SAS commit war crimes in Afghanistan with impunity

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Australian SAS corners Afghan civilian prior to execution. (AFP)

Australia and the United Kingdom have both investigated their elite fighting force, the Special Air Service (SAS) for war crimes in Afghanistan, where they were supposed to be protecting the population.

The Brereton Report and the Operation Northmoor investigation, respectively, found substantial evidence of war crimes; a warrior culture and gang-like initiation rituals known as “blooding”, resulting in dozens of dead Afghan civilians. Yet no one has been prosecuted.

The Brereton report released in late 2020, documents alleged war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

A separate inquiry into war crimes committed there by British Special Forces was concluded just a few months earlier with many striking similarities.

This is a topic that is often overlooked and under-reported, especially given the severity of the crimes.

David McBride, a former lawyer who served as a Major in the Australian Defence Force, faces jail time for leaking evidence of war crimes to Australian broadcaster, ABC.

What we learned from the inquiries

In 2001, Australia invaded Afghanistan, along with the United States and the United Kingdom. 20 years later, these countries are still occupying war ravaged Afghanistan despite promising they would bring peace and stability.

Astronomical amounts of money, resources and manpower have gone towards this occupation, all in the name of nation building, however, it turns out that a lot of these resources have been used to commit horrific acts against the people of Afghanistan.

In late 2020, an inquiry into war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan was finally released.

This 465 page report, entitled “The Virgin Report” was initiated in 2016 and took several years to complete. The report found that 39 Afghan civilians are alleged to have been unlawfully killed by, or involving, Australian Defence Force members.

None of these alleged crimes took place in the heat of battle, and the victims were non combatants or no longer combatants. The report is broken down into three parts. However, a lot of it is heavily redacted. Not just the names of individuals, but in some cases, entire events are redacted.

One of the shocking practices revealed in this report is known as “blooding”. This practice is another extremely disturbing aspect of these war crimes.

Essentially, what would happen is you’d have a platoon commander, who would take a new squad member and have them execute a detained prisoner. The prisoner would be unarmed, in cuffs and posing no threat whatsoever.

The term using this report is also of interest because they referred to this as an unlawful killing. What it really is, is an execution. It’s cold blooded murder; calling it an unlawful killing is just a way to water down the horror of what we’re discussing here.

What we’re talking about here are war crimes, we’re talking about murder, and there is no way to sugarcoat atrocities like this.

Prisoners executed, weapons planted

Another practice that has come to light is the use of “throw downs”. Basically, what this means is that Special Forces would carry weapons that are not regularly issued by the Australian or British military, and then plant them on a prisoner after executing them. They would throw it down on the ground next to them, thus the moniker “throw down”.

This would make it look like the prisoner wasn’t executed, but instead killed during a firefight or because they had supposedly pulled a knife, for example, none of which was true, of course.

It’s important to note that the Brereton report is not in fact a criminal investigation, but an inquiry conducted by the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force. This is a role that is separate from the chain of command in the Australian armed forces and is appointed by the Secretary of Defence.

The Virgin Report makes a number of recommendations following the inquiry, some criminal, others promotions, others pardons. However, it’s not clear which cases they’re referring to because a lot of it has been redacted.

Once again, another war crime, which didn’t come from the Virgin Report, but is still one of the most striking nonetheless, is unveiled in a video that was released by Four Corners.

It shows three men from the Australian SAS chasing an Afghan farmer with a German Shepherd. They catch up to him and gather around him as he’s lying on the ground. At one point one of the SAS can be heard asking if he should drop the man. There’s an inaudible answer after which we see him execute the Afghan farmer at point blank range using his machine gun.

It’s sickening, its grotesque and it’s a war crime that makes one feel physically ill just by watching it. The man who was executed in the video was 26 years old.

His name was Dadu Mohammad and was said to have been carrying a radio and that this proved that he was an insurgent, which is why they killed him. This turned out to be a lie, unsurprisingly, there was no radio recovered. And even if there was, one has to ask the question, how does carrying a radio merit a summary execution at point blank range?

After the release of the Brereton report a Chinese official posted a doctored image on Twitter of an Australian soldier with a knife in reference to the war crimes committed by these by their special forces.

What’s interesting here isn’t so much the image, but the reaction it garnered, particularly, from Australian officials. Australia’s parliament was outraged by it and Australia’s Prime Minister issued a statement rebuking the Chinese government, demanding an apology.

Apparently, the Australian Government is more offended by people exposing and calling out its war crimes than the actual war crimes themselves perpetrated by its own soldiers.

David McBride, a former lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force, leaked evidence of war crimes to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC. After this happened, the ABC offices were raided by police.

And I think it is extremely interesting, and worth pointing out here, that when supposedly liberal democracies like the United States, Australia and the UK, have embarrassing information about them leaked to the press, all notions of freedom of speech and press freedoms suddenly seem to go out the window.

We saw this with the raid on ABC, with the persecution of Julian Assange and numerous other whistleblowers over the years.

After leaking evidence of war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan to ABC, David McBride faces five charges including those of theft of Commonwealth property, breaching the defence act, and disclosing information without due authorization. This could result in him going to jail for decades.

David is facing several decades in jail now, because he exposed war crimes committed by the SAS in Afghanistan, he details how he tried going up the chain of command, and how they put roadblocks and obstacles in front of him, and will elaborate on some of the mechanisms that an institution like the Australian, the British and the American military might put in place to prevent whistle-blowers like himself from disclosing the truth and exposing wrongdoing.

It wasn’t war crimes that I first noticed a problem. It was more that we didn’t tell the truth about anything, about small things as well as big things. That the war looked like it was being run to win domestic elections rather than to actually make a difference in Afghanistan.

And I started to get suspicious, because when I made complaints, they weren’t treated seriously. And in fact, the message that seemed to be coming back to me was “shut up, stop making waves, what’s going on is way above your paygrade”.

And there were some things which looked like cold blooded murders. But they weren’t being investigated, or that were just being whitewashed, and I was like, Well, how can that be?

How could you not look into something which looks like children are being killed?

David McBride, former Lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force

The Virgin report, which was concluded in late 2020, says the SAS killed 39 Afghan civilians. That’s the official figure, but how many of those Special Forces that committed these murders were prosecuted or held accountable?

Is the 39 casualty count accurate or even legitimate?

There’s only one person, one person who ever put on a uniform for Australia, who was facing a trial and significant jail time at this stage, and that is me. And I think even the government finds that an uncomfortable fact.

The report, as you know, was only finished late in 2020. And it wasn’t a conviction of anybody it was simply a non criminal report like an inquiry, which recommended charges you know, didn’t even recommend charges and recommend the collates look at those 39 murders, and if necessary, charge people.

The wheels of justice, even when they’re, even when they’re sort of being totally run honestly, take a long time. And it’s quite possible we won’t even have a trial on this until 2030.

In relation to the amount of murders, I don’t know that it was that many more. But it’s a significant number because it wasn’t…a lot of people must have known.

And that’s what’s truly significant, they should say, a lot of people must have known, a lot of people must have said nothing. And not only that, what is more worrying than sad, if it had been 300, was that often we rewarded the perpetrators of the murders, we gave them medals, we made them sort of media superstars, and I think that’s the really sickening thing; to say, who do we, who gets ahead in our society, you know, the person that does the right thing? Or the person who is the most sneaky, the most ruthless, the person that actually thinks that laws are just a joke?

David McBride, former Lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force

Is Australia’s geopolitical standing, its place on the international stage, at risk due to the perception that it is doing the bidding of the United States? Could the confrontation with China, not to mention the situation with Julian Assange, be another aspect of the same policy?

It completely is and that it does worry me a lot. Well, we will never move forward as a country until we take a good hard look at what they euphemistically call the strategic relationship. That means we are just we’re just doing whatever America wants. And the idea is that they will look after us. You know, if we’re ever going to buy it, but I mean, that’s highly questionable. And I would rather stand on our own, they make us buy their equipment. They use us; obviously, we don’t have a very big army. But it’s it has a very potent effect. It means that when they go on these expeditions to Middle Eastern countries that it doesn’t look like they’re acting on their own. So having Australian is it’s powerful for them.

David McBride, former Lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force

So Donald Trump, he sanctioned the ICC for investigating war crimes in Afghanistan. Israel is now scared that the ICC might investigate them.

Do you think that Australia has handled the SAS war crimes adequately? And if not, do you think that the ICC should be stepping in to prosecute officials and politicians involved in fiasco?

I believe the ICC I believe that was the motivation for the Brereton Report. That was the real motivation. I spoke to a senior lawyer back in 2014. And I said, What’s going on? There’s obviously some big cover up there. Something strange is going on, as I said, we’re prosecuting people we shouldn’t be prosecuting. And we’re not prosecuting the famous guys that need it. And he said, we’re worried about the ICC. And I didn’t understand at the time, I thought, well, the ICC doesn’t have any jurisdiction in Australia, unless it’s pretty serious. What I didn’t realize was that it was a lot more; it was serious enough for the ICC. They knew it back in 2014. And everything they’ve done since, because the ICC can’t prosecute you, if you have carried out prosecutions yourself. I think, they  think they’re being really clever, because I imagine it’s not really it’s not clear what carrying out prosecutions means and so if you’re carrying out prosecutions, yourself for 50 years, that probably qualifies, you know, whatever, by that time they will all be retired.

David McBride, former Lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force

Who is afraid of the ICC?

And the reason why the ICC scares them, The ICC has a tendency to go for the leadership. And this is how, you know, spineless our people are. They don’t really care about the soldiers doing things wrong, whatever. But they worry that they might be in the frame and they might get before the Hague. And so they need to find some scapegoats fast, and they need to draw it out. And I think that that’s that was the real, the really cynical motivation about Brereton was to get, because unlike the US, where a signature were in, this is typical Australia, back to Maurice Payne. We can’t sign up to these things quick enough. We sign up to any anything and we’re like, oh, we’re such a good nation, you know, we signed up to the ICC… and I think a lot of the time people just want to go on junkets to nice sounding… Rome was where the ICC was put together. But they don’t really think about what it means to be a member and now, where the Americans have, of course, never sign up to it, now we’re backpedalling really fast. We will be complicit even though we are a signatory to the ICC, a founding member, and the Americans, Pomeo’s absolutely outrageous idea that he was going to put sanctions that he made the ICC the bad guys. Yeah, to try to make it look like the ICC were the criminals. And Australia, of course, did nothing. And again, this is that creepy thing about, you know, being beholden to the US. We either need to get out of the ICC or we need to say something about that Pompeo’s actions, and they are pretty outrageous, but I think that, unfortunately you’re hanging around, you know, the boys long enough and you become like them and …I think the only reason … we even did the inquiries was to get the ICC off our back, we we didn’t support the ICC. When Pompeo was putting sanctions on them, I’m like, Oh, my God!

David McBride, former Lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force

As stated earlier, these investigations literally take years. And you also have the UK inquiry, Operation Northmoor, where they are still investigating war crimes in Afghanistan, and of course, no one has been found guilty.

I think that’s, that’s another good example. I’m glad you brought it up. I think that that’s what we’re getting in Australia. And unfortunately, all these people are working in the government. And it seems they are using the same playbook, you know, make a big noise about something for long enough, throw around money, but then make sure nothing ever happens, the sort of thing they do in political investigations, you know, whereas if you only care about public appearances, that sort of thing makes perfect sense. You know, if you’re not actually trying to do the right thing, just trying to win elections, of course, double dealing and mixed messages and playing one side off another, a bit like the American elections, you know, that partisan politics serves a purpose. And, if public perception and opinion polling are your goals, your ultimate goals, why not? Just mess with the truth the whole time. You know, a trial is really just a way to look good temporarily. And if you have to have a trial, but make sure the person gets acquitted, that’s a win win. As far as these very cynical, you know, reputation management, people would would go in there pretty much everything that the US has, not just the US but all the Western nations are doing the Middle East is a Sham.

David McBride, former Lawyer and Major in the Australian Defence Force

The United Kingdom, which also invaded Afghanistan in 2001, is also embroiled in its own war crimes scandal. Britain’s Special Forces, also named the Special Air Service, SAS, were found to be committing war crimes going back many, many years.

These war crimes involved many of the same things we just looked at such as blooding, or throw downs, and were also systemically covered up by the entire chain of command. An inquiry was also launched, called Operation Northmoor, yet not a single soldier or politician was held accountable. These atrocities were reported on years before when the Sunday Times in cooperation with the BBC, published internal emails showing that troops in Afghanistan were casually discussing these war crimes among themselves.

For example, in late 2010 and early 2011, British special forces from D Squadron in the 22nd Special Air Service regiment, conducted several night raids in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

During these nighttime raids they would regularly execute dozens of unarmed Afghan men, committing the most horrendous of war crimes, with complete impunity.

On February 16th 2011, the SAS stormed the house of a man named Saifullah Ghareb Yar. They executed his two brothers, his cousin and his father. All of his family members had been unarmed and were already in custody at this point when they were murdered.

Afterwards, the SAS falsified their Operational Summary, OPSOM reports, claiming that these men had brandished weapons of some sort. They did this for practically every raid, these “throwdowns”, the report goes on to detail how British commanders became aware early on of a deliberate policy of executing Afghani civilians, particularly men.

In one email published by the Sunday Times a Major in the SAS remarks that there were more bodies than weapons. This clearly indicates that either the weapons had gone missing, or the men were never armed to begin with. And these reports were fabricated, or falsified. The numbers literally did not add up.

In another email soldiers casually talk about the latest massacre, indicating how common these occurrences were. The UK Ministry of Defence claims that a “breakdown of communication” between the Ministry of Defence and lawyers is the reason that no action ended up being taken.

Operation Northmoor was set up in 2014 to investigate these crimes. And yet, here we are in 2021, and not a single person has been found guilty despite all of these killings. How is that possible? It’s extraordinary that none of these investigations whether we’re talking about Operation Northmoor, or the Brereton Report, have resulted in any successful prosecutions or convictions; or even criminal proceedings beginning.

How is it that Australian, British and American Special Forces can literally get away with murder?

The end result of this is that these actions not only disgraced the uniforms of these countries but also blew a giant hole in the mission these countries allegedly set out to accomplish, if their original goal was, as they professed, to bring peace and stability to the country, this certainly was not the way to do it.

Executing unarmed men and getting away with murder, is not nation building or bringing peace and stability and security to Afghanistan. It’s a horrendous, brutal occupation that cannot be justified and is, ultimately, self defeating.

In some cases when Afghan civilians were executed by special forces their families were paid compensation by British and Australian troops, who did so without acknowledging any wrongdoing.

If you look at the sums mentioned, in some cases, it’s around 2000 or $3,000. According to the Sunday Times, in July of 2012, an Afghan mother named Bebe Hazrata, watched as the elite British SAS commandos shot dead her three unarmed sons (Nor Mohammad, 33, Din Mohammad, 30, and Sher Mohammed, 27) in the courtyard of their own home.

They were just farmers. The British then paid her 3000 pounds, and just left. Of course, the British government denies any wrongdoing.

And in another instance, reported by ABC, the Australian Special Forces killed a man named Bismillah Azadi and his 15 year old son, Sadighollah, while they lay sleeping. According to Bismillah’s cousin, he found them dead and the bed riddled with bullets, the Australian Special Forces had left some cash with the corpse and left.

Is that how much the United States, Britain and Australia think Afghan lives are worth, a few thousand dollars?

This is not just repulsive; it’s extremely insulting and dehumanizing. Foreign invaders come to Afghanistan, kill Afghan civilians in front of their families, pay them a few pennies and then just move on to the next village, or next town, as if nothing happened.

And the world stays silent and allows this to continue for decades. Is this it?

Anyone with a shred of decency will be shocked and offended by what’s going on. And these are just the things that we know.

More recently, there’s a bill going through the British Parliament called the Overseas Operations Bill, which is extreme cause for concern.

This bill seeks to eliminate accountability for British troops who commit war crimes overseas by introducing a statute of limitation of five years after the event has happened. That is, If it’s ever investigated.

This means war crimes, torture, abuses of various kinds would go unpunished, essentially, not just the soldiers committing the acts but all the way up the chain of command, no one would be held responsible.

The bill effectively eviscerates accountability for war crimes and does nothing to prevent them in the future. It’s an assault on human rights in the clearest sense and an indication that the British government intends to continue the trend of letting war crimes go unpunished.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from these investigations, it’s not just that war crimes have been committed with absolute impunity, and that these horrific practices like blooding and throw downs are going on, but that there’s also been a systemic cover up going up the entire chain of command.

It’s really worth thinking about what is more concerning here, the fact that these war crimes have taken place at all or that military officials and politicians are able to get away with them and escape unscathed after failing to prevent them from happening in the first place, and letting them continue when they knew the horrors that were taking place.

Honestly, both concepts are equally terrifying, and equally unacceptable; most of all, to the victims and their families.

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