The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has come under fire for allegedly attempting to impose a “code of silence” on a soldier who claimed to have witnessed war crimes committed by Ben Roberts-Smith. The soldier, known as Person 4, testified in Federal Court that Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed prisoner off a cliff before ordering his execution in 2012. However, it has now been revealed that Person 4 was warned by the ADF in 2020 that disclosing information to the media or any third party could result in criminal action. This revelation raises concerns about the ADF’s intentions and has led to questions about whether they were trying to prevent soldiers from reporting atrocities.
The warning to Person 4 came at a time when there were growing rumors of alleged war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) had recently aired footage of an SAS soldier shooting an apparently unarmed Afghan man in a wheat field. These allegations, coupled with the accounts of war crimes witnessed by Person 4, highlighted the need for transparency and accountability within the ADF.
Chris Elliott, a war crimes researcher at King’s College London, has raised the question of whether the ADF was trying to enforce a “code of silence” on its soldiers. He believes that the document warning Person 4 about criminal ramifications for disclosing information suggests that the ADF wanted to dissuade soldiers from making unauthorized disclosures about war crimes. This, in Elliott’s view, is a clear example of an administrative code of silence being imposed on a witness to murder. He is now calling for an investigation into who authorized this conversation.
The defamation case against Roberts-Smith, in which Justice Anthony Besanko found allegations of his involvement in four murders to be substantially true, has further amplified the significance of these claims. Roberts-Smith is currently appealing the verdict. The revelations about the ADF’s actions add another layer of complexity to the case and raise concerns about the broader culture within the military.
The implications of the ADF’s alleged attempts to silence soldiers reporting war crimes reach beyond just this case. It raises questions about the organization’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and justice. A proper investigation is needed to determine who authorized the warning given to Person 4 and whether there is a broader pattern of silencing witnesses within the ADF.
War crimes committed during military operations are serious offenses that undermine the integrity and credibility of an armed forces. It is crucial that those responsible for such acts are held accountable and that witnesses feel safe and empowered to come forward with their testimonies. Any attempt to impose a code of silence on soldiers reporting war crimes is a violation of the principles of justice and must be thoroughly investigated.
In conclusion, the ADF’s alleged actions to threaten a potential war crimes witness with legal action for speaking out raises concerns about the organization’s commitment to transparency and justice. The revelations highlight the need for a thorough investigation into these claims and for accountability within the military. It is essential that witnesses of war crimes feel supported and safe to come forward with their testimonies. The case against Ben Roberts-Smith and the broader implications for the ADF require urgent attention to ensure justice is served.