Whistleblowers relieved as war crimes report prompts calls for justice

The report into war crimes among Australia's special forces has come as a relief to a number of those who blew the whistle on wrongdoing, as the Afghan victims call for justice for their dead family members.

This morning, the Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell apologised to Afghanistan, describing the treatment of some Afghans by some Australian soldiers as shameful and abhorrent.

A small number of serving Special Air Service Regiment soldiers have told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that while the report had taken a long time, they had greeted its publication with relief tainted with sadness.

Hazratullah Sardar was 14 when his father, Haji Sardar, was killed in their southern Afghanistan village. Credit:Richard Malone

“We were attacked at the time for speaking out, but what we have done has probably saved the regiment,” one SAS whistleblower said. Some special forces regiments overseas have been disbanded after scandals were identified by people outside those regiments.

“A small number of us did the right thing. We have had our careers stuffed ever since. But it was the right thing,” one soldier said. The Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr this morning briefed the SAS at the Swanbourne Barracks in Perth about Justice Paul Brereton's report.

Former SAS medic Dusty Miller has welcomed the Brereton report and said it showed the SAS soldiers who spoke up about wrongdoing had done the hard but right thing. Mr Miller disclosed to the Brereton inquiry evidence that an injured unarmed Afghan, Haji Sardar, was murdered by a senior SAS soldier after he was taken from Mr Miller’s care.

“I think the word is validation. There's lots of us that have gone, 'This happened. That happened. The other happened,' and I think it's been proven.”

SAS combat medic Dusty Miller

Abdul Latif, whose father Haji Sardar was allegedly summarily executed by an SAS soldier in March 2012, also welcomed the release of the Brereton report. “I am happy that this inquiry has been released. It is a step towards justice.”

“It was so cruel what they did to our father. They killed him for no reason. There must also be justice for those people who committed the killing.”

Abdul Gharraf is an Adelaide doctor who worked as a war crimes investigator for the Afghan Human Rights Commission in southern Afghanistan during the war and previously expressed frustration at the failure of Australian officials to acknowledge alleged war crimes.

“This is really important. Australia is the first country among the countries who came to Afghanistan to do a proper investigation. It is vital that Australia has accepted that civilians and innocent lives were lost. It is very important for Australians to think of the people affected by the war. There was a problem in the system.”

Mr Gharraf undertook repeated investigations into alleged war crimes carried out by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan before 2013, but was repeatedly rebuffed by Australian officers when he raised concerns. The Brereton Inquiry has savaged the failure of military investigation officers to thoroughly investigate suspicious deaths that Justice Brereton has, after four years of investigation, identified as alleged war crimes.

“They never previously took action about these incidents. Without this inquiry, Australians and Afghans would never have known what had really happened.”

“It is a brave step by the Australian government. The soldiers who spoke out are good men. They should be protected. But those who did the wrong thing and who are still trying to cover it up, they should face justice.”

If you are a current or former ADF member, or a relative, and need counselling or support, contact the Defence All-Hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

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