In Australia, an inquiry discovered “credible evidence” that special forces personnel had carried out murder and willful cover-up of war crimes in Afghanistan.
The report can be found here. [pdf]
This also frequently took place with complicity of their patrol commanders.
One of the Special Air Service subunits involved will be disbanded by the Chief of Army.
Released on November 18th, the Brereton report made some interesting revelations, but also absolved the high leadership of Australian defense of any knowledge.
The report revealed that 39 Afghans were allegedly murdered by Australian special forces in 23 incidents. Two more were cruelly treated.
The practice also facilitated the “blooding” of new members, an initiation exercise in which they take their first kill. The investigation also found a further two people were cruelly treated.
Major General Paul Brereton’s investigation took a four-year inquiry.
The timeline of the killings dated from 2006 to 2013. Brereton identified several reasons why it took so long for the reports to come to light.
The commanders trusted their subordinates in the field and were protective of them during investigations.
This was exploited by patrols to keep information to themselves. The troops complied because their patrol commanders were “demi-gods” who can make or break their careers, and the prospect of being a “lemon” was a devastating one.
Brereton said that the circumstances of each, were they to be eventually accepted by a jury, would constitute the war crime of murder.
In all cases, the report finds it “was or should have been plain that the person killed was a non-combatant”. The chief of the defence force, Angus Campbell, said that in each case, the intent cannot be in dispute.
“None were alleged to have occurred in circumstances in which the intent of the perpetrator was unclear, confused or mistaken,” he said. “And every person spoken to by the inquiry thoroughly understood the law of armed conflict and the rules of engagement under which they operated.”
There was also a culture of covering up these actions.
Patrols would compartmentalize from their leaders and from one another, hiding their actions on the battlefield from all, it said.
Operational reports were allegedly “sanitized” to make it appear as though special forces were complying with the laws of engagement.
“Operation summaries and other reports frequently did not truly and accurately report the facts of engagements, even where they were innocent and lawful, but were routinely embellished, often using ‘boilerplate’ language, in order proactively to demonstrate apparent compliance with rules of engagement, and to minimize the risk of attracting the interest of higher headquarters,” the report said.
The Defense Force Chief General Angus Campbell offered an apology to the Afghanistan people.
He described the alleged conduct as “shameful”, “deeply disturbing” and “appalling”. Brereton, the inquiry head, described it as “disgraceful and a profound betrayal” of all the Australian Defence Force stood for.
When asked what he would say to the families of the dead, Campbell said:
“I am sincerely sorry for their loss and I can imagine the pain, the suffering and the uncertainty that that loss has caused, both at the time and that continued uncertainty of how this happened,” he said. “My sincere apologies to them and a desire to find a way to make recompense.”
Not one person interviewed as part of the investigation was unaware or unclear that the behaviour in these incidents was unlawful.
“History teaches that the failure to comprehensively deal with allegations and indicators of breaches of Law of Armed Conflict as they begin to emerge and circulate is corrosive,” Brereton wrote.
“It gives spurious allegations life, and serious allegations a degree of impunity.
“The consequences of not addressing such allegations as and when they eventually arise are measured in decades.”
The inquiry was not always able to determine who was responsible for the killing, but a “code of silence” meant all present were complicit.
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