By Mohammad Mazhari

Murder of 39 Afghans by Australian soldiers only ‘tip of the iceberg’: professor

December 6, 2020 - 15:12

TEHRAN – An Australian academic says that killing unlawfully 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian Special Forces is just “the tip of the iceberg”.

Noting that Brereton Report did not touch on any of the earlier reported crimes, Professor Tim Anderson tells the Tehran Times that “the 39 murders identified by the Australian Brereton Report are certainly only the tip of the iceberg.”
The Brereton inquiry is a long-running investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.  The investigation was led by Paul Brereton, who is both a New South Wales Supreme Court judge and a major general in the army reserve.
Anderson, the distinguished author and senior lecturer of political economy at the University of Sydney, predicts the Australian government will try to maintain the war crime scandal under secrecy.
“The government will further hide any trial process on ‘national security’,” he adds.
The following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you assess the repercussions of the Brereton Report revealing that Australian military forces in Afghanistan murdered and tortured prisoners, farmers, or civilians between 2009 to 2013?

A: When it comes to the U.S., British and Australian crimes in Afghanistan we should look at the full 19 years from 2001 to 2020. Remember, a war of aggression is the mother of all war crimes. The imperial soldier is necessarily programmed to commit atrocities, against people he does not understand, as he is not defending his country. He requires a fundamentally different mentality to the patriot who defends his country. Imperial commanders understand this, and train their troops accordingly, in notorious desensitization techniques.

The 39 murders identified by the Australian Brereton Report are certainly only the tip of the iceberg, so far as Australian crimes in Afghanistan are concerned, and before we get to the crimes in Iraq and Syria. Details of what are said to be the worst crimes in the Brereton Report have not yet been made public and, so far as I can see, the report did not touch on any of the earlier reported crimes, such as Australian complicity in the murder of ten Sabri tribespeople (mostly teenagers) on 16 May 2002, and the massacre of between one thousand and three thousand prisoners, people who were suffocated in shipping containers, after U.S. operation “Anaconda” operation at Shah-i-Kot, in March 2002. I mention just these two incidents from the early part of the war and occupation. They were not addressed by the Brereton report.

Q: Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) over a 2017 investigative report based on leaked military documents. How do you measure the Australian Judiciary and police’s treatment of possible war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan?

A: Initially the AFP moved to prosecute journalists, including Daniel Oakes, who had published material provided to them by Australian army whistleblower Major David McBride. (In this sense McBride was our ‘Bradley Manning’ and Oakes was our ‘Julian Assange’) However, the AFP has since decided to not proceed against Oakes but to maintain criminal charges against McBride.  Charges against the soldiers have yet to be laid and are already subject to secrecy, with the suspicion that the government will further hide any trial process on ‘national security’ grounds. The Australian government has already undermined the recommendation to withdraw an ‘honorable’ citation from one army group and has become obsessed with defending itself from criticism that has come from China. As with the Australian Air Force slaughter of 126 Syrian soldiers in September 2016 (in support of an ISIS operation), this government seems to think it can dispose of its responsibility for shocking war crimes by simply saying ‘sorry, mistake’, and forgetting the whole thing. 

Q: Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission called for the UK "to open an independent public inquiry to review and investigate the allegations of unlawful killings by UK Special Forces". It seems that there are more possible instances of a war crime. What do you think?

A: It is very important that Afghan institutions assume responsibility for such things, however much we might doubt the capacity of the current regime in Kabul, dependent as it is on the U.S. and other occupation forces. Local authorities will certainly be aware of other crimes reported by Afghan citizens, who can only seek accountability through Afghan institutions. They will never find accountability through U.S., British, Australian, or any other sort of occupation force. 

Q: Do you think Australian authorities will urgently investigate war crime allegations? The Australian prime minister has stated that the issue is complicated, which means there are efforts to prolong the investigation process.

A: Public and private obstruction of the Australian processes is already underway. The government has shown it is keen to keep control of the process and not allow it to be internationalized. No charges have yet been laid and we have reason to fear a cover-up. 

They will prolong and obfuscate but it is hard for them to totally bury some of the hideous and now public details. For example, the Brereton report (p.120) says Australian soldiers slit Afghan children's throats: "members from the SASR ... saw two 14-year-old boys whom they decided might be Taliban sympathizers. They stopped, searched the boys, and slit their throats. The rest of the Troop then had to ‘clean up the mess’, which involved bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river". (

Q: How was the Afghans’ reaction to the possible war crimes by Australian Special Forces in their territory?

A: I cannot really say, I have just heard that there is the outrage, I imagine not so much at the fact that horrific crimes have been committed – they know that - but that there has been yet another exposure of these crimes and they fear that, once again, they will be denied justice and accountability.

Q: What is the Australian motive in participating in the wars that the United States start once in a while? Does it serve Australian security or the economy?

A: Canberra turned to Washington in 1942, when Britain abandoned its colony in Singapore in face of a Japanese advance. Australia swapped one ‘big brother’ for another and we have paid a heavy process for this ‘protection’ by participating in every war since, from Korea through Vietnam to the multiple ‘New Middle East’ wars. Our ferocious pro-war media (run by a few giant investment cartels) has normalized war to the point where Australian people are either numbed or intimidated and fearful to speak out. This has seriously undermined our democracy. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (with support from another former PM, Malcolm Turnbull) recently created a petition which calls for an inquiry into the impact of the Murdoch media on Australian democracy. The Murdoch media has backed every U.S. war in living memory. Engagement with U.S. driven wars now has Australia at odds with its major trade partner China. U.S. dependence is a truly toxic relationship.

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