a timely way; however, the investigation process must be thorough and fair – not only for the victims of the alleged crimes but also for the people being investigated.”
“Whether any of the soldiers referred for investigation have committed war crimes has not been determined, and they are entitled to the presumption of innocence. The question of their guilt or innocence can only be determined by a court,” Ms Wright added.
The Report concludes and rightly so, that payment of compensation does not need to be contingent on establishing criminal liability. Compensating a person for harm suffered should not depend on a finding of guilt to the criminal standard.
There are calls now that the charges against whistleblower David McBride should be reconsidered, given the report suggests that Australian soldiers may have been involved in war crimes.
Dusty Miller, a witness to the inquiry says he feels “complete vindication” by the report detailing alleged murders of Afghan civilians and prisoners.
Dusty Miller was a medic in the SAS and gave testimony to the inquiry about what he saw in Afghanistan.
“It’s all true. It happened. It’s factual … it’s what happened over there, it’s something that I witnessed on a number of occasions,” he has been quoted as saying by the ABC.
The IGADF report not only raises problems for Australia and those accused of war crimes now facing further investigation (and potential prosecution), it also points to a much bigger issue of geo-political strategies of various governments which may be mired in deep personal interests of leaders leading those nations.