An investigation appointed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to probe potential war crimes carried out by Australian Defence Force soldiers will look at the execution of 12 Afghan civilians.
A special investigator has been chosen to assess charges stemming from allegations Australian Defence Force troops carried out the summary execution of prisoners or non-combatants while serving in Afghanistan.
Mr Morrison said a redacted version of the report into allegations between 2005 and 2016, which was handed to Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell on Friday, would be released next Thursday.
A separate panel will oversee the Australian Defence Force’s broader response to the inquiry.
The alleged misconduct of 10 Australian Special Air Services Regiment veterans are expected to be reported to authorities as part of the investigation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a special investigator will be appointed to assess potential charges stemming from a report into the alleged misconduct of Australian Defence Force troops in Afghanistan. Pictured: A soldier conducts a search while on patrol in the Oruzgan Province in Southern Afghanistan
Five of the soldiers are still active serving members of the SAS, defence sources told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Troops from the commandos – a division of the SAS – could also reportedly be referred to police but the number of troops under investigation from the special forces arm remains unclear.
Major General Paul Brereton examined the substance of rumours and allegations relating to possible war crimes breaches in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016.
Multiple soldiers have made confessions to the Brereton inquiry, according to special force insiders, which will pose a legal challenge for prosecutors as evidence from compulsory questioning cannot be used against the confessor in court.
Mr Morrison said there was disturbing conduct in the report handed to the defence force chief.
‘This will be difficult and hard news for Australians, I can assure you,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
The office of the special investigator will look at criminal matters raised in the report, gather evidence and potentially refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Brereton inquiry examined 55 separate issues and 338 witnesses, mainly over alleged unlawful killings and cruel treatment. Pictured: Afghan prisoners in Jalalabad, Afghanistan
Mr Morrison believes potential prosecutions will mitigate the possibility of Australian soldiers being called before the International Criminal Court.
‘We need to deal with this as Australians, according to our own laws, through our own justice processes and we will,’ he said.
‘I think that will say a lot about Australia.’
The office will be staffed with investigators from the Australian Federal Police, state police experts and legal counsel.
The oversight panel will be led by former intelligence watchdog Vivienne Thom.
University of Tasmania vice-chancellor Rufus Black and ex-attorney general’s department boss Robert Cornall will also be on the panel.
The panel will advise the government on cultural, organisational and leadership issues in Defence linked to the allegations.
Pictured: The Australian and Afghan National Army search a village at Musazai in the Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan
‘Its role will be the essential part of ensuring ongoing confidence in our defence force,’ Mr Morrison said.
The Brereton inquiry examined 55 separate issues and 338 witnesses, mainly over alleged unlawful killings and cruel treatment.
In March, the ABC aired footage from a helmet camera showing an Australian soldier shooting dead an apparently unarmed Afghan man in a field in May 2012.
A former SAS soldier has also told the broadcaster he saw three incidents of alleged murder.
There have been a range of similar allegations levelled at the special forces unit.
Hazratullah Sardar, 22, (pictured left) and Abdul Sardar, 34 (centre) sit with a tribal elder (right) in Afghanistan as they listen to Dusty Miller’s grief-torn apology for their father’s death
The SAS were deployed to the Afghan province of Uruzgan – and later to other areas – as part of a special forces group for various missions between 2005 and 2013.
There were five casualties during the operations which included combat patrols and surveillance.
One of the 55 alleged war crimes was the case of Haji Sardar, an almond farmer whose sons claim was stomped to death by a member of the special forces.
SAS medic Dusty Miller, a decorated former warrant officer who served in Afghanistan, made an emotional apology to his sons after Mr Sardar was taken away from his care by a superior and was dead shortly after.
Mr Miller made the heartfelt apology from Melbourne over video link to two sons of the almond farmer in Kabul.
‘He didn’t die of his wounds, I can promise you that,’ Dusty Miller (pictured) told 60 Minutes
‘I am very sorry by what happened to your father and I wish I’d have done more,’ he said.
‘You shouldn’t have lost your father that day and I am so sorry that that happened.’
Mr Sardar’s sons were not angry and instead thanked Mr Miller.
Abdul Sardar, 34, said he was grateful that Mr Miller had helped his father in the final moments before he was allegedly killed.
‘He has done as much as he could do and when things were beyond his ability then no-one can hold one accountable for,’ he said through an interpreter on 60 Minutes.
Mr Sardar’s other son Hazratullah, 22, said he, too, was thankful for Mr Miller’s help.
‘I am very thankful to Dusty for his help and getting in touch with us and telling us what he did, and the help he provided to my father,’ he said.
Both sons, however, asked Mr Miller to help them get justice for the death of their father who was from a small village deep in the badlands of southern Afghanistan.
Mr Sardar, a father-of-seven, had been shot through the thigh as the SAS approached his village on March 14, 2012.
Dusty Miller (pictured on duty) has broken his silence on alleged war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan, and apologised to the sons of farmer allegedly killed by the SAS
Mr Miller, a medic recently deployed to Afghanistan with Australia’s SAS Regiment, was given the injured farmer to care for as soon as he arrived.
Mr Sardar was lucky as the bullet had passed clean through and Mr Miller said the injury was not life threatening.
He treated Mr Sardar’s wounds and made him as comfortable as possible.
The Army medic told 60 Minutes that under the Geneva Convention it didn’t matter if the patient was a combatant or a non-combatant, once a wounded person was under his care, he would be treated.
Mr Miller believed he was to take the wounded man to the base at Tarinkot, in the capital of Uruzgan province, for medical treatment.
Instead, he recounted how one of his superiors approached him and said ‘this person’s coming with me’.
Because he could not walk, the soldier piggybacked the bleeding farmer away.
Minutes later, the same senior officer returned and told him the man had died, Mr Miller said.
‘Straight away I knew that was impossible – absolutely impossible,’ Mr Miller said.
‘I assumed he was killed basically. He didn’t die of his wounds, I can promise you that.’
Mr Sardar’s sons said when they were allowed to see their dead father, six hours later, he had boot marks all over his chest, as though someone had stomped him to death.