Whistleblowers such as David McBride provide a service to the Australian public and don't deserve to be punished, writes Amir Haidari.
McBride blew the whistle on the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) alleged war crimes in Afghanistan in 2016. He disclosed classified information to journalists, which later led to the Brereton report and he remains the only person charged in relation to this inquiry.
The Brereton Report concluded that Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) allegedly committed war crimes and unlawfully killed 39 Afghan civilians in the country.
McBride currently faces five charges including ‘the unauthorised disclosure of information, theft of Commonwealth property and three counts of breaching the Defence Act’. If convicted, he could face decades behind bars for simply telling the truth. On Thursday, his lawyers will argue that his disclosure was permitted under the PID Act after exhausting the internal mechanisms within the ADF.
On the same day, a rally will be held in front of the court to condemn his prosecution and will call for the charges to be dropped.
However, the ADF has argued that McBride is not protected under the PID Act because one of the files he leaked to the ABC contained ‘maps of Afghan’ that could cause ‘serious damage to our national security’.
National security is not what everyday Australians think it is. It can include anything from securing the profits of big corporations to finding new markets for weapon manufacturers.
More importantly, Australia is secretly engaged in wars overseas to protect the U.S.-led global order.
Clinton Fernandes, author of Subimperial Power: Australia in the International Arena, argues that:
‘Under the guise of protecting the national interest, Australia’s security establishment acts in secret to uphold the global U.S.-led imperial order.’
This includes covertly taking part in U.S. assassination programs by Australian Special Forces. Therefore, national security is a vague term used by the Australian Government to justify its questionable actions domestically and abroad.
Meanwhile, many organisations, human rights lawyers and activists have called upon the Australian Government and specifically on the Attorney-General to drop the charges against David McBride.
For instance, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), which has been campaigning for all whistleblowers including McBride, has repeatedly called for the charges to be dropped.
On its latest call, it argues that:
‘Whistleblowers should be protected, not punished — and certainly not prosecuted.’
According to the HRLC, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) can end the prosecution of whistleblowers such as David McBride at anytime ‘if they decide that pursuing these cases is not in the public interest’.
Even if the CDPP does not drop the charges, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has the legal power to stop the case due to exceptional circumstances. Therefore, there are at least two grounds on which this case can be dropped.
‘The Human Rights Law Centre calls on the Attorney-General to exercise this power to drop these unjust cases’, also referring to ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle.
Moreover, a petition on Change.org has gathered more than 74,000 signatures calling on the Australian Government to drop the charges against McBride. At 75,000 signatures, this petition will become one of the top-signed petitions on this platform. The organiser of this petition, Afghan-Australian lawyer Arezo Safi, has also called on the Attorney-General to discontinue McBride’s prosecution.
The petition states:
Without courageous whistleblowers like David McBride, our democracy is at stake. I am calling on the Attorney-General to drop all Charges against McBride.
As a member of the Afghan community in Australia, I am thankful to McBride for revealing the gross misconduct by the special forces soldiers. My sincere hope is that from here on, we uphold rule of law and continue the investigations into the ADF.
Instead of investigating the perpetrators of these misconducts and wrongdoings, the ADF has focused its energy and resources on prosecuting McBride. His prosecution on the surface might appear to be about breaching the Defence Act and even national security. However, underneath it is more about sending a strong message to those who might be tempted to expose official secrets in the future. It is a witch hunt.
In an unrelated disclosure last month, an ABC investigation revealed a new video in which Australian commandos can be heard talking about killing at least ten people in Afghanistan for one particular night.
The video is from late 2012 and the commandos allegedly can be heard saying:
“We’ve got a quota of ten. The quota is ten. Will we meet the quota?”
They can be heard laughing and joking, one of them even suggesting “shooting some dogs, too”.
These are serious allegations and tell a lot about the culture of the ADF. These are not isolated incidents as we have seen from various reports in the past and there must be done something about this.
While it remains to be seen whether the charges against McBride are dropped or not, the latest revelation about alleged war crimes in Afghanistan shows that we need more people like David McBride, not less.
It is through such revelations and disclosures that we can hold people in power, especially in the ADF, accountable. Without people like McBride, the Australian public will never know what is being done under their name.
The Australian public wants to be proud of its soldiers like they are proud of the ANZACS. They do not want to be embarrassed by their conduct. They want to see accountability and transparency not the continuation of this senseless prosecution.
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