The first soldier to face war crimes charges for their alleged actions in Afghanistan is due to face Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on May 16.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on March 21 it was “a significant development in justice and accountability”.
Oliver Schulz’s alleged crime was first publicised by the ABC’s Four Corners program on March 16, 2020 in an episode of Mark Willacy’s “Killing Field: Exposing killings and cover ups by Australian special forces in Afghanistan”.
According to the ABC, his charge relates to the shooting death of Afghan man Dad Mohammad during an Australian Defence Force (ADF) raid in Uruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan in May 2012. Mohammad was married with two daughters, one and three years old. The killing had been investigated by the ADF following complaints from Afghans, but Shulz was cleared. He was awarded the Commendation for Gallantry in Afghanistan, having completed multiple tours.
The ABC’s Killing Field reports, however, exposed alleged war crimes by Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) members against Afghan civilians and captured combatants in Afghanistan in 2012.
Former ADF lawyer and whistleblower David McBride has said he provided the material to the ABC after having failed to get the ADF to conduct internal investigations.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) said on March 20 that the soldier had been charged with one count of War Crime — Murder under subsection 268.70(1) Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for the “War Crime — Murder” offence is life imprisonment.
The OSI was established in 2021 after the Inspector-General of the ADF’s Afghanistan Inquiry Report (the Brereton report) was tabled.
HRW said it sends “a powerful message” to the armed forces that “Australia is taking its responsibility to investigate and prosecute war crimes seriously, consistent with the country’s commitments as a member of the International Criminal Court”.
HRW wants the government to continue to “identify and hold to account all those in the direct and indirect chain of command”.
It said the charge sets an example for other countries, including the United States and Britain, countries that are “yet to afford meaningful accountability for abuses committed by their personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond”.
Meanwhile, McBride will appear in the ACT Supreme Court on April 11 on charges including the unauthorised disclosure of information, theft of commonwealth property and breaching the Defence Act for leaking material to the ABC.
The case against McBride has included a sensational AFP raid on the ABC in 2019 and a decision to disallow McBride from immunity from prosecution allegedly because the information could damage national security. It means he faces criminal charges.
McBride has repeatedly said, as recently as March 6 at the Sydney session of the Belmarsh Tribunal, that he is willing to go to jail.
“The problem with complaining to your organisation, whether it’s defence or not, is you can’t have your own organisation deciding whether your complaint is valid or not,” McBride told the Sydney Morning Herald on December 26.
“You need some third party to look at it, and they can then go to the police, or they can advocate on your behalf for some sort of action,” he said.
“If there had been a third party that I could have seen, it could have easily stopped me having to go to the media.”
The Alliance against Political Persecutions is organising a solidarity rally for McBride outside the ACT Supreme Court from 8am. They and others are calling on the federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus to drop the charges against him.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge revealed in February that the Commonwealth had spent more than $7.6 million in legal fees pursuing whistleblowers — the bulk of which was spent on pursuing Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery, whose case has now been dropped.
[Join the solidarity protest for McBride on April 11 at 8am outside the ACT Supreme Court.]