War memorial historians denied access to Afghanistan’s war crime report

But as one informed source explained, “historians will not see the unedited Brereton report until the public sees it”. This can be as long as seven years away, as the report will hardly be released in its entirety before the final prosecution of war crimes is over.


It is not clear what impact the denial of access to the Brereton report will have on the war history unit’s ability to carry out its work. Sources said historians barred access to the report, believing that at least some of the more sinister aspects of the nation’s Afghanistan broadcasts could still be told using other research methods, including interviewing veterans and examining open source material.

But there is no doubt that Judge Paul Brereton’s exhaustive four-year unedited investigation report, which was based on testimony from over 300 former soldiers and military officials, is the most detailed document in existence dealing with the alleged war crime scandal.

The publicly available version of Justice Brereton’s report provides detailed analyzes of cultural failures in the defense, but provides almost no details about the missions and personnel involved in the alleged executions of Afghan civilians and prisoners.

His edited findings, however, make it clear that at least some historically significant missions have been tainted by alleged criminal behavior. For example, Judge Brereton highlighted a large medal of bravery given to a special forces soldier in a fight, which his investigation showed was allegedly “intentionally misreported” by a small SAS patrol. Justice Brereton also described the revelation of the possibly “worst” episode in Australian military history, though he did not give any details on what this entailed.


The work of the War History Unit is official, as it is commissioned and funded by the government as the authoritative national record of Australia’s involvement in particular conflicts. According to the Australian War Memorial, “official historians have unlimited access to closed periods and security-classified government records”.

The unit, led by the respected war historian Professor Craig Stockings, is currently responsible for providing “a detailed, authoritative account of Australia’s extensive and complex combat operations” in Iraq (2003-11) and Afghanistan (2001-14), as well as its role in peacekeeping operations in East Timor (1999-2012) “.

The war history unit relies in part on “after-action” mission reviews written with input from soldiers and officers in the hours after they return to base after military operations.

As Judge Brereton found, these reviews were commonly “manipulated … routinely embellished and sometimes outright fabricated.”

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