Gen Angus Campbell
© Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Chief of the defence force General Angus Campbell
Australian defence force releases long-awaited Brereton report into allegations SAS committed war crimes in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2016.

Brereton report release: what we learned

That is where I will leave things for now. You can find the full story on the release of the Brereton report by my colleague Christopher Knaus here.

Here are the key findings:
  • The report found there was "credible information" that 39 Afghans were allegedly murdered by Australian special forces in 23 incidents. Two more were cruelly treated.
  • The report redacts much detail about the individual incidents, but the defence force chief Angus Campbell said none of the alleged killings took place in the heat of the battle. Most are alleged to have occurred while the Afghan victims were detained or under Australian forces' control. None of the alleged victims were combatants.
  • Brereton said the circumstances of each, were they to be eventually accepted by a jury, would constitute the war crime of murder, and recommended the investigation of criminal charges against 19 Australian service personnel.
  • The report revealed an alleged practice known as "blooding", or initiation, of young special forces soldiers. It describes a process in which young special forces soldiers would be instructed by their patrol commander to execute a detainee to gain their first kill. Weapons or radios, known as "throwdowns", were allegedly placed on the body and a "cover story" was created to mask the crime and deflect any scrutiny. A culture of secrecy and cover-up pervaded the special forces. Campbell called blooding an "appalling practice".
  • The report clearly shows complaints about the Australians' conduct were made, including by Afghan nationals and local human rights groups. They were ignored or dismissed as Taliban propaganda or attempts to secure compensation.
  • Campbell apologised to the Afghan people, its leaders, and to the Australian people. He described the alleged conduct of the SAS soldiers as "shameful", "deeply disturbing" and "appalling". Brereton described it as "disgraceful and a profound betrayal" of all the Australian defence force stood for. He similarly described some of the alleged conduct as "possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history".
  • Campbell announced the disbanding of the second squadron of the SAS. He also said he would recommended to the governor general that the group meritorious citation for special forces, given to personnel serving from 2007 onwards, be withdrawn.
  • The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, called his counterpart in Afghanistan, president Ashraf Ghani, to express his "deepest sorrow" over the findings.
Richard Marles says Brereton report is 'searingly honest'

Daniel Hurst
Labor's defence spokesman, Richard Marles, has told reporters in Melbourne the findings are "very sad" and "shameful" and it is "a difficult moment for Australia".

His thoughts were with the victims and their families.

"To them, and to the people of Afghanistan, we say sorry. We acknowledge that the expressions of regret and sorrow on the part of the chief of the defence force and on the government have been utterly appropriate."

Marles said he also felt for tens of thousands of ADF members who had provided distinguished service. He said the Brereton report did not pull any punches and was "searingly honest": "It is actually the basis upon which we as a nation are able to heal."

Marles repeated his call for the government to implement all the recommendations. He believed it would do so.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, who was also at the press conference, said it was a sad day for the country, but people should take heart from the report that Australia respected the rule of law.

Dreyfus said there was "difficult work ahead" for the civil criminal justice system. He said the report recommended 19 individuals be referred to the new office of special investigator for further investigations - something that may pave the way for prosecutions.

Dreyfus noted the Brereton inquiry was not a criminal trial and a lot of work lay ahead.
Daniel Hurst
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described the report's findings as "deeply troubling".

David Tuck, its head of mission in Australia, said the revelations "should concern us all".
Afghan pedestrian in Kabul.
© Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan pedestrian in Kabul.
"Above all else, we cannot lose sight of the lives lost and the families shattered. Our thoughts go to those who feel their loss. The people of Afghanistan have endured decades of war. In these times, we need to remember that we are bound by our shared humanity and dignity, whether Australian or Afghan."

The ICRC, which has been present in Afghanistan since 1979, said steadfast adherence to international humanitarian law was "fundamental to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of conflict".

Tuck said as much transparency as possible was "key to accountability in these matters".

"Showing genuine effort to comply with the law of war makes that law stronger - and future violations less likely," he said.

The ICRC would continue to work with the ADF in line with its mandate to protect and assist people affected by armed conflict.

Without commenting on the specifics, he said the ICRC stood ready to help the ADF implement the recommendations "with a view to strengthening respect" for international humanitarian law.
The Greens senator Jordon Steele-John says the new special investigator should explore criminal prosecutions against SAS commanders whose "negligence results in an unlawful killing".
Jordon Steele-John
© Mick Tsikas/AAP
Greens senator Jordon Steele-John
"Both the office of the special investigator and the oversight committee must be independent, without any personal or professional ties to the Australian defence force. So far, these assurances have not been given.

"Maj Gen Campbell stated that the commanders who either didn't know what was happening on the ground or turned a blind eye to sanitised reporting would be disciplined internally and not referred to the special investigator. When negligence results in an unlawful killing there are pathways for prosecuting that as a criminal matter and these must be explored.

"Any deliberations between Maj Gen Campbell, as chief of the defence force, and Gen Burr, as the chief of army, about consequences for commanders who failed to act must be transparent so that the Australian public can be assured that this toxic warrior culture is being properly addressed.

"And finally, the public have a right to seriously question the involvement of both Maj Gen Campbell and Gen Burr's in the implementation of the report's recommendations and in future disciplinary actions related to this investigation, given both played leadership roles in the Afghanistan war."
The minister for defence personnel, Darren Chester, has just released this statement:
Darren Chester
© Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Defence personnel minister Darren Chester
"We ask a lot of every person who puts on the defence uniform and the last 20 years has seen one of the highest operational tempos in our military history.

"During this time, more than 39,000 Australians have deployed to Afghanistan and for the overwhelming majority their service was in keeping with the values we expect as a nation, and the high standards they demand of each other.

"However, as revealed today by the chief of the defence force, the findings of the inspector general of the Australian defence force (IGADF) Afghanistan inquiry are deeply concerning.

"The people involved will be held accountable through the independent processes detailed by the CDF, but we must not allow the alleged actions of a relatively small number to stain the reputations of the thousands who serve today, and the broader veteran community.

"This inquiry has highlighted key issues that must be addressed, and I would like to acknowledge the courage of those people who have come forward to provide information to the inquiry and helped us confront these issues.

"This has been challenging for some of our veterans and serving ADF personnel who have shared their accounts of events that happened in the theatre of war, and my primary concern is the welfare support for those involved, and their families."
Rex Patrick calls on ADF commanders to 'fall on your swords'

Independent senator Rex Patrick has released a lengthy statement calling for ADF commanders "to take personal responsibility for the command failures that allowed war crimes to be committed by ADF personnel in Afghanistan".
Rex Patrick
© Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Independent senator Rex Patrick
He has also called on the parliament to make a formal apology to the people of Afghanistan.
As a former member of the Australian defence force, I am absolutely appalled by the revelations of at least 39 unlawful killings by ADF personnel. This is a very grim day for the standing of the ADF.

While prime minister Scott Morrison has called Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghan, and defence force chief Gen Angus Campbell today apologised on behalf of the ADF, the Australian parliament should support a national apology to the people of Afghanistan. This is a grave matter that must be addressed at the centre of Australia's democracy.

The parliament should also endorse efforts wherever possible to provide support to the families of the victims.

The individuals responsible for these atrocities must be fully held to account. So too must those in the ADF chain of command who were responsible for the units and operations in question. There appears to have been a totally unacceptable breakdown of oversight, control and discipline.

Unit and taskforce commanders, past and present, must step up and take personal responsibility for the actions of their personnel in what were clearly not isolated incidents. They should not await potentially protracted disciplinary and administrative processes of further investigation. Those commanders should step forward now and publicly accept moral responsibility for their grave failures of command.

They should fall on their swords.
Last week the prime minister established a special investigator to consider criminal cases against Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The reason for that, as Brereton makes clear, is that the inquiry "is not a criminal trial".
The inquiry is not confined to evidence that would be admissible in a court of law, but can inform itself as it sees fit, and has done so, as is appropriate for an inquiry of this nature. Witnesses who have given evidence to the inquiry under compulsion may not be willing to give it to prosecutorial authorities. Witnesses on whose evidence the inquiry has relied have, while tested by the inquiry, not been cross-examined by an opposing party.
But "findings that there is 'credible information' of a war crime have not been lightly reached".
Generally the inquiry has required eyewitness accounts, corroboration, persuasive circumstantial evidence, and/or strong similar fact evidence, for such a finding.
Brereton's report has recommended that the chief of the defence force refer 36 matters to the Australian federal police for criminal investigation. The matters relate to 23 incidents and involve 19 individuals.

Earlier we heard the report found that Australian special forces were allegedly involved in the murder of 39 Afghan civilians, in some cases executing prisoners to "blood" junior soldiers before inventing cover stories and planting weapons on corpses, a major report has found.

'Possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history'

Those of us who weren't in the lock-up are now poring over the report. One section in particular which Campbell was asked about in the press conference, is drawing a lot of attention.

In one chapter Brereton mentions an incident in 2012. We don't know anything about it because it is entirely redacted, but he writes:
"There is no credible information that troop, squadron and task group commanders either knew or suspected that these things were happening, and that they did not fail to take reasonable steps which could have prevented or discovered them.

"However, what is described in this chapter is possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history, and the commanders at troop, squadron and task group level bear moral command responsibility for what happened under their command, regardless of personal fault."
I have to say it's unclear to me whether he is referring to one specific incident or the broader findings of the report.

The opposition defence spokesman, Richard Marles, and shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus have called for the government to accept all the recommendations in the Brereton report.
Richard Marles
© Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Labor’s defence spokesman Richard Marles.
It's a lengthy statement, but I've included all of it:
"The release of today's report by the inspector general of the Australian defence force (IGADF) into allegations of war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan is a difficult moment for the nation.

"Findings ... that credible information exists in relation to some members of Australia's special forces having engaged in unlawful killings and cruel treatment while deployed in Afghanistan are appalling.

"This report makes difficult reading. It states that credible evidence exists that members of our most elite armed forces behaved unlawfully, unconscionably and committed war crimes as defined by the Australian criminal justice system.

"These allegations in respect of a few do not detract from the sacrifice of the many who have served our country, and in particular the thousands of current and former soldiers who served in Afghanistan.

"It is important the government accepts all recommendations made by Maj Gen Paul Brereton.

"Maj Gen Brereton has demonstrated the utmost integrity in handling this difficult task and we thank him for his work.

"We also acknowledge the courageous leadership within the Australian defence force in ordering this investigation and now committing to the next steps. As chief of the defence force Angus Campbell said today: 'It is my duty to set things right.'

"Today will be distressing for many who have shown extraordinary bravery in speaking up about what they saw and knew was inappropriate conduct. Giving voice to their concerns would not have been easy.

"The report highlights the protective culture insulating special forces soldiers was a key factor in creating an environment that allowed unlawful behaviour to fester.

"Today also demonstrates that we should have faith in the Australian justice system. Where allegations of bad conduct are made, they are properly investigated, and the findings acted on.

"The confronting honesty of the IGADF report highlights that Australia is a country that respects the Geneva conventions, human rights, and the rule of law, and that no one is exempt from those laws.

"We support the establishment of the office of the special investigator to oversee the investigations following this report. It is now appropriate that it is allowed to do its work free of any prejudice or political interference."
Mark Dreyfus
© Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus
The (redacted) report is now online.


Defence minister Linda Reynolds has issued a statement on the report. She calls the findings "very serious matters", but says she "remains proud" of the men and women of the Australian military.
Linda Reynolds
© Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Defence minister Linda Reynolds