20th November 2020
The United Kingdom government is currently making it (even) more difficult to prosecute its armed services for historic war crimes.
On this I did a video essay for the Financial Times (written and presented by me, produced by the estimable Tom Hannen).
The United Kingdom and war crimes (and torture in particular) is a depressing subject – from Kenya and Northern Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are cover-ups and other attempts to avoid scrutiny.
But there are other, more refreshing approaches to official accountability.
The Australian government has now published a report into war crimes in Afghanistan by its own special forces.
Australia has today released a report into war crimes by its own special forces.— Freedom from Torture (@FreefromTorture) November 19, 2020
The report finds evidence of dozens of murders of Afghan civilians.
Accountability matters.#BreretonReport #OverseasOperationsBillhttps://t.co/pk1Z4veyNn
The report of by Paul Brereton, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry Report is an extraordinary and highly important document.
The report is unflinching.
And in response to the report, the Australian government has already taken concrete steps.
War crimes happen, torture happens – and war crimes and torture can be committed by all sides, not just the ‘baddies’.
This is the nasty truth about conflict and human nature.
The question is about what to do about it when it happens.
One approach comprises official cover-ups, deflections, and smearing those seeking justice and accountability.
This is a misguided, short-term approach.
It means there is a sense of getting away with it, of permissiveness – and, in time, it means the armed services will lose valuable legitimacy when dealing with local populations.
The Australian approach is far harder, but a far better one.
Or, if there is acceptance that war crimes and torture took place, then there is then a shruggy ‘well, what is wrong with this?’ and ‘so what?’ and this dismissive attitude will get easy nods from political and media supporters.
Yet everything is wrong with war crimes and torture, and high standards matter and make a difference.
And the Australians seem to realise this, but the United Kingdom does not.
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