12 Nov 2020

Australia to appoint special investigator to prosecute soldiers over Afghanistan war crimes

8:11 pm on 12 November 2020

By Andrew Greene, ABC Defence Correspondent

A special investigator will be appointed to prosecute allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan as the government prepares to release a long-awaited report into the conduct of special forces during the conflict.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a new office will consider prosecutions. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there were a "significant number" of incidents and issues to look into, and the investigation would be "inherently complex".

He warned the process would "[require] us to deal with honest and brutal truths where expectations and standards may not have been met".

"Given the likely allegations of serious and possibly criminal misconduct, the matters raised in the inquiry must be assessed, investigated and, where allegations are substantiated, prosecuted in court," he said.

"The Office of the Special Investigator will address the criminal matters made in the Inspector General's report and investigate those allegations, gather evidence and, where appropriate, refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration."

Since 2016, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) has examined allegations of unlawful killings and other possible breaches of the law of armed conflict committed mainly by elite soldiers during their lengthy deployment in Afghanistan.

The prime minister said the office of the investigator would be set up within the Department of Home Affairs.

Morrison also announced a new panel will be established to drive cultural change inside Australia's SAS and 2nd Commando Regiment.

"The oversight panel will report directly to the Minister for Defence on the implementation of the inquiry's recommendations and their consideration of any wider implications and actions in response to the inquiry," he said.

"It is the environment, it is the context, it is the rules, it is the culture and the command that sat around those things, and if we want to deal with the truth of this we have to deal with the truth of that.

"I am also very keen to stress there is some disturbing conduct here but we cannot then take that and apply it to everyone who has pulled on a uniform."

Stripping soldiers of medals on the table, Defence Minister says

Morrison confirmed that a redacted version of the Inspector-General's report prepared by New South Wales Justice Paul Brereton would be released on Thursday next week.

"This will be difficult and hard news for Australians, I can assure you," Morrison said about the content of the report.

"It is going to be very difficult for our serving community and our veteran community.

"It is going to be difficult for all of us, but what we are seeking to do as a government, I think what we have to do as a country, is to absorb this in a way that enables us to uphold the integrity of our justice system, uphold the integrity of our defence forces."

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds echoed the prime minister's comments, saying she had "no doubt" it would be distressing.

She urged anyone who felt they needed help to contact ADF support services.

"Particularly so for those who are vulnerable and those who are risk," she said.

When Senator Reynolds was asked if there was a possibility that soldiers found guilty of crimes could be stripped of their medals, she said Defence Chief Angus Campbell was considering all options.

"There are many options and recommendations for action," she said.

"It is my expectation that [he] would consider each and every one of those recommendations, which may well include what you just said."


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