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A monumental betrayal: Four Corners and David McBride

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David McBride in an interview with The Project (image via YouTube)

David McBride's work to expose war crimes is being wrongly minimised. Dr John Jiggens reports.

ON EASTER Saturday, a friend and I drove down to Mullumbimby to hear Afghan war crimes whistleblower David McBride speaking at the Mullumbimby RSL.

The previous Monday, I had watched the Four Corners program about David McBride, called 'Rules of Engagement'. My friend hadn’t seen it, so we listened to it on an iPhone as we drove along. There was one heavily ironic moment towards the end of 'Rules of Engagement' when ABC journalist Dan Oates said he hates it when journalists make themselves the centre of the story.

If only his Four Corners colleagues had listened. Unfortunately, the storyline of 'Rules of Engagement' carefully avoided such vitally important issues as who bears the responsibility for Australian war crimes in Afghanistan, the controversial National Security Information Act and the important role whistle-blowers and journalists play in a democracy.

Instead, they concentrate on a petty squabble between Four Corners reporter Oates and whistle-blower McBride concerning who gets the credit for the award-winning 2016 Four Corners episode, 'The Afghan Files'.

'Rules of Engagement' covered the events of David McBride’s trial in November 2023, a trial I wrote two articles about for Independent Australia, so I found the contrast between what the Four Corners program included and what my reportage covered, illuminating.

My first Independent Australia article on the subject covered the colourful protest outside the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra before McBride’s trial began.

The MC for the rally was former SBS news anchor, Mary Kostakidis and the list of speakers supporting McBride featured an impressive array of whistle-blowers: Troy Stolz, the Clubs NSW whistle-blower; Jeff Morris, the Commonwealth Bank whistle-blower; Bernard Collaery, the former ACT Attorney-General who was prosecuted for defending the ASIS whistle-blower, known as Witness K; former senator Rex Patrick and Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton.

My story was filled with grabs from these whistle-blowers about their support of McBride, the failure of Australia’s whistle-blower laws and the increasing level of legal protection given to the "national security state". Four Corners ignored all of this, except for two five-second grabs of Stolz and Morris.

I saw the duo arrive in Canberra with the Four Corners crew, and I watched them being filmed speaking in support of McBride at a concert and again outside the ACT Supreme Court on Monday.

Subsequently, Four Corners decided to use almost none of their footage of them or the other whistle-blowers. The assembled whistle-blowers greatly supported McBride, which I reported and which Four Corners chose to ignore.

My second Independent Australia article about McBride’s prosecution focused on the judgment by Justice David Mossop, who denied McBride his public interest defence and ruled that Australian soldiers' sole duty is to obey their superior officers.

This article reported the use of the controversial National Security Information Act by the Attorney-General to confiscate all the files McBride had hoped to use for his defence. It also questioned why the whistle-blower was being prosecuted, which was not recommended by the Brereton Report.

What Brereton had recommended was an investigation into what he described as possibly the most shameful event in the history of the Australian Defence Forces that occurred during the Afghan War. This investigation has been sidelined for over three years. Meanwhile, the whistle-blower is being prosecuted, which seems a convenient misdirection.

The Four Corners report did cover the legislation, but the report needed a civil liberties lawyer to explain the Act and its misuse against whistle-blowers.

Another mistake I should correct... about 30 minutes into 'Rules of Engagement', over footage of McBride entering the ACT courthouse, the reporter, Grace Tobin, narrates: “Inside [McBride] will face prosecutors who will deny he is a genuine whistleblower.”

Not true. The prosecution never denied McBride was a whistle-blower. They were striving to convict him as one and give him a long prison sentence.

Paradoxically, the only people who deny that McBride is a genuine whistle-blower are Four Corners. Tobin’s narration was untrue, but it planted the seed for the outrageous Four Corners accusation that David McBride was not a genuine whistle-blower.

Michael West Media have published a powerful critique of this Four Corners episode by retired Australian Army officer, Stuart McCarthy. Like McBride, McCarthy questioned how and why the generals and other ADF commanders avoided scrutiny and responsibility for war crimes committed in Afghanistan. He accused the ABC of avoiding the question of government culpability for war crimes in Afghanistan, choosing instead to ‘throw its source under the bus’ on the eve of his sentencing.

McBride’s lawyer, Mark Davis, was outraged at the timing of the program and his angry retort on X (formerly Twitter) responded to the ABC’s “venom” with withering vitriol. David McBride had risked everything to help the ABC and Oakes produce 'The Afghan Files', he said.

His firm posted:

They got the applause and awards, but barely glanced up when David was led away in chains. They have ignored his story ever since. They totally ignored our request for evidence they held which was vital for David’s defence. They extracted the information they needed and dumped him and only return now as he awaits sentence to pour this venom on him.

 

While we are limited in what we can say until the proceedings end, we will briefly address Oates’ comments in the message to follow but our true dismay is how ABC management could allow this 4 Corners episode to broadcast at this time.

 

It is possibly a contempt of court and the worst time imaginable to be spreading half-truths. We gave some interviews to this program on a solemn undertaking that it would not be broadcast prior to sentencing. It was a promise given virtually every time the camera rolled. Once they had what they needed it was a promise thrown into the gutter like David McBride. At least they are consistent.

What were David McBride’s views on the program? At the Mullumbimby RSL, McBride’s support team had set up a merchandise stall in the RSL auditorium, selling 'Truth is a Lonely Warrior' t-shirts and McBride’s book, The Nature of Honour.

The event had been hastily organised because McBride had expected to spend Easter in prison. But his sentencing date had been shifted from 13 March to 6 May, so, unexpectedly, he found himself spending Easter in Mullumbimby as happily as a man with the threat of a long gaol sentence hanging over him could.

McBride was interviewed by my Bay FM colleague, Mia Armitage, before a crowd of about 45 people. He expected to be sent to prison for a long time, he told her.

Halfway through the interview, Juice Media’s new Honest Government Ad about whistle-blower protection laws was shown before the interview resumed. During the Q&A, I asked McBride questions about his views on the Four Corners program.

Like McCarthy, McBride felt the program was a hit job. Four Corners seemed to suggest that McBride was covering up war crimes or somehow helping bad people. As a lawyer for the Special Forces, his job had been to defend soldiers accused of war crimes and he performed his job conscientiously. He had hoped for support from Four Corners, but it had betrayed him.

It was all smoke and mirrors, he said:

"The case is they just want to punish me, to make an example of me, to show other people do not mess with us and do not ever disobey orders."

He added:

My case was to say the Defence Force is broken because it has become a political force rather than a military force and we do whatever will make the Minister look good that day. And that means sometimes pinning medals on some people, sometimes investigating people. Neither of them are real.

 

They're both for show and they're both for short term good news stories for the Minister. And of course the 'Four Corners' programme tried to shrink what I did. Funnily enough, 'Four Corners' and Dan Oates, and the prosecution, they both said the same thing. They try to minimise my complaint, to say it was only about their investigation.

 

What's outrageous was the idea that Dan Oates can get a medal for my documents, he can get an Order of Australia and he also didn't get prosecuted. He got a letter saying he's not going to get prosecuted. It isn’t in the public interest. But McBride’s got to go to gaol forever for giving him the same documents, without the ABC saying: "Hang on? How does that work?"

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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