The Guardian • Issue #1974

Department of Defence to pay for war crimes

The Department of Defence has pledged to bring soldiers accused of war crimes to justice and pay reparations to their victims by the end of the year. The long-awaited announcement was made in response to the Brereton inquiry, which provided significant evidence that Australian soldiers had been committing war crimes during the war in Afghanistan. For more information on the Afghanistan war see Guardian, “Afghanistan, will the US lose the war as well as the peace?” #1960; Guardian, “The end of the ‘endless war’? Australia and the US withdraw from Afghanistan” #1958; and Guardian, “Australia’s participation in war crimes”#1943.

The inquiry found that twenty-five Australian soldiers were implicated in the murder of thirty-nine Afghani civilians and suggested that the soldiers be criminally investigated, recommending thirty-six incidents be handed over to the Australian Federal Police. On 30th July, the Department of Defence (DoD) released a report in response to the inquiry which outlined a four-year reform plan.

The DoD report aims to decide whether or not soldiers who have committed these crimes ought to be stripped of their medals. It also recommended that the soldiers in question be referred for criminal action, discipline or other “workforce management” action. The DoD also intends to provide compensation to Afghan victims by the end of the year. It is impossible to imagine what compensation would be adequate for the families of the people who were murdered.

In the opening paragraphs of the report, it states that:

“Misconduct as serious as that identified and alleged by the Afghanistan Inquiry cannot occur unless there have been serious and systemic organisational and cultural failings.”

It goes on to say that the defence force will undergo structural reforms to “address the root causes of [its] past failures and wrongdoing.” The report lays out two objectives:

Objective 1 (address the past). Consider and take appropriate action to address organisational, collective and individual responsibility for past failures and wrongdoing.

Objective 2 (prevent recurrence). Build the best possible organisation for the future, comprehensively understanding and addressing the root causes of the failures and wrongdoing; and developing the systems, culture and accountability that will prevent, and promptly detect and respond to, departures from required standards.

The 36-page report does not once mention the very glaring actual root cause of the problem: the Australian military is a vehicle of imperialism. Australia has continually operated as the lapdog for imperialist powers from both World Wars, to fighting against communist revolutions in Vietnam and Korea, up to Afghanistan, the list goes on and on. Our military sure spends a lot of time abroad for a so-called “defence force”; what our defence has to do with Afghanistan is a bit of a mystery.

There is no way of reforming a military that is constantly engaged in imperialist wars. War crimes like these will continue to occur, and it is the civilians of those countries who pay for it with their lives. For those who survive, all they are left with is the destruction of their country. If Australia was truly committed to global peace, it would cease engaging in these endless wars.

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