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Army whistleblower who exposed alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan sentenced to prison

David McBride, 60, was sentenced in a court in the capital Canberra to five years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to three charges including theft and sharing classified documents with members of the press secrets. He faced a possible life sentence.

Judge David Mossop ordered McBride to serve 27 months in prison before he is eligible for parole.

Rights advocates argue McBride’s conviction and sentencing ahead of any alleged war criminals he helped expose reflects a lack of protection for whistleblowers in Australia.

McBride addressed supporters as he walked his dog to the front gate of the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court to be sentenced.

“I have never been more proud to be Australian than I am today. I may have broken the law, but I have not broken my oath to the Australian people and the soldiers who keep us safe” , McBride told the enthusiastic crowd.

A lawyer for McBride, Mark Davis, said his legal team would appeal a decision preventing McBride from preparing his defense. Mossop ruled in November last year that McBride had no obligations as an Army officer beyond following orders.

“We know that the Australian Army teaches a much broader notion of an officer’s duty on a battlefield than following orders,” Davis said.

Davis said the severity of the sentence also created grounds for appeal, but their efforts would focus on the earlier decision.

McBride’s documents formed the basis of a seven-part Australian Broadcasting Corp. television series. in 2017 which contained allegations of war crimes, including Australian Special Air Service Regiment soldiers killing unarmed Afghan men and children in 2013.

Police raided the ABC’s Sydney headquarters in 2019 looking for evidence of a leak, but decided not to charge the two journalists responsible for the investigation.

At sentencing, Mossop said he did not accept McBride’s explanation that he believed a court would vindicate him for acting in the public interest.

McBride’s argument that his suspicions that the senior echelons of the Australian Defense Force were engaged in criminal activity required him to disclose classified documents “did not reflect reality”, Mossop said.

An Australian military report released in 2020 found evidence that Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians. The report recommends that 19 current and former soldiers be criminally investigated.

Police are working with the Office of the Special Investigator, an Australian investigative agency established in 2021, to build cases against elite troops from the SAS and Commando Regiments who served in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

Former SAS soldier Oliver Schulz last year became the first such veteran to be charged with war crimes. He is accused of shooting dead a non-combatant in a wheat field in Uruzgan province in 2012.

Also last year, a civil court ruled that Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated living war veteran, probably unlawfully killed four Afghans. He has not been criminally charged.

Human Rights Watch Australian director Daniela Gavshon said McBride’s conviction was proof that Australia’s whistleblower laws required exemptions in the public interest.

“The fact that some of its soldiers have been accused of war crimes in Afghanistan tarnishes Australia’s reputation, and yet the first person convicted of these crimes is a whistleblower and not the aggressors,” said Gavshon in a statement.

“David McBride’s prison sentence reinforces the fact that whistleblowers are not protected under Australian law. This will have a chilling effect on those who take risks and push for transparency and accountability – cornerstones of democracy,” she added.

Some minor party and independent lawmakers increased McBride’s sentence in Parliament on Tuesday.

Greens MP Elizabeth Watson-Brown told Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that McBride had been jailed for “the crime of telling the truth about war crimes”.

“Why won’t your government admit that our whistleblower laws are broken and commit to urgent reform to keep whistleblowers like Mr McBride out of prison? Watson-Brown asked the Prime Minister.

Albanese declined to answer, saying it could harm McBride’s appeal.

“I will not say anything here that interferes with a matter that obviously will continue to be before the courts,” Albanese told parliament.

Andrew Wilkie, a former government intelligence analyst whistleblower and now an independent lawmaker, said Australian governments “hate whistleblowers”.

“The government wanted to punish David McBride and send a signal to other insiders to stay inside and stay silent,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie left his intelligence post at the Australian Office of National Assessments days before Australian troops joined US and British forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He publicly claimed that Iraq did not represent sufficient threat to justify an invasion and that there was no evidence linking the Iraqi government to Al-Qaeda.

News Source : abcnews.go.com
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