For anyone closely following the Afghan war crimes story, it has been an intense fortnight in news. The little that has been publicly released from the Inspector-General’s report is truly appalling. We are not just talking about errors of judgement or collateral damage in the heat of battle; we are talking about something much worse, by troops supposed to be engaged in peacekeeping and nation-building. Hats off to reporters Mark Willacy, Andrew Greene, Nick McKenzie, Paul Daley, Chris Masters and others who have been probing, digesting, feeling into and writing about this shocking material.
In contrast Channel 7 been proudly trumpeting SAS Australia as “dominating” its commercial TV ratings timeslot. Channel 7 aired the season finale of SAS Australia the week after the Australian Defence Force Inspector-General’s war crimes revelations. This is Australia’s My Lai Massacre, 39 killings in the country’s worst case of military human rights abuses since the Frontier Wars. Yet not only did the show go ahead, but the war crimes allegations rated not even a mention.
Far from it, in fact. Channel 7 has instead been running defence on the Afghan war crimes story. Seven initially reported the bare facts, without mentioning how little has been revealed so far. They’ve done their best to connect criticism of the SAS to the recent Russian and Chinese criticisms of the same, and have since been drumming up outrage that SAS troops might lose their “medals.”
SAS units serving in Afghanistan had been given a meritorious “citation” from the Australian Defence Force. The Inspector-General’s report recommends stripping the citation from units who served between 2007 and 2013. General Angus Campbell presented it as a fait accompli before intervention from Morrison.
It should go without saying that the units, as a whole, are now obviously far from meritorious. Yet Channel 7 has painted the recommendation as an attack on individual soldiers, calling it “disgusting” and “disappointing.”
It is hard to imagine any fair-minded and relatively objective reporter finding that the “disgusting” part of the past fortnight’s revelations.