Afghan war crime victims deserve justice

Daniel McCulloch
·3-min read

Afghan human rights groups are demanding justice and accountability for victims of horrendous war crimes committed by Australian soldiers.

Australian special forces stand accused of murdering 39 people in Afghanistan and torturing two prisoners.

A chilling investigation has found junior patrol members were ordered to execute Afghan detainees, while weapons and evidence were planted on bodies to cover up unlawful deaths.

In one of the most gruesome incidents uncovered, Australian soldiers allegedly cut the throats of two 14-year-old boys and dumped their bodies in a river because they believed they were Taliban sympathisers.

In another, special forces allegedly massacred a village and then tortured survivors for days before killing them.

One Special Air Service squadron is being disbanded following the damning findings, while 19 serving or former soldiers will face possible prosecution and the stripping of their medals.

Compensation will be paid to Afghan families who lost loved ones.

Hadi Marifat from the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organisation said the release of the report and commencement of criminal investigations marked the beginning of a process of closure.

Mr Marifat said Afghan victims must be consulted.

"Nothing other than bringing to justice those responsible for unlawful killings and unlawful treatment can better heal the open wounds of the families of the victims," he said on Friday.

"The Australian government must consider providing meaningful and adequate counselling and reparations to the victims and their families, including through the establishment of a redress compensation scheme."

Other human rights groups have said the utter dehumanisation of the Afghan people was palpable and demanded that victims of war crimes by Australian special forces be heard.

"We deserve justice and accountability and an end to the culture of impunity and secrecy which has defined the conflict in Afghanistan, always at the expense of its people," said advocate Horia Mosadiq.

A four-year investigation by Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, Paul Brereton, laid bare the litany of war crimes.

Some of the soldiers accused of atrocities are still serving in the military.

Defence chief Angus Campbell has directed the head of the army to review each of their positions.

"I've got to make sure that whatever we do we treat people respectfully and we follow the processes and we deal with it," he told ABC radio.

General Campbell considered abolishing the entire SAS regiment after receiving the exhaustive report.

"But we believe very strongly the path forward for developing that regiment and Australia's special operations capability is by committing to building and working with the people to see a better organisation emerge."

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the Australian military must learn from the confronting inquiry.

"But the findings announced by the Chief of the Defence Force should not and must not - must not - cast a shadow on the service of the vast majority of men and women who have and continue to serve with such great distinction for our nation," she said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the report signalled a dark day in Australia's military history.

"These crimes were committed by personnel wearing our uniform, but this doesn't represent who Australia is," he told reporters in northern NSW.

"The response must be complete, must be decisive, must implement all of the recommendations in full."