Replacing Linda Reynolds, newly installed Defence Minister Peter Dutton has made a major intervention in the Afghan War Crimes iniquity. Dutton has reinstated the meritorious unit citation for SAS soldiers who served in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2013.
The SAS commendation, awarded to the unit collectively rather than to individual soldiers, was revoked by head of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, following the release of the Brereton Report last year. Although it was almost entirely redacted for the apparently too sensitive ears of the public, the report acknowledged at least 39 murders of Afghan civilians by SAS soldiers outside of combat.
“We want to make sure before Anzac Day these officers and their families can recognise them through the wearing of the medal,” Dutton told the press. “They have served with honour, they have acted in our country’s best interests and they have done the job that they were asked to do.”
Aside from “the job that they were asked to do,” the SAS also “blooded rookies” by ordering them to shoot unarmed prisoners. According to the Inspector-General, SAS atrocities represented a “disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force’s professional standards and expectations.”
Dutton’s decision has been seen as “a humiliation” of General Campbell, who accepted the Inspector-General’s recommendation to revoke the collective merit award. Dutton has sought to play down his differences with Campbell. “He made a decision at a different point in time based on the facts then. I can look at all of the facts now,” the Defence Minister told the press.
Labor’s defence spokesperson, Brendan O’Connor, has questioned the grounds for Dutton’s decision. “We have not been presented with any new evidence and therefore, we can only conclude that the Defence Minister has decided to make a decision at odds with Angus Campbell,” said O’Connor.
No new facts about the Afghan War Crimes have been made public. However, it remains unclear how much the government knows – and did know – about the events documented in the redacted report. The Australia Institute argues it is implausible that the government and senior military leaders did not know about the allegations against SAS personnel at the time.
Aside from Dutton and Morrison, defenders of the SAS include Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who claimed that not giving a collective award to a unit in which war crimes were committed contravened “the presumption of innocence.” In a different tone but to the same effect, Senator Jacqui Lambie said Angus Campbell had “felt a bitch slap” and “needs to pull his head out of his arse.”
Given that SAS atrocities in Afghanistan included a redacted incident described by the Inspector-General as “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history,” we can only conclude there are no limits to what these jingoists will support.
Their outrage doesn’t extend to the treatment of David McBride, the whistleblower at the heart of the investigation. Currently awaiting trial, the 56 year-old McBride faces up to 50 years in prison for charges including “unlawfully disclosing a Commonwealth document.”
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