West News Wire: As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.
It’s not as easy as red tape or the bureaucracy’s frequently sluggish speed in the case of alleged Australian war crimes committed in Afghanistan. Instead, it is the outcome of a campaign of hero worship that is motivated by political expediency, a command-shirking attitude, and investigators who approve a long list of cover-ups.
Oliver Schulz, a 41-year-old former Special Air Service (SAS) trooper, was officially charged in March with a war crime: murder. This was a first for Australia. No serving or retired military veteran has faced a war crime charge and in a civilian court no less.
It is related to the 2012 murder of a young farmer named Dad Mohammad in the province of Uruzgan.
Schulz may receive a life sentence if found guilty.
It is shocking that it has taken a decade for this case to even get to this point because, according to popular belief, Mohammad wasn’t shot in the open in front of numerous witnesses; instead, he was killed in broad daylight.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) were swiftly informed of the complaints made by a number of those Afghan witnesses as well as Mohammad’s family.
The SAS said that Mohammad was a Talib who was carrying a radio and was shot in self-defense as he was “tactically manoeuvring”; the ADF investigative service examined into the death but approved of the SAS’s version of events.
A lot has been said about troops going rogue and about individual responsibility fair points. But what of collective obligation?
To say the official narrative is a deviation from the truth would be a breathtaking understatement. But most disturbing is that it was initially rubber-stamped by investigators.
Only until the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was given access to helmet-camera footage of the incident did a different account of what happened become public. When Mohammad was shot at point-blank range, he was “quiet and not resisting” while lying in a wheat field.
He was holding red prayer beads rather than the damning Taliban radio.
The problem is that the dead were dubbed “terrorists” when witnesses and living family members objected, as in this case and the several others that are currently the subject of new investigations.
The Brereton Report, an investigation conducted by the Australian Defence Force, revealed that investigators “generally discounted local complaints as insurgent propaganda or motivated by compensation,” including complaints made by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the AIHRC. This is not just an opinion; it is also the truth about what can only be described as systemic, racist preconceptions.
Reading between the lines, it appears that, in the majority of cases, investigators disregarded the claims of the witnesses without ever speaking to them.
This sort of investigation would not even pass muster at a one-horse local police station, much less in a professional defence force’s elite department.
Myths in media
Rubber stamping suited more than just the military, according to popular culture.
As it did with the invasion of Iraq on its recent 20th anniversary, Australia’s mainstream media, including but not limited to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has whitewashed its own role in mythologizing Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war.
A nationwide push to elevate the SAS as the pinnacle of Australian warriors was based on official narratives that pitted the brave good guys against the cunning bad guys.
The popular ANZAC-era “diggers” moniker was frequently used by journalists on embeds, but unlike ADF investigators, they never managed to arouse even a hint of cynicism over what was taking place just over the wire.
As seen by all the hand-wringing and shock that followed the Brereton Report and Schulz’s murder accusation, the media campaign to glorify the military, whether intentionally or not, was so successful that journalists even startled themselves.
In fact, the majority of Australian media outlets that have covered war crimes have adopted a defensive stance, hastily drawing the conclusion that the alleged crimes were the work of a small number of bad apples, largely ignoring issues of command responsibility, and quickly shifting their attention back to the effects of the report on the soldiers themselves rather than the Afghan people.
This may help to partially explain why some SAS operators came to believe they were invulnerable. Who, after all, would dare to overthrow a national hero?
Not the successive administrations who supported the SAS as a symbol of a fictitious national culture of “mateship,” as the late conservative prime minister John Howard never got tired of doing. In this fantasy, the SAS represents the muscular, chiseled-jawed, morally upright, and heroic ordinary man in the trenches defending “civilised” society from the “uncivilised.”
In fact, a n several governments used the SAS to justify Australia’s continuing participation in yet another failed American venture, even as it closely resembled umber of governments used the SAS to justify Australia’s continuing participation in yet another failed American venture, even as it came to more closely resemble the Vietnam War’s quagmire.
No matter how harmful this was to Afghans or the troops themselves, they were always ready for a photo op and to send overworked and more confused men into a conflict with no defined objectives.
Up until recently, neither the government nor the military command paid any attention to the startlingly high number of veterans who committed suicide after serving in the Afghanistan war.
During the conflict, 260 Australian soldiers were injured, adding to the death toll of 41. But since the invasion of 2001, 500 veterans are thought to have committed suicide. A Royal Commission is currently looking into the crisis.
An example of everything that was wrong and went wrong with the Afghanistan war can be found in the Australian experience in Uruzgan.
Since the Brereton investigation suggested that the federal police look into 19 troops for the “murder” of 39 civilians and detainees and the brutal treatment of two more, the extent of the war crimes claims has appeared to grow.
According to the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI), it is currently looking into 40 to 50 alleged SAS crimes.
This is only taking place as a result of threats, police raids, and legal action against journalists and whistleblowers who refused to believe the propaganda puffing up their chests.
Ironically, only David McBride, an Australian who did two tours in Afghanistan as a legal officer, is currently being tried for war crimes committed in Afghanistan, despite the fact that Schulz has been charged.
McBride reported institutional flaws, including conceivable war crimes, to supervisors and ultimately to the Federal Police almost ten years before Schulz appeared in court. Both disregarded him.
Then he released information to the ABC, exposing the military’s covert and deceptive operations.
For revealing the truth, McBride faces a 50-year prison sentence.
The absence of widespread outcry is more evidence that only a small portion of society has drawn lessons from the collective mistakes of Afghanistan.
The media has now turned its attention to Ukraine and is extolling the naive idea of good wars, good guys, and Australia’s role in waging them. The reason the government is continuing to prosecute McBride is being kept in utter silence. Restructuring its own failed systems is being done slowly by the military.
And the majority of the populace appears to be contentedly ignoring everything.