A sociologist tasked with interviewing Australia’s most elite soldiers about their secrets of war has uncovered disturbing allegations of the murder of children and a “killing as a sport” culture among those deployed in Afghanistan.
Dr Samantha Crompvoets spent months interviewing Special Forces soldiers as part of an investigation into alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in the Afghan battlefields.
Ahead of the release of the long-awaited report this week, Dr Crompvoets told 60 Minutes on Sunday she was struck how widely a “killing as a sport mentality” appeared to have spread throughout the Special Forces unit.
“That was really what was the most distressing,” Dr Crompvoets said.
“We’re not talking about a couple of events … This is sort of deliberate repeated patterns of behaviour that happened over time.”
Dr Crompvoets said she heard similar stories repeated across different soldiers from different organisations, who she believed had no agenda for making up their stories and “a lot to lose” if they did.
Among them were reports of civilians being executed, including young people and children, who posed no threat to Australian soldiers.
Dr Crompvoets also learned some soldiers allegedly kept “kill boards” on their walls to keep tally of the number of people they’d killed — including civilians and prisoners, if necessary.
Those who engaged in that behaviour was described by 60 Minutes as a “rogue band” of special forces soldiers.
60 Minutes reports at least 12 alleged executions of civilians and prisoners will be referred to police, along with at least 10 serving and former members of the SAS.
In one disturbing allegation, two 14-year-old Afghan boys were “shown no mercy” by Australian Special Forces soldiers and were searched, had their throats slit, and bodies bagged and thrown in a river.
Former special forces medic Dusty Miller told 60 Minutes about how he was silenced after reporting a disturbing incident in 2012 involving the execution of a wounded Afghan man.
Mr Miller has alleged he was treating the man, father-of-seven Haji Sardar, for a gunshot wound when Mr Sardar was taken from his care by a senior SAS soldier and stomped to death.
Mr Miller told the program he has struggled with the guilt of not intervening to stop the senseless killing.
“I regret every single day, and every single night of my life that I didn’t do something about that. I should have said no,” he said.
“However, I worked with an organisation that was quite brutal and I’m not sure how things would have turned out if I had have done that.”
Mr Miller said he reported the alleged war crime to a senior colleague but was told to stay quiet.
“That’s affected me profoundly,” he said.
From her talks with soldiers, Dr Crompvoets said was often difficult for individuals to report bad behaviour or to “untangle” themselves if they didn’t want to be involved.
She said it appeared war crimes were being glorified among special forces soldiers and in some cases considered a “rite of passage”.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over time,” she said. “Everyone calls each other by their first names — (Special Forces) is very different from the rest of army.
“So those small things, that they’re different, and they can approach things differently, has created an environment that was conducive some really terrible things happening.”
She said in one interview, she spoke to a young soldier about how he preferred the special forces unit to the army.
“He said the rules are different here, and there’s no way I could go back to being treated like a child again — (that) was what he described to me,” she said.
“And it really stuck with me. Because I think that whole idea that the rules are different is this kind of skipper slope into a series of things that go wrong, where internal tensions that have festered over time creates an environment that is conducive to things going wrong.”
Defence chief Angus Campbell has received the long-awaited war crimes report from the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force, who was tasked in 2016 with investigating dozens of incidents in Afghanistan from 2005 until that year.
The findings of the report are due to be made public within days.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the allegations of war crimes was a “very, very serious issue” that the Federal Government would take “very seriously”.
“We will be abiding by the proper legal and institutional processes that are appropriate here,” Mr Morrison said earlier this month.