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Australian war crimes inquiry, who are the real instigators of terror?

This morning, Thursday the 19th of November 2020, the findings of an extensive inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan, led by the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force and Supreme Court judge of New South Wales, Major General Justice Paul Brereton, have been released. The focus of the investigation was not on decisions made in the ‘heat of battle’ but instead, in uncovering the treatment of unarmed civilians and non-combatant soldiers. The findings of this report offer insight into the profoundly disturbing culture perpetuated within the defence force. This report unequivocally attaches themes of blood lust, entitlement and elitism to Australian special forces and begs the question, how can we as a nation possibly define a terrorist, when this report unambiguously substantiates that the real instigators of terror are our most prominent soldiers?

What are the findings of the inquiry?

· Australian special forces are alleged to have been a part of the murder of 39 Afghan civilians. Each death took place not in battle, but in non-combative circumstances.

· The majority of these deaths involved deliberate cover ups by special forces, which involved planted ‘throwdowns’ of weapons and equipment onto corpses as ‘justification’ for the killings.

· 143 recommendations were made within the report, with Defence Force Chief, Angus Campbell, promising to act on the disturbing findings by implementing each of the recommendations.

· 25 perpetrators have been identified either as being principally involved in the killings, or as accessories to murder.

· Evidence suggests members of the forces gloated about ‘kill counts’, bragging about the violent nature of the murders which involved the slitting of throats, a profoundly disturbing insight into defence force culture.

· Of these 25 perpetrators, some are still serving in the Australian Defence Force.

What happens next?

Scott Morrison has announced that a special investigator will be appointed to supplement the Australian Federal Police in investigating and prosecuting the allegations, however, the waters are muddied with the review period comprising five prime ministers under both Coalition and labor governments. There is anticipation that this special investigator could take years to formally lay charges. The government announced last week that it will additionally establish a panel providing independent oversight to ensure the defence force cannot evade the inquiry’s finding, ensuring implementation of recommendations and prosecution. However, the nature of this report reveals that dramatic measures need to be taken in order to transform defence force culture. The oversight panel is comprised of Robert Cornall, a former secretary of the attorney general, Dr Vivienne Thomm, a past inspector of intelligence and security and Prof Rufus Black, a vice-chancellor of the University of Tasmania. The announcement of the additional investigator and panel by Morrison is a glaring reality of the breadth of the report, with the Prime Minister indicating that the Australian Federal Police, who would usually handle the prosecution of war crimes, would be overwhelmed by the findings. It is important to note that from a legal standpoint, the assemblage of evidence will be an immense challenge in prosecuting these individuals. The collection of physical evidence in an international war zone is an undeniable barrier, with further difficulty arising in the potential to access Afghan witnesses, further demonstrating the difficulties with achieving justice in the context of war crimes. Interestingly, Scott Morrison has already announced that Australian war crimes would not go before the International Criminal Court, the only international court of perpetuity with the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for war crimes.

After four years, the study of 45,000 documents and images and the interviewing of more than 400 witnesses, this report engages with a repulsive yet unsurprising truth: Australian military culture is violent, entitled and indefensible. Canvassing and amplifying disturbing stories, attitudes and cover-ups, it would be irresponsible to suggest anything besides closure of the special forces regime. Major structural and cultural change must occur within the ADF, who have undeniably committed terrorist acts that will take years to convict. This is not ‘speculation’, this is yet another badge of violence to add to Australia’s trophy cabinet. If this inquiry does not corroborate the inherent blood lust and power compulsion which is so deeply engrained into our collective culture, what will?

Cover image source: The Canberra Times