David McBride: A former Australian military lawyer who exposed alleged war crimes was jailed for leaking documents



CNN

A former Australian Army lawyer leaked confidential documents to journalists revealing details of alleged crimes Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan He was sentenced to more than five years in prison, a sentence criticized by press freedom advocates, who say it sends a chilling message to potential whistleblowers.

Cries of “shame” rang out in the courtroom in the Australian capital, Canberra, on Tuesday, when Judge David Mossop sentenced David McBride, in a punishment his lawyer described as “off the charts” and a deterrent to anyone who felt motivated. To expose violations.

“We would advise anyone who noticed what happened to McBride to shut up, keep their head down and return to the workplace. That was pretty much the tone of today’s ruling,” said barrister Mark Davies, adding that his client was in “complete shock” at the ruling and would appeal.

Tuesday’s ruling ends a long legal battle between the former Army attorney and commonwealth prosecutors who brought charges against McBride over classified defense documents he admitted stealing between May 2014 and December 2015.

McBride gave the material to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which in 2017 published a seven-part series titled “The Afghan Files”, which detailed a series of alleged war crimes, including the killing of unarmed Afghans by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The ABC report was later substantiated by the findings of an investigation by the Australian Defense Force (ADF) which found credible evidence that members of the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) had committed war crimes in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2013.

known as Brereton ReportThe Afghanistan investigation report found that SAS members in some cases planted “weapons and other materials” near the bodies of civilians to indicate they had been lawfully killed. McBride is the first person to be convicted of any criminal charges related to these charges.

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However, during the proceedings against McBride, the court heard he did not draw media attention to the documents to highlight his alleged war crimes.

In his ruling, Mossop said McBride complained that soldiers were being investigated “even in circumstances where there is no possibility of them committing the war crime of murder.”

McBride believes the soldiers were targeted for investigation “to allay political concerns about civilian deaths.”

McBride had intended to argue that he acted out of a sense of duty to the Australian public, but at an earlier hearing, Justice Mossop had indicated he would not instruct the jury to that effect, so McBride pleaded guilty last November to three charges, including theft of commonwealth property And he violated the defense law.

In his ruling, Mossop acknowledged that McBride did not act for financial gain or to assist Australia’s enemies, but wrote that “the offender has no remorse and continues to consider that he did the right thing.”

“Confident people with strong opinions who are subject to legal duties not to disclose information should be deterred from disclosing information in order to advance their own opinions,” Mossop wrote.

“They should know that breaching their legal obligations to maintain the confidentiality they have pledged to protect will be met with a significant penalty. This applies particularly where such information is confidential and its disclosure would be detrimental to Australian national security,” the judge added.

McBride’s supporters appealed to Australia’s attorney-general to drop the charges and reacted angrily on Tuesday to his sentencing.

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Kieran Pinder, acting legal director of the Human Rights Law Centre, described the day as a “dark day for democracy” and that it sent a “chilling” message to potential whistleblowers.

“David McBride leaked documents to our national broadcaster containing credible evidence of war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan. This information is clearly in the public interest, and I don’t think anyone can deny that.”

Bender and others point out that no one has yet been prosecuted for Australia’s alleged war crimes in Afghanistan – except for the man who brought the matter to the country’s attention.

“Will the next David McBride talk about the offenses when they see this is the result?” Asked.

Peter Greste, a journalist, author and fierce advocate for press freedom, said he found the imprisonment of a whistleblower “deeply troubling”.

He said he believed it would have a “very serious impact” on whistleblowing, with implications for press freedom.

“Journalists are supposed to be a conduit for this kind of thing,” said Greste, who was released by Egypt in 2015 after spending 13 months in prison on charges of spreading fake news to discredit the country.

“It is part of the democratic system that sources evidence of wrongdoing in governments, when internal mechanisms fail, and can go to journalists and provide them with the information they need to uncover these stories while keeping their identities protected,” he said. This undermines this principle to a serious and profound extent. “I’m very worried about that.”

“David should be treated like a hero, not a villain,” Gristy added.

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Australian Federal Police officers raided the ABC offices in Sydney in 2019 searching for documents while pursuing potential charges against the journalists behind the story.

But in the end no charges were brought. ABC declined to comment on McBride’s sentence. If the sentence is upheld, he will serve a 27-month non-parole period in prison until August 2026.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declined to comment on the ruling due to the possibility of an appeal.

“I will not say anything here that contradicts a matter that will obviously remain before the courts,” he told Parliament on Tuesday.

“The decision to prosecute David McBride, and the conduct of that trial, was the responsibility of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions,” spokesman Mark Dreyfus said in a statement.

“The CDPP is independent of the current government – ​​a very important feature of our criminal justice system,” he added.

Australian Federal Police She works with the Office of Special Investigator (OSI) to investigate potential charges.

Last year, a man in New South Wales was charged with murder, the first war crimes charge against a current or former ADF member under Australian law, according to AFP.

This story has been updated to clarify that the ADF investigation began before the ABC report on the ‘Afghan files’.

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