Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, and his defence minister, Linda Reynolds, have forewarned Australians they will be shocked and disturbed by the report of Paul Brereton, the inspector general of the Australian Defence Force, when his redacted version is released.
The long-awaited report into the alleged war crimes of Australian special forces soldiers will be out next week and that the alleged culprits are from Special Air Service and Commando regiments – the most intelligent, highly trained and supposedly disciplined troops in the ranks – will render the findings doubly shocking. Some elite soldiers believed they could operate criminally with impunity.
Brereton’s investigation has already been four years in the making. Meanwhile, news of some of the worst alleged crimes such as the summary execution of Afghan prisoners, has publicly highlighted the gravity of the allegations he was investigating. It appears that his investigation has uncovered a litany of alleged crimes that will tarnish the SAS’s hard-earned reputation as the “best of the best”
Australian soldiers Harry “Breaker” Morant and Peter Handcock were executed in 1902 for war crimes in the Boer war. Australians certainly massacred Arabs and Bedouin in Palestine in 1917, and Arabs in Egypt after war’s end in 1918. Australia’s world war two record, meanwhile, is replete with accounts of Australian troops murdering Japanese prisoners rather than accepting their surrender. Trophy photographs of Australian soldiers with dead Japanese abound. Helmet cam footage has shown the shooting of an unarmed Afghan civilian in a field.
Sections of the media have rallied around the special forces, attempting to cast doubt about the allegations that arose through often remarkable investigative journalism from the ABC and Nine. The former prime minister Tony Abbott told the Australian newspaper people should be cautious to “judge soldiers operating in the heat of combat under the fog of war by the same standards that we would judge civilians”.