The grief with which Afghan Australians are watching their homeland on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and the Taliban taking over is compounded by the knowledge that the Australian government continues to deny Afghan Australians justice by, first, holding to account the Australian Special Forces Soldiers who committed heinous acts of violence and, second, by refusing to issue immediate evacuation orders for those Afghans who served as interpreters and employees assisting Australia during their deployment.
On Monday 19 April, 2021 Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced that he would overturn General Angus Campbell’s decision to strip meritorious unit citations from around 3000 special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013 in light of the Brereton report findings into Afghan war crimes. Dutton stated that: ’99 per cent of our people earned that citation through their brave and courageous actions, we will deal with the one per cent through other processes, including the OSI (Office of Special Investigator) and if they are found guilty under Australian law, they will be stripped of their honour.’ His comments in relation to the one percent shows his callous disregard of the ample evidence suggesting that the SAS were complicit in the atrocities.
Mr Dutton’s remarks effectively dismiss the significance and authority of the Brereton Report. According to Professor Wolfendale, Department Chair and Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University, the 39 murders documented in the Brereton Report were committed by soldiers wearing the Australian special forces uniform. To the 39 Afghan families, the Australian special forces uniform represents, neither honour or bravery, but rather fear, terror, and atrocity. By minimising the extent of the atrocities found by the Brereton inquiry, Dutton’s comments compromise the effectiveness of the reparation and redress scheme contemplated by the Report, and compound our trauma as Afghans who want to see justice. Although, Dutton’s comments occurred in April it still more relevant now given the current situation unfolding in Afghanistan particularly where innocent lives are at risk of either being persecuted, displaced and dispossessed from their own homes.
Decscribed as the ‘graveyard of empires’, Afghanistan has endured decades of foreign invasion and exploitation. In this context, the Brereton report is arguably the most significant acknowledgment of atrocities by a foreign army (the Afghan Human Rights Commission had announced its own inquiries into war crimes since 2009 but we are yet to see the findings of that inquiry). Dutton’s downplaying of the ADF’s war crimes reopens old wounds amongst those still suffering from the effects of war. The protracted conflict in the last four decades has shown the effects of trauma on Afghans including intergenerational trauma suffered by Afghans migrants and refugees in the diaspora.
Survivors, who are trying to heal from seeing, hearing and feeling the years of conflict in Afghanistan, want their experiences and trauma recognised. If Australia’s Home Affairs Minister cannot acknowledge the murder of 39 Afghan civilians by 25 Australian Special Forces Soldiers in circumstances where soldiers were found to have openly killed for the sake of a ‘blooding’, what hope is there that the minor but still traumatic infractions of foreign soldiers will not be acknowledged?
Moreover, Australia’s slow process in providing evacuation orders to those Afghans who helped them during their deployment in Afghanistan is a slap across the face of many Afghans who helped serve Australian forces on the ground with the hope that one day they would be able to start a journey to a new life for themselves and their families. These people acted as ‘fixers’, interpreters, logistical support officers and friends to our forces. They have been rewarded with abandonment by a government that also fails to accept full accountability for the war crimes that its soldiers have committed.
Whilst the Brereton report laid the foundations for an Australian Federal Police criminal investigation, it was immeasurably difficult for us as Afghans and Afghan-Australians to cope with the report’s findings especially more so now given that Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian and refugee crisis. We have experienced watching our country torn into ruins by internal conflict and external intervention. None of this was acknowledged in the Brereton Report. But this trauma cannot be healed if such acts of violence continue to be perpetrated on the country and its people. The trauma instead transmits between generations, significantly affecting children’s lives.
It is high time the Australian government acknowledges our trauma and not seek to play political games that cast us to the periphery.
As an Afghan I am sick and weary of the ongoing torture, violence and trauma that our people have had to endure at the hands of foreign forces, including the Australian government, for over a decade now. The Australian Defence Minister must reprimand the soldiers including the entire Special Forces Unit for their war crimes and issue urgent evacuation orders to those Afghans who risked their lives helping Australia.
As we witness Afghan militia overtaking our country, we are in desperate need of some real measures to help us deal with our ongoing trauma and pain. We do not know the outcome of the new government or so-called ‘take-over’ by the Taliban but we are certain of one thing that this will continue to bring back old trauma’s that the Afghans have had to endure for forty-years. The least, Australia can do is fulfil its obligation by providing asylum to those that are at risk.
If you have been impacted by the current events unfolding in Afghanistan you can contact Hayat Line on 1300 993 398.
Nasreen Hanifi is a Psychologist, community activist and the Clinical Director of My Ability Care. She is also the President of Mission of Hope and a PhD candidate at CISAC/CSU.