WHAT do Army Reserve Major General Paul Brereton AM RFD and SAS Australia star Schapelle Corby have in common? Answer: both have zero personal experience of warfare. As Inspector-General of the ADF, Brereton is the man in charge of sifting through ABC propaganda, inter-regimental dog-fights and real evidence to prepare recommendations of prosecution in relation to alleged war crimes committed by special forces in Afghanistan. His report will be made public later today. Formerly training officer at the Knox Grammar School Cadet Unit, Brereton went on to become Second-in-command of the Sydney University Regiment before commanding the 4th/3rd Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment. All very soft billets. He has never served in a war, never experienced combat, never been deployed to a forward area, never fired a round at the enemy. Highly respected as a reservist and judge, he is the very model of a modern Major General; perfect resume, a few lovely medals, no experience of battle. This is not to say he isn’t highly capable, impartial and credible. His unfamiliarity with war – let alone a decades-long close-quarters shit fight with terrorists in Afghanistan – however, does matter. It symbolises the cultural and psychological rift in the ADF during what has become Australia’s longest and most strategically pointless war.
Given the ABC’s record of airing the ‘testimony’ of phony ‘witnesses’ in order to besmirch ideological enemies, all of the national broadcaster’s editorialising on so-called ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan can and should be set aside as a matter of prudence. Mark Willacy wrote a piece yesterday in which he claimed to be one of the jaded heroes of an exposé heavy on hearsay but light-on for proof and thin, details-wise, measured against thousands of missions undertaken; and, of course, utterly bereft of either situational context or exculpatory interpretation. As with the its infamous calumniation of George Pell, voices in defence of the accused have been downplayed pursuant to the ABC’s tabloid philosophy that some scandals are far too good to check. One of the “disturbing scenes” that Willacy manfully endured was “an Afghan’s motorcycle thrown off a cliff by laughing soldiers.” I only hope it wasn’t an Indian or a Vincent. That would have been criminal.
Nevertherless, I have little doubt genuine and lamentable crimes against legally protected persons have been committed in Afghanistan by some Australian commandos. I will not subscribe to or promote the apologia that such actions must be seen as justified in unconventional, asymmetrical circumstances. Regular soldiers literally fall over each other to get into the SAS and, once accepted and deployed, they should not dishonour themselves or their regiment by making excuses. Nobody forced them to join. They are not conscripts. A just war – if it is to remain just – must be waged in such a way as to ensure non-combatants or the captured are treated humanely. Yes, that means even when such civility and quarter increase the danger. Such are the near unbearable burdens of combat. With the same resoluteness, I will not traduce these brave men. More than likely, I will forgive even convicted transgressors. Why? Because the Afghanistan War is no longer just.
Australia has yawned its way through a 20-year conflict ludicrously sold as existentially crucial when the truth is the Taliban represents no threat to Australia and there is no prospect of success. Arguing that Afghanistan may once again host international terrorists who might harm us at some unspecified time is not a compelling pretext in traditional just war doctrine. We have always been in Afghanistan to bolster the alliance with the United States (thereby benefiting ourselves according to conventional wisdom). After 9/11, this was reasonable and prudent strategy. For more than a decade, however, it has been lazy, dumb, halfhearted theatre. Forty-one have made the ultimate sacrifice and probably thousands have been wounded physically and mentally. But still we kept deploying special forces – while at the same time successive governments reduced the regular army to natural disaster labourers and woke chocos. It would be no exaggeration to say the SAS has not only shouldered the elephant’s share of Australia’s longest war but also, in a sense, purchased for the ADF the luxury of building a phony army of girls, sandbag fillers and flu wardens.
Disgracefully, Scott Morrison says we have to prepare ourselves for today’s “brutal truths.” Except there will be no “truths” revealed in the Brereton report. Not one. There will only be recommendations for charges – which the accused, all innocent at this time, will contest in open court. Juries will now have to be cautioned to ignore the Prime Minister’s Ashton-like verdict. The men may or may not be convicted. I hope that various generals, ministers and even prime ministers are called to the dock to explain their cruel, idiotic role in forcing Diggers – “young and strong and clean” – to fight so long on so ragged, nebulous and perilous an edge.