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From Olympus to Tartarus: Damning the ‘Demigods’ in Afghanistan


Between 2005 and 2016, Australia’s elite special forces took part in a number of daring raids in Afghanistan under the compelling narrative which endeavoured to protect liberal democracy from radical Islamic fundamentalism and the gross human rights violations that walk hand in hand with it.


Yet, the reality on the ground is not as admirable or ‘just’ as this chronicle might have us believe. A recent document publishing the findings of a four-year military inquiry discovered Australian soldiers effectively executed helpless Afghan civilians and “methodically” tried to conceal their actions from their superiors.


While the report skirts around the topic, under the Geneva Convention these actions undoubtedly constitute a serious war crime as they explicitly fall outside the appropriate behaviour during conflict. 39 innocent civilians - farmers and adolescents -were slaughtered outside the chaos of open battle prompting the inspector general of the Australian Defence Force to condemn the atrocities “as the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history”.


This news arises in light of a particularly hideous warrior culture that plagues Australian armed forces. Senior officers would order junior soldiers to execute Afghan prisoners to record their first “kill” in a vicious initiation ritual known was “blooding”. Experienced soldiers were seen as “godlike” by their subordinates. To impress their ‘demigod’ commanders, junior soldiers were expected to demonstrate their unquestioned loyalty, even if this involved a serious breach of human rights. After they had confirmed their first “kill”, weapons and equipment were placed around the corpses to disguise the victims as legitimate targets. It is beyond shocking that such barbaric acts are being committed by supposedly the most elite and professional military regiments in the world.


The Australian state has rightly condemned the perpetrators and launched a full enquiry into its own military’s conduct in Afghanistan. In a rare admission of guilt to crimes usually concealed from public knowledge, Prime Scott Morrison expressed his “deepest sorrow” towards the Afghan people and vowed to President Ashraf Ghani to prosecute any solider who took part in the slaughter. Meanwhile, on the recommendation of the condemning report, Gen. Angus Campbell has agreed to pay compensation to the families who suffered at the hands of a ruthless bloodlust.


Australia has rightly disbanded the 2nd Squadron of the Special Air Service Regiment and issued 13 soldiers responsible for the murders with “administrative action notices”. While none have been issued with such notices as of yet, the inspector general has recommended that 19 soldiers face criminal prosecution. In addition, soldiers who committed lesser crimes should also face the consequence of their actions. In this early stage of development, it is unclear how the prosecutions shall proceed from here.


This the first time a western coalition member has investigated its own conduct in Afghanistan on such a public scale, and in this light, Australia should be commended. However, this begs the question, on how many other occasions have western forces committed atrocities in the Middle East?


Indeed, this is not the first incident in which western forces have faced prosecution for crimes committed during Middle Eastern wars. The UK tried a sentenced ‘Marine A’ to life imprisonment for murder after executing an injured Afghan insurgent in 2011. Across the Atlantic, US Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty to murdering 16 civilians and now serves life without parole. Evidently, the recent events in Australia is simply history repeating itself


Disturbingly, however, President Trump has recently pardoned 3 soldiers accused of war crimes in a bizarre exercise of his executive power of American armed forces. As such, his administration has tried to block additional enquires by international investigators into atrocity’s committed by US forces in Afghanistan, claiming such cases are “rare” at most. This is rather concerning news and would come as no surprise to learn in the coming months and years of other cases of US atrocities kept hidden from the international community. Suddenly, the vivid, grotesque images of Abu Ghraib and similar CIA black sites spring to mind.


In the words of William Tecumseh Sherman, “War is hell”. It is the unfortunate reality of conflict that suffering is common, where humanity behaves at its most depravedness. However, there is no excuse for the actions described above. Western armed forces are held to the highest professional standard, undergoing a rigorous training programme which explicitly details the rules of engagement. Coalition forces have devastated the Middle East. They have levelled cities, torn communities and families apart, and fractured the politics and social cohesion of the region for generations to come. The minimum the West can do is hold its own war criminals to account if it insists on pursuing others. The Geneva Convention and humanitarian law is not mere rhetoric, but the norms that must be held at all costs to regulate the most appalling cases of human action.


by Daniel Mountain

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