The murder allegation could be the start of a long series of trials, which are unlikely to ever reach the top brass
Earlier this week, an Australian soldier, Oliver Schulz, 41, was charged with murder by the Australian Federal Police in connection with the killing of a civilian in Afghanistan in 2012.
Schulz has been remanded in custody and is due in court again on May 16. His trial is likely to begin later this year and, if convicted of murder, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Schulz was a member of the elite Special Air Service (SAS) regiment – the Australian shock troops that did most of the fighting in Afghanistan. He served several tours of duty and received the commendation for bravery.
This is the first criminal prosecution to be brought following investigations by the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) – a body set up in 2021 by the Australian government to determine whether criminal charges should be brought for possible war crimes that had been identified in the Brereton 2020 report.
The Brereton Inquiry revealedcredible evidence” that Australian soldiers allegedly murdered some 39 Afghan civilians and detainees between 2005 and 2016. Inquiry leader Paul Brereton recommended that any prosecution for these crimes be brought in civilian courts rather than military courts, which led to Schulz’s indictment this week.
The Brereton Inquiry was set up in response to reports by the ABC and Channel Nine alleging that Australian soldiers had committed numerous war crimes during the war in Afghanistan.
Media have accused Victoria Cross winner and SAS war hero Ben Roberts-Smith of committing atrocities in the line of duty, prompting him to file libel suits against publishers . The lengthy Roberts-Smith hearing was delayed by Covid-19 and only concluded last year, with the judge due to deliver judgment later this year.
During the trial, the defendants, who are publishers invoking the defense of truth, called into testimony a number of Afghan civilians and SAS soldiers. If believed, it would prove that Roberts-Smith had, in fact, committed various atrocities – including murder. It’s unclear whether the OSI is currently investigating Roberts-Smith, but if the publishers’ defense of the truth is successful, Roberts-Smith will almost certainly be prosecuted.
Schulz is believed to have featured in an ABC Four Corners documentary – although he was not named – which showed footage of an Afghan civilian lying in a field with his hands raised being shot dead by an Australian SAS soldier . This soldier is now presumed to be Schulz.
Schulz’s charge is just the start of what will be a long and embarrassing process for the Australian Defense Force (ADF). The OSI is currently investigating another 40-50 war crimes allegedly committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Fiona Nelson, director of the Australian Center for International Justice, said this week that “For decades, victims of human rights violations in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan have been deprived of any possibility of accountability. Criminal prosecutions in Australia have an important role to play in finally challenging impunity. Australia has a lot of work ahead of it to respond to the legacy of its military involvement in Afghanistan.
Australia’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan – in support of the US bid to impose a form of democracy and regime change on the Asian country – has already proven to be a serious embarrassment for Canberra. Schulz’s trial, and others that seem certain to follow in its wake, will no doubt add to Australia’s disgrace and shame.
Some 26,000 Australian troops have been deployed to Afghanistan. 41 soldiers died and 261 were injured. The war in Afghanistan resulted in a complete military disaster for the invaders, with the United States and Australia forced into a humiliating withdrawal in the face of the Taliban’s return to power.
The military loss in Afghanistan and the findings contained in the Brereton report completely destroyed the reputation and morale of the ADF, and Schulz’s accusation, whatever the outcome, can only add to the ADF’s woes. This was confirmed by SAS Association President Martin Hamilton-Smith, who said this week that Schulz “has the right to put his side of the story and explain the nature and complexity of the fighting in Afghanistan.”
When Brereton’s findings were delivered in November 2020, senior ADF brass refused to take any responsibility for the conduct of Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Military leaders blamed low-ranking SAS soldiers and seemed surprised at Brereton’s findings. An entire SAS regiment was disbanded and the medals awarded to thousands of ordinary soldiers were peremptorily cancelled. Did the military leadership really have complete ignorance of how the war in Afghanistan was fought or, much more likely, had the senior ranks of the ADF simply turned a blind eye to events unfolding in Afghanistan for years? ?
Moreover, the enthusiastic support of the military elite for the prosecution of Schulz should not make us forget that this may just be another ploy to avoid taking ultimate responsibility for war crimes. undoubtedly committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
However, the ADF leadership’s dereliction of duty does not end there. It was the senior ranks of the ADF who encouraged and allowed soldiers to engage in multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, of course – a policy that was certainly reckless, and one that could likely lead to the brutalization of ordinary soldiers.
Moreover, it was the same top brass who drafted the inappropriate terms of engagement that governed the conduct of Australian troops in Afghanistan – rules that some defense experts and soldiers say caused, at least in part, the excesses revealed by Brereton.
These are the same military leaders who failed to properly support the soldiers who returned from Afghanistan in a traumatized state. After all, it became apparent very early in the war that many returning soldiers were unable to readapt to civilian life. Suicide rates among returning veterans were extraordinarily high, but the ADF’s top brass did little or nothing to help these broken individuals.
It wasn’t until veterans’ organizations embarked on media campaigns to highlight the problem that the federal government acted belatedly. In July 2021, a royal commission was set up to investigate veteran suicides. The Commission has not yet issued its final report.
In the wake of Australia’s involvement in America’s misguided war in Afghanistan, the ADF is now a broken organization. Its morale is shattered, and veterans’ organizations and many ordinary soldiers have lost all respect for the leadership of the ADF.
Nevertheless, the same military leaders who presided over the war in Afghanistan, and everything that happened after, remain firmly at the helm of the ADF. It is normal for ordinary soldiers like Oliver Schulz to be prosecuted for war crimes, but this should include those who bear ultimate responsibility for what happened in Afghanistan – namely senior ADF officers and politicians who wholeheartedly supported the US invasion and its aftermath – and they should be held accountable and punished.
Of course, that won’t happen because – as last week’s AUKUS deal made clear – the obvious lessons that should have been learned from Australia’s disastrous involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are still ignored by the political and military elites who continue to rule Australia. in their typically incompetent mode.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.