Australia to prosecute troops for war crimes in Afghanistan

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Morrison announced a new investigative agency to build criminal cases against Australian special forces suspected of committing war crimes in Afghanistan. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Morrison announced a new investigative agency to build criminal cases against Australian special forces suspected of committing war crimes in Afghanistan. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP) (AAP)

CANBERRA – Australia on Thursday announced a new investigative agency to build criminal cases against Australian special forces suspected of committing war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Office of the Special Investigator is to be formed after a four-year investigation into allegations and rumors surrounding behavior of some soldiers in Special Air Service and Commando Regiments in Afghanistan from 2005 and 2016.

Benjamin Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most highly-decorated member of the armed services when he left the SAS in 2013, has been accused of by former colleagues of unlawful treatment of prisoners including illegally killing prisoners. The former corporal, who was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Medal for Gallantry for his service in Afghanistan, has denied any misconduct.

Defense Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell will make public a redacted report on the four-year investigation next week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new agency, headed by a retired judge or senior criminal lawyer, was needed because the workload would “seriously overwhelm” existing police resources.

“This report will be difficult news and all of our partners must be assured and those around the world who rightly hold the Australian Defense Forces in high regard,” Morrison told reporters.

“In Australia, we deal with this stuff and we deal with it honestly, but in accordance through the rule of law and by following the justice practices and principles that makes Australia what it is,” he added.

Two Australian Broadcasting Corp. journalists until recently faced potential prison sentences for using leaked classified defense documents as a basis for a 2017 report that detailed allegations of Australian soldiers killing unarmed men and children.