Whistleblower David McBride sentenced, war criminals remain free

May 15, 2024
David McBridge addressing a protest outside Labor's national conference in 2023 in Magan-djin/Brisbane. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The jailing of Afghanistan war crimes whistleblower David McBride on May 14 has been condemned by truth-tellers across the globe.

McBride, a former Australian Defence Forces (ADF) lawyer, served two tours in Afghanistan, in 2011 and 2013, and complained internally about the behaviour of some Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) members, but said he was not taken seriously.

Stella Assange, a lawyer and wife of Julian Assange, said on X that it is “scandalous” that McBride, who “shared documents evidencing impunity over ADF war crimes in Afghanistan” had been sentenced.

“The only person going to prison over the war crimes is the man who blew the whistle,” Assange said.

McBride’s leaked information was considered by the ADF's Afghanistan (Brereton) Inquiry, established by the Coalition government to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by the elite SAS in Afghanistan — Australia’s longest war.

The four-year inquiry by Paul Brereton, a New South Wales Court of Appeal judge and senior officer in the Australian Army Reserve, published its report in 2020. It included evidence of 23 incidents in which one or more civilians — or people who had been captured or injured — were unlawfully killed by special forces soldiers, or at their direction.

The report found a further two incidents that it said could be classified as the war crime of “cruel treatment”.

It made 36 referrals to the Australian Federal Police, only one of which has gone to court.

Meanwhile, McBride was charged with five national security offences, denied immunity from prosecution and jailed for 5 years and 8 months, with no parole for 2 years and 3 months.

The only alleged war criminal to appear before court is SAS veteran Oliver Schulz, whose crime was first publicised by the ABC’s Four Corners on March 16, 2020.

He shot Afghan man Dad Mohammad during an ADF raid in Uruzgan Province, southern Afghanistan, in May 2012.

The ABC’s video footage of the incident helped bring the severity of the war crimes allegations in Afghanistan to the public.


Still from the Four Corners' expose on Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.

Mohammad was married with two very young daughters. His family complained to the ADF, which investigated and cleared Shulz of wrongdoing. He completed multiple tours and was awarded the Commendation for Gallantry in Afghanistan.

Schulz has fared a lot better than McBride, whose evidence would have contributed to getting Shulz to face court.

Arrested in March last year, Shulz was granted relaxed bail conditions in February, since, according to the magistrate, the highly trained alleged war criminal presents no “heightened risk” and his lawyer argued he would be “at grave risk” of being attacked by “extremists” in jail opposed to the war in Afghanistan.

McBride has been charged with stealing public documents; not murder or war crimes.

McBride has always said he gave the ABC the documents as an act of public duty. He has spent five years waiting for sentencing and now faces more than two years in jail.

Michael West has pointed out that McBride was not even allowed to argue his case in court, as the public interest defence was ruled out. He was therefore compelled to plead guilty.

“What kind of justice is it where McBride is denied the opportunity to put his case in an open court of law, being forced rather to plead guilty to government charges but with no resort to the most basic legal right of pleading his case?” West asked.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

“And what kind of justice is it that allows a whistleblower to be tried and convicted while the actual war crimes go unprosecuted, while dozens of incidents go entirely unpunished, untested in court?”


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