Australian army whistleblower McBride sentenced to prison

Australian army whistleblower McBride sentenced to prison
Australian army whistleblower McBride sentenced to prison

Former army lawyer David McBride admitted to having shared more than 200 classified military documents — that had to do with alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan — with journalists.

A court in the Australian capital, Canberra, on Tuesday sentenced former army lawyer David McBride to almost six years in prison for leaking classified information to journalists.

The 60-year-old had shared with the media documents that exposed allegations that Australian special forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

He was sentenced to five years and six months in prison. 

What is the case?

McBride pleaded guilty to three charges, including theft and leaking military information.

The defense had argued that McBride’s military service oath obliged him to reveal information in the interest of the public. 

The judge said in the sentencing that he did not accept McBride’s explanation that he thought a court would vindicate him for acting in the public interest.

His lawyer said outside the court that he planned to launch an appeal against the sentence. The appeal would be based on the question of how “duty” is defined, the lawyer added. 

“I’ve never been so proud to be an Australian as today. I may have broken the law, but I did not break my oath to the people of Australia and the soldiers that keep us safe,” McBride told a cheering crowd outside the court on Tuesday.

What has been the reaction?

Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Australia director, Daniela Gavshon, said the sentencing showed that Australia’s whistleblowing laws needed exemptions in the public interest.

“It is a stain on Australia’s reputation that some of its soldiers have been accused of war crimes in Afghanistan, and yet the first person convicted in relation to these crimes is a whistleblower not the abusers,” Gavshon said in a statement.

In Parliament, some lawmakers from minor parties and independents raised the issue. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese suggested his answer to lawmakers questions might prejudice McBride’s appeal. “I’m not going to say anything here that interferes with a matter that is quite clearly going to continue to be before the courts,” he said. 

The ‘Afghan Files’

The leaked documents formed the basis of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) seven-part television series in 2017 titled the “Afghan Files.” 

The series showed allegations that Australian Special Air Service Regiment soldiers killed unarmed Afghan men and children in 2013.

In 2019, police searched ABC’s Sydney headquarters for evidence of a leak, and investigated two journalists for obtaining classified information. 

A year later, a probe that started in 2016 concluded that Australia’s elite special forces “unlawfully killed” 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan. This led to the referral of 19 current and former soldiers for potential criminal prosecution.

Since Australia’s combat troops’ Afghanistan withdrawal in 2013, a series of accounts have emerged about the conduct of the elite special forces units. 

More than 26,000 Australian uniformed personnel were sent to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, to fight along allies against Taliban and al-Qaeda.  

Source: Dw

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