‘Disgraceful and profound betrayal…’ Maj General Paul Brereton

Words can scarcely describe the shame we feel knowing 39 Afghan non-combatant citizens were killed and brutalised by special forces of the Australian Defence Force.

The shocking reality is that none of the murders took place in the ‘heat of battle’ meaning they should constitute war crimes. 

Junior soldiers were instructed to execute prisoners in cold blood. Bodies were bagged and thrown in the river. So far 25 soldiers have been identified as perpetrators and some are still serving in the ADF.

The Brereton Report found there was a failure of oversight, that commanders were viewed by subordinates as ‘demigods’, there was a ‘warrior culture’ and a culture of secrecy and cover-up. Complaints about the conduct of special forces by Afghan nationals and human rights groups were ignored or dismissed.

We saw reports of some of these atrocities four years ago and been warned to expect the worst in the report but this devastating.  

The repercussions are immense, in our relations with Afghanistan and the Muslim world, and the effect on the good women and men in the ADF. 

It is an understatement to say that this behaviour undermines the good work of the ADF in helping that country counteract terrorism, bring stability and an end to Afghanistan’s decades of conflict.  Our SAS have behaved like terrorists, a law unto themselves. 

Apologies have been made to Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan but much, much more needs to be done.

The Minister and the ADF must take responsibility. Criminal prosecutions recommended by the report for 19 individuals and 23 incidents, compensation to the victims and a massive overhaul in the chain of command in the ADF will be required so this is never again repeated. Serious consideration should be given to disbanding this separate, elite band of soldiers.

We must be a country that respects the Geneva Convention and the rule of law and no one is above those laws. 

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