A week after the release of a damning report that revealed Australian special forces had unlawfully killed 39 innocent Afghan civilians and then waged a campaign to cover up the slaughter, the military has begun proceedings to dismiss 13 soldiers serving in the force.
The four-year investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general exposed an extreme “warrior culture” within the elite special forces.
It found credible evidence that more than two dozen current or former soldiers had either been involved as principal actors or as accessories in the killing of 39 Afghan adolescents, prisoners, farmers and other civilians between 2005 and 2016.
A redacted version of the report was released Thursday after weeks of discussion about its contents, and sparked fierce global condemnation. Australia’s defence force chief, General Angus Campbell, said the findings allege the “most serious breaches” of military conduct and professional values.
One of the killings was described in the report as ‘possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history’ but details were completely redacted.
Graham Hryce, an Australian journalist and former media lawyer, writing on RT.com, said: “This unconscionable delay has been made worse by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s extraordinary announcement this week that yet another inquiry is to be established, and that, only when that has been completed will any criminal prosecutions of the murderers commence.”
“Rather, they will no doubt hope that the never-ending inquiry process will simply drift off into the future, and that the Afghanistan war crimes issue – and, more particularly, their own responsibility for it, together with their inept handling of it – will fade from public consciousness.”
Hryce said the report (very conveniently) then went on to completely exonerate upper-echelon army officers – on the grounds that they did not have a “sufficient degree of command and control to attract the principles of command responsibility.”
But he cited prominent Australian commentator Alan Jones, who pointed out this week, that this finding is contrary to the “Yamashita Standard” which holds that “a Commander can be held accountable for crimes committed by his troops, even if he did not order them, did not know about them or did not have the means to stop them.”
‘I can’t speak to the particular circumstances,’ Campbell said, when asked about chapter 2.50 in the first part of the report.
‘That is why it is redacted. But Justice Brereton does describe something that is utterly disgraceful. It is right that it needs legally to be redacted. In time, in the time of history to be written, it is shameful.’
Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s High Council National Reconciliation, slammed the alleged murders.
‘There is no way to define this brutality. There is no way to explain what has happened. It is incomprehensible.These are crimes against innocent people, and I was shocked. At the same time, the Australian government has come very clear with it – about what has happened.”
Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson told Al Jazeera that Afghan victims deserve swift and independent justice for the “deliberate and cold-blooded killings.”
“Ultimately, if we’re talking about accountability, this should not just stop with the people who pulled the trigger and killed these people in Afghanistan,” she told the BBC.
“This is also about command responsibility and so I think that it’s very important that those who knew or who should have known are also held to account and are held criminally liable for these acts. Because ultimately, this was a culture where killings were normalised, in some cases, encouraged. That culture really needs to change.”
Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on Friday said the disturbing allegations of “absolutely clear-cut murder and war crimes made her feel physically ill.”
Despite the brutality of the crimes, Hryce believes the no one will really be held accountable and the issue will melt away: “This, more likely than not, is precisely what will happen. It is, unfortunately, the way that most contemporary western democracies and the elites that govern them handle such crises, and get away with it.”