An Office of the Special Investigator will be established within the Department of Home Affairs to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Australians in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday.
A report on the alleged crimes committed by special forces troops will be released next week following a four year investigation by the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force.
“Given the likely allegations of serious and possibly criminal misconduct, the matters raised in the inquiry must be assessed, investigated and where allegations are substantiated, prosecuted in court,” Morrison said.
“The Office of the Special Investigator will address the criminal matters made in the inspector general’s report and investigate those allegations, gather evidence and, where appropriate, refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration.”
An independent oversight panel has also been established to provide oversight and assurance of Defence’s broader response to the inquiry relating to cultural, organisational and leadership change. It will report directly to defence minister Linda Reynolds, and will be comprised of former inspector-general of intelligence and security Dr Vivienne Thom, former Attorney-General’s Department secretary Robert Cornall, and University of Tasmania vice chancellor Professor Rufus Black.
“I thank the minister for her recommendation of the establishment of this oversight panel which will enable her also to ensure that the matters that require to be addressed within the ADF are in fact being done so and while at the same time from serving the integrity of the justice process that we have set in place and keeps government ministers directly at arm’s length from both of those processes,” Morrison said.
The PM said the probe would be “inherently complex” and would require the involvement of international agencies.
The yet-to-be-appointed special investigator will be either a senior counsel or retired judge with extensive criminal law experience, Morrison said, while the office will be staffed with “experienced investigators, legal counsel and other support personnel” from the Australian Federal Police and state and territory police forces.
“The office of the special investigator is expected to be fully stood up next year, if not sooner. The office of the special investigator will remain in place for as long as is necessary to resolve matters arising for the inspector general’s inquiry,” he said.
The inspector general has been investigating the conduct of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan since 2016, particularly “rumours and allegations relating to possible breaches of the law of armed conflict” between 2005 to 2016, and involving matters of “operational security and of potential harm to the reputations of individuals”, Reynolds noted.
“The Afghanistan inquiry was conducted at arm’s length from both the ADF chain of command and from governments. This was to ensure the independence and the integrity of the process,” she said.
The inquiry has concluded, with a report delivered to defence force chief Angus Campbell last Friday.
Campbell plans to eventually speak publicly on the report findings, Reynolds said.