Army chief cuts press conference short

 

The Chief of the Army has cut short a press conference after he was grilled over the decision to issue 13 elite soldiers their marching orders over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and he was asked if he plans to resign.

Lieutenant-General Rick Burr was hit with a question over his own future during the press conference and it was one he quickly made clear he didn't plan to answer.

"We have seen generals in Japan hanged for war crimes that they had no knowledge of,'' the reporter asked. "Can you tell me why you shouldn't resign?"

But the Chief of Army declined to answer the question.

"There is a process to be followed here. We've received the inquiry one week ago,'' he replied.

"We need to follow a very deliberate, very methodical and very fair process, ensuring that we respect every individual's privacy and right of reply. This will take time."

Overnight, it was reported that 10 soldiers had been issued notices asking to explain why the army should not sack them, but the ADF has now confirmed that number has grown to 13.

"Administrative action is a long-standing, well-established process within Defence that ensures

the rights of individuals to due process and fair hearing,'' he said.

"This process is well-known to all in the army. At this time, 13 individuals have been issued administrative action notices in relation to the Afghanistan inquiry."

The soldiers now have a minimum of 14 days to respond, with some planning to challenge the decision.

Asked if all 13 of the people issued notices are separate to the 19 individuals that the report suggested be referred to the Office of the Special Investigator for war crimes, he said the ADF won't comment on individuals or individual cases.

Following a significant backlash to the idea around 3000 Special Forces soldiers would have their Meritorious Unit Citation stripped, there is speculation that decision could undergo some changes.

Asked if Defence Force chief Angus Campbell's distinguished service cross be removed, the Chief of Army again dodged the question.

"I support the recommendation in the report, which is that if we knew then what we know now, the unit would not have been put forward for a Meritorious Citation,'' he said.

 

Chief of Army Lieutenant General Richard Burr.
Chief of Army Lieutenant General Richard Burr.

 

"There is a process to follow, as we follow all of those recommendations for individual and collective awards. And we will follow that process in a proper and fair methodology, and make sure that everyone's privacy is respected."

"So much good work was done by so many people in Afghanistan. We're all committed to making sure that that legacy is understood, preserved, and we honour the sacrifice of so many."

"I acknowledge the fallen and pay my respects, absolutely, to those families. We will not forget them. We will honour their legacy. That's all I have. I'll take one more question and then I'll leave, thank you."

The Chief of Army then exited the press conference as the media continued to fire questions.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

 

Earlier, Scott Morrison warned Australia's Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell that he expects the top brass to be held accountable for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, not just the rogue soldiers who were on the frontline.

In his strongest comments to date, the Prime Minister has told Radio 4BC that the "chain of command" needs to be looked at closely.

His remarks follow calls by broadcaster Alan Jones that the Prime Minister should "sack" General Campbell and not accept the Brereton Report's acceptance that the top brass should not be blamed because they were kept in the dark by rogue soldiers and didn't know what was going on.

"So we've tried to set up the most robust, transparent and good governance processes to see how we can deal with this issue the best we can,'' Mr Morrison said.

"But in each case, it's important that not only is there accountability in the defence forces for individual alleged acts, but also in the chain of command about those who had responsibilities and accountabilities in that chain of command.

Mr Morrison added that the decision to dismiss serving SAS soldiers over the allegations was a matter for the ADF, and noted he had not asked for the names of those adversely affected by the report.

"We haven't seen, nor do we wish to have provided to us the detailed report, which includes the names of individuals, that we think would compromise the process,'' he said.

The Chief of Army has previously described being "sickened" by the findings of a landmark investigation into Australian Special Forces, which recommended 19 defence personnel be investigated for involvement in the unlawful killing of 39 people in Afghanistan.

"I was sick. I was sickened, particularly by the allegations of blooding," Lieutenant General Burr told the Nine Network's 60 Minutes.

"I was shocked by the extent of the alleged unlawful acts that were described in the report."

But that's angered some soldiers, who point out that Lieutenant General Burr commanded the special forces operations of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2008, although he insists he never heard a whisper of the allegations outlined in the report.

The bulk of the more serious allegations occurred later in Afghanistan during 2012 and 2013.

There is no suggestion of adverse findings against the top brass including General Campbell or the Chief of Army.

In fact, the Brereton report argues the top brass were kept in the dark and fed fake reports about incidents that were "routinely embellished and sometimes outright fabricated" as rogue SAS soldiers allegedly planted weapons and evidence of prisoners of war they unlawfully killed.

Originally published as Army chief cuts press conference short



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