The annual report says the long running Brereton war crimes inquiry is not investigating decisions made during the heat of the battle despite this claim being pushed by those seeking to undermine the work of the inquiry.
“Its focus is on the treatment of persons who were clearly non-combatants or who were no longer combatants,” the report says.
The report follows revelations in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes last September that anguished Australian special forces soldiers have confessed to murdering and brutalising detainees in Afghanistan in incidents that colleagues sat cannot be written off as the “fog of war”.
Members of both of Australia’s special forces regiments – the Commandos and the Special Air Service Regiment – have given evidence to the war crimes inquiry led by senior judge Paul Brereton about the summary execution of multiple prisoners in breach of the Geneva conventions.
Multiple defence sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have previously confirmed that evidence exists of Australian soldiers assaulting or murdering in cold blood unarmed or handcuffed detainees in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012. More than a dozen serving and former special forces members, including high-ranking officers speaking on the condition of anonymity, stressed that it was soldiers themselves who had brought the conduct to light.
The war crimes inquiry was ordered in 2016 by the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, and is being undertaken by Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Major General Paul Brereton.
Sources familiar matter said the strongest evidence obtained by the inquiry involves confessions from soldiers. It is illegal under the laws of war to murder or brutalise a prisoner or a civilian who is posing no risk. In addition to the Brereton inquiry, the federal police has launched two inquiries into war crimes allegations.
The various inquiries have been supported by many serving and former special forces soldiers, most notably Afghan veteran turned MP Andrew Hastie. The Inspector-General inquiry into alleged war crimes is also backed by defence minister Linda Reynolds. Two serving SAS soldiers also backed the inquiry in a series of stories in The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes in September.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won eight Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Gold Walkley award winner and the first Australian journalist to be embedded with special forces in Afghanistan, Chris Masters has been on special assignment with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to report on the SAS’s Afghanistan mission.