The truth hurts

By November 23, 2020Australian Politics

An investigation into the behaviour of members of the Australian Defence Force has recently been completed and the report stemming from it has been handed to the government. The investigation was undertaken by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force and was led by Major General Justice Paul Brereton1. From this, two things have become crystal clear: firstly, the armed forces and the government do not like the truth; and secondly, David McBride is being punished for revealing the truth.

Earlier, an inquiry was commissioned in 2016 by then Special Operations Commander, Major General Jeff Sengelman, and was backed by then Chief of Army, Angus Campbell. The inquiry was conducted by defence department consultant and military sociologist, Dr Samantha Crompvoets. She initially set out to understand special forces culture, reputation and trust, but her interviews with soldiers led her to deviate from her original objective. Some special forces members began to approach her independently, sometimes on condition of anonymity. Her position as independent of defence, but having been directly engaged by the chief of the defence force, put her in a unique position. Her report revealed that special forces insiders have confidentially disclosed “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations” by Australian special forces soldiers which extend to a “disregard for human life and dignity”2,3. This report by Crompvoets is what triggered the Brereton investigation.

Brereton’s final report has now been provided to the government and a very heavily redacted version supplied to the media. The report found the following:

  • Special forces were responsible for 39 unlawful killings, the vast majority of which involved prisoners, and were deliberately covered up.
  • These people were killed in 23 incidents, either by special forces or at the instruction of special forces.
  • None of the killings took place in the heat of battle, and they all occurred in circumstances which could constitute the war crime of murder.
  • All the victims were either non-combatants or were no longer combatants.
  • A total of 25 perpetrators have been identified either as principals or accessories. Some are still serving in the ADF1.

In 2014, a military lawyer for special forces, Major David McBride gathered top secret files from the computers at the Headquarters of the Joint Operations Command, east of Canberra. He compiled the material into a lengthy dossier that charted his complaints about the military. These included the possible war crimes, the handling of sex abuse allegations in the Army and the treatment of women in the ADF. He initially sent his report upwards within the ADF, but was apparently ignored. He then went to the Australian Federal Police, but nothing happened, so he eventually leaked the material to journalists at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)4. This is how the 2017 ABC television report ‘The Afghan Files’ was initiated5. The ABC report was written by Dan Oakes and Sam Clark6. After this story was broadcast, all hell broke loose. Oakes and Clark were notified they were under investigation, ABC offices were raided by the Australian Federal Police, who asked prosecutors to consider charging Oakes for publishing classified information7. McBride was arrested and eventually charged in early 20198.

After an outcry from many parts of the media it was decided that the prosecution of Oakes would not proceed. The Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) said there was a reasonable chance of securing a conviction against Oakes over the leaked classified documents that he used to form the basis of his reporting, but that there was no public interest in pursuing a prosecution9. Now there is a great deal of pressure on the government from sections of the media and the public, to drop the case against McBride10. For his leaking of the classified documents, McBride could face a life sentence. That is a measure of how much the government and the defence force hate the truth, for the Brereton report has demonstrated that what McBride leaked was, in fact, the truth. If the prosecution of McBride continues, it will be interesting to hear in his evidence, the names of those in the hierarchy to whom he initially passed his report and who ignored it.

The vindictiveness with which McBride has been pursued is not unusual. This government is pursuing ‘Witness K’, and his lawyer Bernard Collaery with just as much venom and is doing it in secret. Their crime was uncovering the bugging of the Timor L’Este cabinet offices by the Australian Security Intelligence Service for the Howard Government, solely to give Woodside the upper hand in negotiations over their share of Timor Gap hydrocarbons11.

Governments hate the truth, and this one hates it more than many previous Australian governments. That is why they are so addicted to secrecy.

Sources

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/nov/19/australian-special-forces-involved-in-of-39-afghan-civilians-war-crimes-report-alleges
  2. https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/sas-soldiers-committed-alleged-war-crimes-in-afghanistan-official-report-20180531-p4zikl.html
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/nov/15/australian-war-crimes-inquiry-report-will-force-adf-to-re-think-special-forces-culture-expert-says
  4. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/what-i-ve-done-makes-sense-to-me-the-complicated-colourful-life-of-david-mcbride-20190621-p5204h.html
  5. https://iview.abc.net.au/video/NN2014H001S00
  6. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-11/killings-of-unarmed-afghans-by-australian-special-forces/8466642?nw=0
  7. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-02/federal-police-seek-charges-abc-investigation-afghan-files-dpp/12415930
  8. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-07/former-defence-lawyer-charged-with-leaking-documents-to-media/10879656
  9. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-15/dan-oakes-afghan-files-prosecution-decision/12771304
  10. https://www.theage.com.au/national/if-moral-courage-matters-this-whistleblower-needs-defending-20201116-p56ey4.html
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/10/witness-k-and-the-outrageous-spy-scandal-that-failed-to-shame-australia

4 Comments

  • Russell says:

    How in Hell can we still entertain the utter fiction that the government (as it abysmally now stands) is transparent and forthright with the Australian people ( – being known as a democratic, open-to-inquiry political organisation ??). It has virtually given itself carte blanche to not speak up clearly, or to deny media investigation of some issues. Such as the disgusting, outright illegal slaughter in Afghanistan/Iraq mentioned above. The press and media too often feed us bullshit, keeping us in the dark like proverbial mushrooms. But thankfully, a few top-class journalists working for the ABC or the S M Herald, walk tall, far above lousy, boring muckrakers like Miranda Devine, Bolt the Dolt and their company. It is those morally committed media figures who need protection, indeed encouragement, to go seeking whatever national evil must be corrected. But the unethical Liberals seem to think if they declare a matter in the interest of national security, that it’s a passport to obfuscation of bad deeds, pathetic avoidance of hard questions, and rank contempt for the voters who put these creatures in powerful positions. Democracy? HA, I kissed it goodbye long ago.

    • admin says:

      Russell,
      Sometimes it feels like we are seeing the demise of democracy in Australia. I put the blame clearly on the real journalists who have been too lazy and too comfortable in dealing with politicians. In the light of this, politicians have taken their cue from Trump in realising they can get away with massive lying and obfuscation, as many journalists are too comfortable to be bothered to pick these up. I actually read one (cannot remember which one) who actually said that she ‘took Morrison’ statements at face value’. I thought to myself ‘Jeezuz, why would you do that?’ when Morrison is such an appalling liar and obfuscater that he makes Tony Abbott look truthful. While you expect the worst from the ‘ruperters’ in the Murdoch media, and will continue to do so until they disappear up their own fundament, I expect better from real journalists. The silliest recent example is perhaps the photo of Morrison in business shirt and suit jacket with shorts and thongs. Morrison was supposed to be in isolation after his pointless Japan trip. This photo was taken not by Morrison but by a photographer (it’s been suggested it was a Murdoch photographer; one always has to have one’s photographer with one in isolation). This photo appeared in Murdoch’s Daily Bellylaugh as more evidence of the daggy dad persona of Morrison. However it was also put about online by some ‘real’ journalists including the ABC’s Michael Rowland. I had to let him know that he had been played for a sucker. Based on what I have seen, and after much hammer on social media, I think the tide is beginning to turn.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        To their credit, the three on “Insiders” on Sunday morning firmly dismissed the photo of Morrison in his shorts as simply “marketing”.

        • admin says:

          Arthur,
          I make my decision whether to watch it or not, based on those on the couch (figuratively speaking). I watched it then because they had real journalists on, not vacuous blatherers or liars. To actually have someone like Simon Benson and sundry other ‘ruperters’ on insiders is an affront to journalism, let alone Insiders.

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