By Tim Anderson, Director of the CCHS
Nearly six months after the Brereton Report found that Australian soldiers had murdered at least 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners, between 2005 and 2016, the Morrison Government is showing strong determination to bury that report and cover up those war crimes.
The only Australian soldier to be charged so far is key Army whistleblower David McBride; while 13 others who spoke to Brereton, as accessories or witnesses, are reported as being quietly sacked from the Australian Defence Forces (ADF). Not a single soldier has been charged with war crimes and Special Investigator Chris Moraitis says that even investigation of such crimes is still “months away”. The Brereton inquiry itself interviewed 423 witnesses.
Reports that the Morrison government is sidelining war crimes detailed in the Brereton report also refer to the medical discharge of soldiers and soft deflection to an ethics review within the ADF. The dismissals are despite the fact that Brereton specifically recommended that there should be no action against whistleblowers or other witnesses: “It is crucial that their careers be seen to prosper,” he said.
Despite his apparent vindication by the Brereton report, David McBride still faces five ‘national security related’ charges, which carry sentences of up to life imprisonment.
Until other problems overtook him, the key government minister behind this cover up was the former Attorney General Christian Porter. His department arranges special inquiries and has advised the ADF on the fallout from the Brereton report, the McBride case and related matters such as defence force pensions.
While Attorney General Porter has told the media that the federal government would “not intervene” in the McBride case, sources close to McBride say that Porter has tried to make his office a party to the case, alongside the DPP, and to push for secret hearings.
Calls to drop the charges against McBride have come from the Sydney Criminal Lawyers group, independent MPs, NGOs and academics. Even Murdoch’s Australian, which backed all seven of the US-led 21st century wars in the Middle East, is commenting on the failure of senior Army managers to take responsibility for the crimes.
However the Morrison Government seems determined to make an example of David McBride, the former Army officer and lawyer, by jailing him.
McBride is pleading not guilty to all charges and will try to interpose the limited legal options available to Australian whistle-blowers, at his next hearing in May.
This Afghan war crimes cover up has echoes of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s false claim that the Australian Air Force joined with US planes in the slaughter of over a hundred Syrian soldiers in September 2016 was simply a “mistake”. The Australian corporate media passively accepted that lie, despite substantial evidence that the massacre was a carefully planned operation.