By Mike Canavan
Whoever advised Angus Campbell he needed to get a head of the game, and release to the world the shame of or SAS for alleged war crimes — as yet unproven, should be removed from their post; and Campbell must resign for his appalling lack of judgement over his stance with regard to the recently release of the infamous ‘Brereton Report’. Perhaps Campbell had another agenda, it is hard to know. Strictly from a public relations point of view, things could not get worse for the Australian Military Forces. The best of the best — the SAS special forces unit today as a result of his actions face some of the most difficult times in its long and illustrious history. It is hard to imagine that it could and has been handled any worse than if they set out to discredit and demonise the brave men and women that are charged with the defence of our nation.
The source of the controversy is the document known as the ‘Brereton Report’ penned by Major General Brereton, also known as Mr Justice Brereton, a Justice of the NSW bench. There is little doubt that Justice Brereton is an experienced Jurist. Yet there is no question that he has ever seen the working end of a PPSh-41 sub machine gun, nor an AK-47 assault rifle. Many have referred to people like him as ‘weekend warriors’.
Brereton enlisted in the Australian Army Reserve in 1975 and was commissioned into the Royal Australian Infantry Corps in 1979. From 1977 until 1997 he was also Training Officer of the Knox Grammar School Cadet Unit. His senior appointments have included Second-in-command of Sydney University Regiment (1994–96),He over the years worked his way through the ranks. On 1 January 2007 he was promoted brigadier and posted as Assistant Chief of Staff, Land Headquarters, and on 1 January 2008, assumed his posting as commander 5th Brigade. Brereton was promoted major general and served as Head of the Cadet, Reserve and Employer Support Division from 2010 to 2014. I suspect the most action that Mr Brereton has ever seen is pushing his way to the bar at Sydney University’s Manning house through a crowded Friday of rowdy undergraduates.
Never one short of wanting a headline, Prime Minister Morrison with nothing proven, no one charged — decided that it would be in our nation’s best interest to apologise to the people of Afghanistan, and advise our nation that what we were about to witness would shock us to the very core. This is the bloke (Morrison) who bought us the memorable campaign “Australia, where the bloody hell are you”?
If that were not bad enough, our illustrious Foreign Minister Marise Payne wrote to her Afghan counterpart “ apologising for the misconduct”. What misconduct? The report is yet to be tabled. There are no names, there are no charges — nothing has been proved in the courts. One has to really ask “ what the bloody hell is Morrison up to”?
How do you defend the nation by demoralising and demonising those charged with that responsibility?
Justice Brereton says the Commanders of Australia’s Middle East operations, who included the Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell (from 2011-2012), were not accountable because they did not have in Brereton’s words: “A sufficient degree of command and control to attract the principles of command responsibility.”
Already, Campbell has apologised to the ‘victims’ families’. Victims? Perhaps he believes that he has cleansed his soul, in the ultimate act of Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands of the stain of his lamentable involvement in Christ’s execution — if indeed there is a matter where guilt must be apportioned. As I’ve said before, this entire matter has not been before any court whatsoever, no one has been charged and nobody named.
However, grave doubts must be raised regarding the leadership of the Defence Force of Australia and its leader Angus Campbell. Campbell’s background is as follows:
General Angus John Campbell, AO, DSC, is a senior officer in the Australian Army, serving as the Chief of the Defence Force since 6 July 2018.
Campbell served as Chief of Staff to General Peter Cosgrove and later Air Chief Marshal Angus Huston during their respective tenures as Chief of the Defence Force. In 2005 he left the full-time army and assumed a senior civilian appointment as First Assistant Secretary in the Office of National Security within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Campbell was later promoted to Deputy Secretary, and served as Deputy National Security Adviser for a period before returning to the army in 2010.
Campbell was promoted to the rank of Major General and appointed as Commander Joint Task Force 633 in 2011, responsible for all Australian forces deployed in the Middle East, including Afghanistan. For his command in Afghanistan, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
It is not unfair to say that Angus Campbell is a bureaucratic politician. It would seem, sadly, he has little or no interest in the well-being of the troops he is supposed to command, and is more interested in his own political position and career prospects. Perhaps he has the ultimate prize in mind — that of the Governor Generals office. Similar to his former boss Sir Peter Cosgrove, and our current GG, David John Hurley, AC, DSC, FTSE.
Surely should there be any blame, and I reiterate, this is yet to be established — it should rest his feet.
There is an historic precedent known as the Yamashita Standard. Tomoyuki Yamashita was a Japanese General of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. After the war, Yamashita was tried for war crimes committed by troops under his command during the Japanese defence of the occupied Philippines in 1944. In a controversial trial, Yamashita was found guilty of his troops’ atrocities, even though there was no evidence that he approved or even knew of them, and indeed many of the atrocities were committed by troops not actually under his command. Yamashita was sentenced to death and executed by hanging in 1946. The ruling against Yamashita – holding the commander responsible for subordinates’ war crimes as long as the commander did not attempt to discover and stop them from occurring – came to be known as the Yamashita standard.
Most importantly this doctrine of command accountability has been added to the Geneva Conventions and was applied to dozens of trials in the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia. It has been adopted by the International Criminal Court established in 2002.
Australia is what is called a high contracting party to the Conventions. That means it has accepted the full scope of obligations under the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Australia is also a party to two additional treaties adopted in 1977— the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.
Should there be any criminal findings that make their way through court, Angus Campbell must be as Commander In Chief held to account for his troops’ alleged atrocities. Surely decency would demand he resigned his command immediately. On November 19th, 2020 in a self-serving press conference, he revealed: “This inquiry found no evidence there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of troop, squadron and Task Group commanders, or higher commanders”.
“However, being unaware of, or even deliberately kept unaware of unlawful actions, does not relieve commanders of moral responsibility. And the report finds Task Group commanders bear responsibility for what happened under their command”.
“Higher arrangements for command and control were found to be too dispersed and too distant to consistently give effective direction and control to the Special Operations Task Group”.
This directly, and dare I say, flies completely in the face of the Yamashita Standard.
To add insult to injury, earlier this month Campbell said he would write to the Governor-General requesting he revoke the citation given to about 3000 soldiers, after the release of a report detailing horrific alleged war crimes. Yet he is set to keep his medal while fighting the war in the comfort of a five star hotel in the Middle East.
But the government has since distanced itself from the recommendation, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying: “decisions haven’t been made yet”. Another spineless act by Scotty from marketing.
Joel Fitzgibbon in an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph last Friday wrote: Don’t demonise our troops. Fitzgibbon is the federal Member for Hunter, and was the Minister for Defence 2007-2009.
“As we flew into Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province, the pilot had the C-130 hugging the mountain range to avoid surface-to-air missiles”.
“Another in the cockpit had his trigger-finger on a red button, ready to deploy missile-distracting flares if necessary”.
“It’s late 2007 and I’m experiencing my first visit to the failed state”.
He went on:
“But on each of my visits I felt safe because I was protected by our best soldiers of the Special Air Service (SAS) and 2nd Commando Regiments”.
“Our elite Special Forces soldiers are relatively few. But there were also many hundreds of them deployed to Afghanistan over the long period of the war”.
“The relatively small number of troopers under investigation as a result of the Brereton inquiry tells us that the report should not be taken as a reflection on all who served as part of the Special Operations Task Group. Furthermore, we need to be mindful of what our Government exposed our Diggers to in Afghanistan, how much we expected of them, and how much we pushed them. When the inquiry into their actions runs its course, we should have a separate inquiry into the decisions of those who deployed them, politicians and senior ADF leaders alike”.
“But how did it come to this? We must continue to honour them, respect them, and thank the Defence Force”, says Joel Fitzgibbon.
“Those who pass the ultra-challenging ‘selection’ course to become a Special Force soldier must overcome extraordinary physical and mental tests”.
“In effect, the Army melts them down and rebuilds them into young men capable of the teamwork, mutual trust, and the mental toughness needed to deploy lethal force when necessary. They make “warriors of them. But as impressive and professional as the Army’s training and preparation processes are, and no matter how tough and skilled our frontline soldiers are, there is a limit to their mental resilience”.
“In Afghanistan we tested that limit”.
“As the conflict dragged on, we took them away from their families again and again for longer periods of time as our resources became more and more stretched”.
“They were sent to hell to fight an enemy that respects none of the rules we do. Not the laws of armed conflict, not domestic law”.
“Unlike our boys, enemy combatants were not constrained by any rules of engagement. By far the greatest perpetrators of war crimes against the innocent were the Taliban, and they go unpunished”.
“The enemy wore no uniform, making it hard to be sure who was a threat and who was not”.
“Who to trust, and who not to trust? Having risked their lives to capture them, our men in uniform too often spotted those they had recently captured roaming the streets of Oruzgan Province thanks to NATO’s ‘catch and release’ policy”.
“After putting their lives on the line for their country for years, our battle-fatigued soldiers started to question whether mission success was possible, despite achieving everything asked of them”.
“The mission objectives kept changing, strategy seemed vague, and the global community was questioning the merits of NATO’s intervention. Shades of Vietnam”.
“Too often, medevac helicopters couldn’t be found for our wounded and close air support was often unavailable”.
“When our patrol commanders were asked to go ‘beyond the wire’ with members of the Afghan National Army in equal number, room in the Blackhawk for our partners was created by leaving the medic at home”.
“All of this may explain why a small number wrongly thought it justified to take matters into their own hands”.
“We must continue to honour them, respect them, and thank them. Lest we Forget”.
With an enemy who has no regard for the rules of combat the ones that we demand our soldiers to live and die by, significant questions must be asked. It is extremely easy for those of us who have never had to put our lives on the line to judge the actions of those who face perils that we couldn’t deal with in our most hateful nightmares. No one countenances murder, but when faced with his own eminent death murder becomes self-defence. When does the inherent instinct for self-preservation take control of our actions? Those that have not served in the front lines fought an invisible enemy and felt and tasted the very nature of death are not fit to pass judgement on the ones that have lived through such torture.
If decency means anything, rather than politically correct damnation then genuine compassion of those that have protected us and the freedom we enjoy, should be at the forefront of any tribunal or court before further damage is done to the lives of our best and brightest. In the true sense of our Anzac tradition then — Lest We Forget.