Australian commando claims he covered up POW’s execution; Supreme Court judge joins secretive Defence probe

Updated Thu at 11:42am

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Video: Commando speaks about alleged execution of prisoner (ABC News)

An Australian commando says he is ready to go to jail for his role in what he says was the unlawful execution of a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

Key points:

  • Kevin Frost says a POW was shot in the head after being captured
  • Defence confirms the claim is being investigated
  • Supreme Court Judge helps Defence with internal inquiry into conduct of elite troops

Special forces sergeant Kevin Frost says he helped cover up the shooting of a captive and wants those involved — including himself — to face punishment.

His claims come as the ABC reveals that a Supreme Court judge has begun hearing a broad range of allegations, including possible war crimes committed by Australian soldiers during the war in Afghanistan.

New South Wales Justice Paul Brereton is helping the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) as he conducts a secretive and sweeping inquiry into Australia’s elite troops, including possible breaches of the Geneva Convention.

In April, the Chief of Army Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell confirmed a “range of unsubstantiated, third-person, hearsay stories” warranted “deeper”, “independent” consideration, and he had referred them to the IGADF.

Little is known about the review, which is run independently to the army chain of command.

‘He’d been shot through the forehead’

Sergeant Frost will soon leave the military, but has told the ABC he played a role in covering up an alleged war crime in Afghanistan.

“The particular incident that I was involved in resulted in the POW that I had captured actually being executed, murdered,” Sergeant Frost said.

“I can’t remember if he cut the cuffs off first, or if he cut the cuffs of after he shot him. That’s the one point I can’t remember there ’cause I wasn’t looking. I didn’t want to look.

“I turned around and the guy was dead. He’d been shot through the forehead.”

The ABC has been unable to independently verify his battlefield claims.

Defence confirms investigation underway

Sergeant Frost, who says he suffered drug addiction and PTSD from what he witnessed during three tours of Afghanistan, believes he should face further consequences for his role in covering up the alleged crime, including jail time.

“I believe I should be punished with the full weight of the law, justly. I do not believe this should be brushed under the carpet,” he said.

The Defence Department has confirmed the commando’s claims are being investigated.

“The allegations are the subject of a IGADF inquiry,” Defence said in a statement.

“The Inspector General does not comment on ongoing inquiries.”

The ABC also approached Justice Brereton to comment on his role in helping the IGADF, and received a response from Defence.

“Inspector General Australian Defence Force does not comment on ongoing inquiries. Future contact on all Defence matters should be directed to Defence,” the department advised.

Defence would not comment on the scope of its inquiry, or how many incidents it was examining, but Sergeant Frost said he believed there would be similar stories and that they should now finally come to light.

“I believe there would be many. And I’m hoping what I’m doing now will be a catalyst for these other people to come forward,” he said.

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Covering, and Exposing, Atrocity: Australian Commandos Come Forward

Kevin Frost, a special forces sergeant in the Australian Army, has done something unusual. He wishes, even demands, to be tried for his role behind the summary execution of an Afghan prisoner in his captivity during a tour of the country.

From Frost came a statement to an inquiry digging through allegations of war crimes by Australian troops that took place after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. According to Frost, the incident took place on one of three tours of the beleaguered country with the ADF, though details were sketchy as to where, and when, it took place.

“The particular incident that I was involved in resulted in the POW that I captured actually being executed, murdered. Now, I can’t remember if he [the executioner] cut the cuffs off first or if he cut the cuffs off after he shot him. That’s one point I can’t remember there, because I wasn’t looking, I didn’t want to look. I turned around, and the guy was dead. He’d been shot through the forehead.”

For Frost, investigation and prosecution would be a form of deliverance, a necessary catharsis for his years of depression and onerous guilt. His statement almost assumed that of a desperate plea: “I believe I should be punished with the full weight of the law, and justly. I do not believe this should be brushed under the carpet.”

Frost’s case is not unusual. In May this year, a former lance corporal of the Army’s elite 1st Commando Regiment, given the name Dave, found keeping a lid on his role in a raid resulting in the deaths of Afghan children, impossible. He had been charged, along with his sergeant colleague, with manslaughter by former director of military prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade. “From the moment I realised there were dead children, I was horrified, numb, just struggling to grasp.”

His missions were typical, operating in conditions of killing or capturing Taliban targets. In the blood lust and fury, there were bound to be casualties, notably against civilians. The fundamental problem in this approach remains its often unreliable foundation: that of suitable intelligence.

“The intelligence we received,” claimed Corporal Geoff Evans, “was of varying quality. Sometimes it was very, very good, and other times it felt like they were throwing a dart at a map.” All the travails, in fact, of guerrilla war and insurgency.

In this specific case, the prosecutor’s views, outlined in a memorandum from September 23, 2011, identified the sergeant as the individual giving the order to detonate grenades, “an indiscriminate weapons system, into a very confined space, when they ought to have known, and during the attack knew for certain, that women and children were present.”

According to Brigadier McDade, “the evidence discloses that Sergeant J and Lance Corporal D knew for certain there were women and children in the room. They both provided statements to the inquiry officer to this effect; specifically that they could hear the women and children screaming from inside the room.”

The lance corporal did have his case dismissed, but the ADF dug in its bureaucratic heels in not formally exonerating him and the sergeant. The lance corporal also took issue with the brigadier’s assessment of his state of awareness:

“We didn’t believe there would be any women and children in that room for two reasons, that being that we had earlier found who we believed to be the family living in that compound and removed them from an earlier room. And secondly, that we were now receiving gunfire from that room and we believed that we had found the insurgents that we had been told were staying there.”

Battle field conditions, and the search for the unruly and violent on the ground as convenient scapegoats of armchair ignorance, remain perennial themes. Controlling what happens in that field is, at best, an overly confident assertion in the face of adversity.

The point of such atrocities is that they are irreversible and immutable. As Lance Corporal “Dave” explained, despite disagreeing with the assessment of alleged criminality, “When you’ve realised you’ve killed children, devastating doesn’t even begin to describe it, and I feel like I can’t fix it and I can’t atone for it. I can’t do anything to undo the damage that was done.”

Atrocity is axiomatic to the waging of war. The righteous wars, pursued with misplaced moral outrage, tend to be the worst. The post-September 11, 2001 conflicts suffer from a brutalised mix of humanitarianism and vengeance, one that has been unsparing to Australia’s soldiers, and their victims.

Instead of putting a brake on enthusiastic deployments to distant, even irrelevant theatres of conflict, Australian governments continue to engage in blind, and damaging deployments. Where the Stars and Stripes go, the Southern Cross will follow. When that happens, there will be more Lance Corporal Daves and Sergeant Frosts.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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  • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses Australian Defence Force soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2016. (AAP)
The first ever comprehensive statistics on defence force suicides show almost twice as many suicides among young ex-serving defence force personnel compared with the national rate.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show from 2001-2014 there were 292 defence force personnel who took their own lives, but that only includes personnel who joined from 2001.

Ex-serving men aged 18-24 accounted for 23 suicides during that time – a rate that’s almost twice that of Australian men on average.

The Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Dan Tehan, told parliament, “one suicide is one too many and the government is committed to addressing suicide in our community”.

He said that a federal government offer of free and uncapped treatment for depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder has been taken up by more than 1,000 current and former defence force personnel in just three months.

Veteran support groups like the Defence Force Welfare Association believe mental health is the biggest problem for serving men and women when they come home.

The Association’s National President David Jamison told SBS: “We have lost more people through suicide than we lost in the Afghanistan war.”

He believes the number of suicides is much higher than figures suggest because many cases are not reported.

“People do not want to admit that a member of their family or one of their mates has committed suicide. It’s not something that people want to talk about,” he said.

The release of the AIHW suicide statistics comes on the same day the federal government handed down a report into Australia’s longest ever military engagement.

“One suicide is one too many and the government is committed to addressing suicide in our community.”

The ‘Afghanistan: Lessons from Australia’s Whole-of-Government Mission’ was produced by the Australian Civil Military Centre.

Military Advisor, Jim Burns, told reporters in Canberra, “what worked and perhaps what we could do better in, is extremely important as we look forward into the future where we may be involved in similar events”.

The report makes 17 recommendations, including that government agencies beyond defence need to be closely involved in future missions from the outset.

In Afghanistan, they weren’t until several years in.

“They aren’t just military conflicts. They require a much broader contribution whether it be how we involve the AFP, how we involve our aid agencies, how we involve our trade officials,” Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan told reporters.

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First comprehensive picture of defence suicides to emerge
The most comprehensive picture of the incidence of suicide among defence personnel will be released on Wednesday, but mental health advocates are already calling for funding for better research.

There were 41 Australian soldiers killed in the Afghanistan conflict and more than 260 were injured.

The total cost was more than $7.5 billion over more than a decade.

Peter Jennings, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told SBS there are many lessons to be learned from the conflict.

“If you commit military forces, then you better be prepared to play a long game,” he said.

“Because if you’re not you’ll be leaving before the job is completed and that’s the lesson we are now unfortunately learning again in Iraq and in Syria.”

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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