The US told Australia it could stop its joint military activities over Australian special forces’ alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
General Angus Campbell, in charge of the Australian military, said this during the Senate’s foreign affairs, defense, and trade committee on Wednesday, The Guardian reported. He said that in March 2021, the US attaché in Canberra sent him a letter. The letter warned that the Brereton war crimes report could spark a US rule called the ‘Leahy rule.’
The law says the US military can’t work with groups linked to “gross human rights violations.” The Brereton Report found ‘credible’ proof that 25 current or former Australian SAS troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians between 2005 and 2016. Page 29 of the Brereton Report stated that the soldiers’ actions could not be considered incidents involving questionable decisions during intense combat.
Instead, they involve situations that should have clarified whether individuals were non-combatants, according to The Brereton Report released in late 2020. The US Embassy sent the report to Campbell in March 2021.
US Military Cutting Ties with Australian Special Forces Over War Crime Allegations
During heated questioning on Wednesday, Campbell said that the US might have suspended its military cooperation with SASR for up to a year. He said this as the Australian Defense Force tried to fix the problems. He said the US wanted to know ‘what Australia was doing’ in answer to the Brereton report. The military chief said cooperation between the US military and Australia’s SAS forces might have been interrupted for up to a year. This is after the defense worked to fix the problems in the unit.
General Campbell said there was a time of care during which they looked at their plans. To make the US feel better about violations of the “Leahy Law,” officials transferred the personnel to other departments. They also gave the person an explanation for the relocation. This data was provided to the committee. The Age mentioned that Campbell did not inform the defense minister then. He added that he had yet to tell Richard Marles, the defense minister.
But then another report pointed out that the former minister was informed. Former soldier and independent senator Jacqui Lambie said he should have informed the officials about the US worries over the said “threat.” Defence Minister Richard Marles’s spokesperson said nobody told them about the information. In the same The Age report, the spokesperson pointed out that the deputy prime minister knows the things related to his job as needed.
Given privacy is essential, the spokesperson said she could not comment on the matter. General Campbell stated that March 2022 is “the end of the issue” and that there are no limits on working together right now.
What Australian Forces Did
Per the Associated Press, the police charged the first Australian military veteran in March for an alleged killing in Afghanistan. The Brereton investigation revealed that 19 Australian special forces soldiers could potentially face charges for illegal actions during the conflict.
Officials accused former SAS trooper Oliver Schulz of killing an Afghan man in Uruzgan province in 2012.
Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation case is awaiting a judgment from a Federal Court judge on Thursday. Roberts-Smith, who received a Victoria Cross award, has sued three Australian newspapers. This is after the reports portrayed him as a criminal who violated the moral and legal principles of military engagement in Afghanistan.
The police are collaborating with the Office of the Special Investigator, an Australian investigative agency established in 2021, to construct cases against elite troops from the SAS and Commando Regiment who served in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
During the 20 years until the 2021 withdrawal, Australia deployed over 39,000 Australian military personnel in Afghanistan. Forty-one uniformed men lost their lives there.
About Leahly Rule
The Leahy Law, the US Department of State explained, is a US law that prohibits the government from providing financial assistance to foreign security forces that have been credibly accused of committing gross human rights violations (GVHR). This includes units involved in extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, or other serious abuses.
The DoD Leahy law and the State Leahy law are similar. The law stipulates that the country could not use some funds allocated to the Department of Defense (DoD). These include providing training, equipment, or assistance to a foreign security force unit. That is, if the Secretary of Defense possesses credible information indicating that the unit has engaged in GVHR.
The Department of State vets out both the unit and its commander before giving help. The vetting process starts in the unit’s home country, where the US government does security, human rights, and political checks. Most of the time, experts at the Department of State in Washington, DC, do an extra check. The State Department looks at a wide range of open source and classified records to analyze and rate the human rights records of the unit and the person.
The US government has also implemented other measures to promote human rights in its foreign policy. For example, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) promotes human rights worldwide. DRL provides funding to human rights groups, supports the development of democratic institutions, and works to hold governments accountable for human rights abuses.
The US State Department has implemented the law worldwide. However, the United States has stopped sending units to places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Colombia.
Why This Law Matters
If a foreign security force unit got US help and then did atrocious acts like mass rapes or disappeared political activists, Open Society Foundations said the US government might be seen as part of the crime, which would hurt our moral authority and values and even put US troops and citizens in the area in danger.
The law does more than stop help from going to a “dirty” unit. It also motivates countries to keep an eye on their armed forces and make them more skilled. The law works best when people know violating human rights makes a group or person ineligible for help.
** For more on US Navy and military, click here.