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Australian who exposed war crimes allegations jailed

15-05-2024

Bureau Report + Agencies

CANBERRA/ MELBOURNE: A whistleblower who helped expose allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan has been sentenced to five years and eight months in jail.

David McBride pleaded guilty to stealing and sharing military secrets on the eve of his trial last year, after legal rulings sunk his defence.

An ex-military lawyer, McBride said he felt a moral duty to speak up.

A landmark inquiry later found evidence that Australian forces had unlawfully killed 39 Afghans during the war.

McBride’s case has sparked uproar in Australia, putting a spotlight on what some say are flimsy whistleblower protections and slow progress towards prosecuting soldiers alleged to have killed with impunity under its flag.

McBride, 60, admits he gave troves of document to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), saying he was concerned about the attitudes of commanders and what he then thought was the “over-investigation” of troops, the court heard but instead the information he provided underpinned a series of reports in 2017 called The Afghan Files, which gave unprecedented insight into the operations of Australia’s elite Special Forces in Afghanistan, and contained allegations of war crimes.

Prosecutors argued McBride was motivated by “personal vindication”, and that the way he gathered, stored and then leaked the documents endangered Australia’s national security and foreign policy but McBride’s lawyers asked for leniency, saying he shared the information with “honorable” intentions and out of a sense of personal duty.

During sentencing in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Justice David Mossop agreed McBride was of “good character” but said that he seemed to have become obsessed with the correctness of his own opinions. Sharing military secrets was “a gross breach of trust” for which he has shown “no contrition”, he added.

McBride will be eligible for release on parole after 27 months.

After the sentence was read out, some in the public gallery shouted “shame on you” towards the judge as he left the bench.

His support dog nearby, McBride hugged his friends and family before being led off into custody.

He has maintained that his leak was justified as it had ultimately exposed wrongdoing.

“I did not break my oath to the people of Australia and the soldiers that keep us safe,” he said on Tuesday ahead of his sentencing, addressing a crowd of supporters which included relatives of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and fellow whistleblower Jeff Morris even before he became one of Australia’s most high-profile whistleblowers, McBride led a colorful life.

After graduating from Oxford University with a law degree, he started his career with a stint in the British army. Leaving after reaching the rank of captain, he then tried his hand at everything from private security to reality TV and politics, before coming full circle and joining the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

As a legal officer, he did two tours of Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013, the latter with the Special Forces. It was then that he began to form the impression that “a line had been crossed” by commanders.

Over the next few years, while suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and abusing drugs and alcohol, McBride said he became more and more convinced he needed to speak up.

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