A redacted version of the Inspector General of the ADF’s Afghanistan Inquiry Report was publicly released today.
Among its findings were that there was credible information of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants and prisoners were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group in circumstances which, if accepted by a jury, would constitute the war crime of murder.
A further two incidents in which a non-combatant or prisoner was mistreated in circumstances which, if accepted by a jury, would would constitute the war crime of cruel treatment.
Some of the incidents referred to involved a single victim and some incidents involved multiple victims.
A total of 39 individuals are believed to have been killed by a total of 25 current or former Australian Defence Force members who were perpetrators, either as principals or accessories, some of them on a single occasion and a few on multiple occasions.
The report says none of the killings in question were made under pressure in the heat of battle – the cases in which it has been found that there is credible information of a war crime are ones in which it was or should have been plain that the person killed was a non-combatant or out of the fight.
A few killings were of Afghan local nationals encountered during an operation, but were “on no reasonable view” participating in hostilities.
The vast majority of the killings, however, were cases where the persons were killed when ‘hors-de-combat’ – that is, out-of-the fight because they had been seriously wounded, or had surrendered, or had been captured and were prisoners or ‘persons under control’ – and as such should have been protected under international law.
Almost all of the incidents occurred between 2009 and 2013 and involved a single force element on multiple rotations.
The Inquiry has recommended that the Chief of the Defence Force refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation. Those matters relate to 23 incidents and involve a total of 19 individuals.
The report said commanders at troop, squadron and Special Operations Task Group level must bear some responsibility for the events that happened ‘on their watch’, however, the criminal behaviour of a few was commenced, committed, continued and concealed at the patrol-commander level, i.e. corporal or sergeant.
Their motivation cannot be known with certainty, but it appears to include elements of an intention to ‘clear’ the battlefield of people believed to be insurgents, regardless of the Law of Armed Conflict – to ‘blood’ new members of the patrol and troop – and, to outscore other patrols in the number of enemy killed.
The Inquiry’s approach was that those who had incited, directed or procured their subordinates to commit war crimes should be referred for criminal investigation, in priority to their subordinates who may have ‘pulled the trigger’.
The Inquiry recommended that any criminal investigation and prosecution of a war crime should be undertaken by the Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, with a view to prosecution in the civilian criminal courts, in trial by jury, rather than as a service offence in a Service Tribunal.
The Report recommended that although many members of the Special Operations Task Group demonstrated great courage and commitment, and although it had considerable achievements, what is now known must disentitle the unit involved to eligibility for recognition for sustained outstanding service.
In response to this recommendation specifically, CDF General Angus Campbell said in his media conference that 2nd SAS Squadron would be struck off the Army’s Orbat (order of battle) and have its Meritorious Unit Citation revoked.
The Inquiry and the Chief of Defence said – the consequences of not addressing these allegations could measured in decades.
The redacted public version of the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Report can be downloaded here.