Inquiry examines war crime allegations

Paul Osborne
·3-min read

AFGHANISTAN INQUIRY

BACKGROUND

* The inquiry began in May 2016, examining whether there is any substance to rumours and allegations relating to possible breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict by members of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016

* It is an administrative process, not a criminal investigation, but has the powers of a royal commission

* The inquiry is also intended to exonerate those impacted by unsubstantiated rumours and allegations

* It is led by Major General Paul Brereton, who is also a NSW Supreme Court judge

INQUIRY PROCESS

* The inquiry was conducted in private because it involves matters of operational security and protected identities. It also aimed to protect lines of inquiry and the reputations of those who may be unfairly harmed by publication of unsubstantiated rumours

* It examined 338 witnesses and 55 separate incidents or issues, mainly alleged unlawful killings of persons who were non-combatants or were no longer combatants, but also 'cruel treatment' of such people

* The inquiry also examined whether organisational, operational and cultural factors enabled the alleged breaches

* It was not focused on decisions made during the 'heat of battle', but rather the treatment of people who were clearly non-combatants or who were no longer combatants.

COMPLICATIONS

* The inquiry has been complicated by the fact that the incidents and potential witnesses can't be easily identified. The starting-point was rumours of Special Forces soldiers' very serious wrongdoing over a period of more than 10 years. Each rumour had to be tracked down to witnesses and records.

* Also had the problem of giving special forces personnel the confidence to enable them to make disclosures to the inquiry, as they are used to secrecy.

* The inquiry team found over time "more witnesses have been prepared to make disclosures, and new evidence has continued to emerge, some resulting in new lines of inquiry, and some reinforcing or corroborating existing lines of inquiry".

* In March 2020, ABC Four Corners aired footage from a helmet camera showing an Australian soldier shooting dead an apparently unarmed Afghan man in a field in May 2012. A former SAS soldier has also told the program he saw three incidents of alleged murder. Afghan villagers provided details as well, saying an SAS squadron raided the village of Sola in Uruzgan province on August 31, 2012, days after a rogue Afghan soldier killed three Australian troops. Villagers were allegedly blindfolded and tied up, and a local imam and his son were shot dead

* There have also been issues raised in the media about Victoria Cross recipient, Ben Roberts-Smith

* IGADF provided the report to the Chief of the Defence Force on November 6

WHAT WILL BE IN THE REPORT

The report will include:

* A summary and analysis of the evidence pertaining to each significant line of inquiry, and a conclusion as to whether or not and to what extent there is evidence of a breach of the Law of Armed Conflict or other misconduct.

* Where there is evidence of misconduct, recommendations for consideration by the Chief of the Defence Force as to what action should be taken to address it.

* A review of the structural, operational, command and cultural environment and recommendations about potential reforms and measures to address them, in order to minimise any risk of recurrence.

* Provide closure for the many serving and former soldiers who have lived with concerns about the subject matter of these rumours for many years.

WHAT NEXT?

* Office of the Special Investigator will be set up in 2021 acting under the powers of the Australian Federal Police commissioner.

* The Special Inspector will address criminal matters made in the report and investigate allegations, gather evidence and, where appropriate, refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

* An independent oversight panel will advise on cultural, organisational and leadership issues.

(Source: November 2019 annual report of the Inspector-General of the ADF; Prime Minister's Media Conference, November 12)