Daily News Roundup

November 19, 2020

 

THURSDAY, NOV 19

Australian special forces soldiers allegedly committed up to 39 murders and 19 current or former soldiers will face criminal investigation, possible prosecution and the stripping of their medals after the findings of an exhaustive inquiry released by military chief Angus Campbell.

The four-year inquiry by NSW Court Of Appeal Justice Paul Brereton found there was credible evidence of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants – or individuals who had been captured or injured – were unlawfully killed by special forces soldiers, or at least at their direction. 

There were also a further two incidents that the report said could be classified as the war crime of “cruel treatment”.

General Campbell said the report discloses a “disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force’s professional standards and expectations”.

“Today the Australian Defence Force is rightly held to account for allegations of grave misconduct by some members of our special forces community on operations in Afghanistan,” he said.

The public summary of the inquiry, released on Thursday morning, based partly on evidence given by eyewitnesses interviewed under oath, also found that Australian soldiers summarily executed non-combatants and prisoners.

The Special Air Service Regiment’s second squadron will be struck off the Army’s order of battle and reformed and renamed.

Justice Brereton wrote “when what the inquiry has found is taken collectively, the answer to the question, ‘Is there substance to rumours of war crimes by elements of the Special Operations Task group’ must sadly be, ‘Yes, there is’.”

The voluminous classified report, along with a publicly released summary, is based on more than 400 interviews with soldiers and officers from SAS and Commandos, Afghan villagers, special forces interpreters and support staff.

The report was scathing of patrol commanders of the Special Operations Task Group, who are senior soldiers that lead small teams of four to five men and who Justice Brereton blamed for the worst alleged war crimes.

Justice Brereton, who was appointed by the Inspector-General of defence in 2016 to investigate pervasive rumours of war crimes in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2016, found commanders higher up the chain should bear a “moral command responsibility” for a culture that allowed the alleged crimes to take place.

But the inquiry found “the criminal behaviour of a few was commenced, committed, continued and concealed at the patrol commander level, that is, at corporal or sergeant level”.

None of the incidents could be classified as disputable decisions made under pressure in the “heat of battle”, it found.

The report recommended that General Campbell refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, which relate to 23 incidents and involve 19 current or former ADF personnel.

The Brereton report also savages the manner in which soldiers allegedly lied about suspect incidents in combat operation reports, including those about incidents in which Afghans were allegedly unlawfully executed.

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Queensland forward Jai Arrow has been fined for slamming an already concussed New South Wales captain James Tedesco to the ground during last night’s State of Origin III.

Tedesco sustained a head knock when he collected the knee of Josh Papalii on a kick return midway through the first half of the Maroons’ series-deciding victory at Brisbane’s Lang Park.

Arrow then picked up Tedesco — who was lying on the ground — and shook the Blues fullback before realising he was concussed and signalling for the trainer.

Tedesco failed a head injury assessment (HIA) and did not return to the match. Arrow apologised to Tedesco after the match.

The NRL match review committee handed Arrow a grade-one contrary conduct charge and a $750 fine, which can be reduced to $550 if he enters an early guilty plea.

Arrow, speaking after the Maroons’ 20-14 win, said he did not know Tedesco was hurt when he manhandled the Blues skipper.

“I just want to come out and say at first I was fired up, and I am honestly not a grub like that,” he said.

“I didn’t know he was knocked out … If you watch the footage I go back and put my hand up.

“I was checking his welfare because I realised he was knocked out when I slammed him back on the ground.

“In the heat of the moment, a decider at Suncorp [Lang Park], of course I am out there to try and hurt people.

“But not intentionally when they are in a bad way.”