Morrison also withdrew. The Brereton report recommended that Australia should pay compensation to the victims and their families and that this should be done without delay. Two days after the report was published, the prime minister suggested that compensation was not an issue being addressed by the government.
Why not? He did not say. A few months later, Australia ended its diplomatic and military withdrawal from Afghanistan, complicating the still-unfinished task of arranging payments for families who had lost dependents and suffered countless pains.
Outside the government, commentators and political aspirants are trying to make hay by loudly opposing responsibility for military misconduct. The phrase “the best of the best” has been looked up. Journalists are being hunted down, sued and even subjected to a criminal investigation for daring to write stories about possible war crimes. A former officer who has testified about suspected war crimes had to be moved to his family earlier this year after her home was attacked and her windows blown in.
As for the Ministry of Defense, its Afghanistan Investigation Reform Plan adopts a euphemistic tone that contradicts the seriousness of the investigation’s findings. Brereton found evidence of the illegal killing and cruel treatment of prisoners as well as what is being described as “possibly the most shameful episode in Australia’s military history”. It is therefore grim that the defense reform plan does not mention war crimes at all.
Instead, it speaks of “transformational reform” and “modernization” of doctrine and education. The humane treatment of persons deprived of their liberty has been a fundamental cornerstone of the law of armed conflict for centuries. You do not need very modern doctrinal training to know that it is illegal to shoot prisoners with cold blood.
This double-talk in defense stands in stark contrast to the dignified courage of those who have worked to uncover the hard truth: whistleblowers, journalists, and the Afghan witnesses who to date have had the chance to testify.
The Office of the Special Investigator has indicated that its investigations are not limited to the cases referred to it by the Brereton investigation and that it is investigating “a number of other sources and allegations”. This is a welcome development, especially as the Brereton report ignored several issues. These include the need to examine the potential criminal liability of those higher up in the chain of command, the practice of shooting “sprayers”, ie. anyone of interest seen running away from an area, and the lawyer’s role in falsifying reports and covering up. crimes.
An eventful year later, Australia still has the potential to do the right thing – to prosecute those most responsible and allow an honest public account of what happened in Afghanistan. Such an exercise in telling the truth is crucial for the Australian public, for the ADF and for the Afghan people who have endured so much and waited too long for some degree of justice.