The head of the Australian defense force, Gen. Angus Campbell, says he accepts officers and that higher-ranking commanders bear part of the responsibility for handling alleged war crimes against special forces in Afghanistan.
Former service and special forces soldiers have told Guardian Australia that they are frustrated by the failure of the landmark Brereton report to sanction commanders at the highest level, while the International Committee of the Red Cross described the alleged war crimes as “deeply disturbing and disturbing.”
After a four-year investigation, Major General Paul Brereton found credible information to substantiate the alleged killing of 39 Afghans (prisoners, farmers and other civilians) by 25 Australian special forces soldiers, either as directors or accomplices. .
Campbell responded to criticism of the network’s lack of accountability at the top levels during an interview with ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.
He was asked about the report’s conclusion that commanders “indirectly contributed to criminal behavior” by “sanitizing or embellishing the reports to avoid raising questions.”
Campbell said the report highlighted “that there are officers in command functions in the special operations task force and indeed in senior appointments who had a responsibility to address problems and to report fully and openly, and it finds fault there.”
“I accept it,” Campbell said.
“In terms of responsibility, and then accountability, that’s part of the question of discussing and analyzing on a case-by-case basis exactly what happened and who should be held accountable.”
Campbell also reflected, briefly, on his own role as commander in the Middle East in 2011. He said that he, said he would ultimately have to be held accountable “to make sure this report is thoroughly addressed,” but also for your own account. performance in the Middle East.
The ADF chief added that “there was no shortage of officers, NCOs and soldiers, who are looking at this report and reflecting on their part in this story and it is not a good story at all.”
Campbell said he was “determined to see deep, comprehensive and lasting change where it is needed” and to fix the problems outlined in last week’s report, otherwise “this horror may reappear.”
He cautiously endorsed requests for the ADF to order helmet or body cameras for Australian special forces, as it would allow for the creation of a “digital archive” and help resolve any claims that arise in the future.
Australian special forces had been “very busy for the last 20 years” and some roles in Afghanistan should have been rotated earlier to other elements of the ADF, Campbell said.
ABC’s David Speers asked Campbell whether defense legal officers could have been part of a cover-up, given that the report concluded that complaints from groups on the ground such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were dismissed.
“I read it as slow erosion and then ultimately as a suborder of what are supposed to be independent review processes,” Campbell replied.
“Instead of a mechanism to ensure that the patrol reports were properly reviewed from the perspective of the law of armed conflict, we see in Judge Brereton’s report that over time this governance work was no longer rigorous, it was no longer independent “.
Brereton found “a dangerous gap between what the force had become used to and what was actually acceptable.”
According to the report, complaints made through the ICRC, the local human rights commission or elders in the area “were routinely masquerading as Taliban propaganda or were motivated by a desire for compensation”, thus these “signals warning “did not lead to any action.
The ICRC, which acts as the “guardian” of International humanitarian lawHe said that any violation of the rules of war was “too much.”
In an interview with Guardian Australia, ICRC Director General Robert Mardini described the alleged conduct as “deeply disturbing and disturbing” without commenting on any specific facts.
“But the important thing is to act, and we feel that action is being taken and this is something that we commend,” Mardini said.
Speaking from Geneva, Mardini said his organization remained independent and neutral, so he could not probe “whether or not we were informed about these particular violations.”
But he said the ICRC had seen “so many terrible things happen” during four decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
“These things, as painful, disturbing and shocking as they are, are sadly what our delegates see in armed conflict,” Mardini said.
“But I think the main point here is what the Australian government is going to do about it now and the very fact that there is an investigation, which is now in the public domain, that action will be taken by the highest military command. reassuring. “
A new office of the special investigator will examine complaints against 19 individuals and prepare reports for possible prosecution through the Australian justice system.
Mardini said that adherence to international humanitarian law “is non-negotiable” because it reduces the human cost of the conflict and “must be respected by all – period.”
The ICRC, he said, appreciates the seriousness with which the Australian government and ADF are taking the Brereton report.
“Of course, for the victims and their families, these are very harsh realities and they have to deal with them for a long period of time. That is why also investigation, accountability and due process are important because they help families to recover, heal and move on, “said Mardini.
Mardini visited Afghanistan earlier this month and visited hospitals in both government-controlled and Taliban-controlled areas.
He said the country had been “torn apart by four decades of conflict” and the current security situation was “dire.”
“What is very sad and ironic is that even as peace talks are taking place in Doha, it is clear to us that there has been an escalation of hostilities in Afghanistan in recent weeks with, sadly, a resulting increase in the number of wounded by weapons. admitted to hospitals, ”Mardini said.
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