But as one informed source explained, “the historians won’t see the raw Brereton report until the public sees it”. This could take up to seven years, as the report is unlikely to be released in its entirety until the final war crimes charges are completed.
It is not clear what impact the denial of access to the Brereton report will have on the war history unit’s ability to do its job. The sources said the historians blocked access to the report and believed that at least some of the more sinister aspects of the country’s deployment in Afghanistan could still be told using other investigative methods, including interviewing veterans and investigating of open source material.
But there is no doubt that Judge Paul Brereton’s exhaustive four-year unedited investigative report, which relied on the affidavits of more than 300 former soldiers and military officials, is the most detailed document available on the alleged war crimes scandal.
The publicly available version of Judge Brereton’s report provides a detailed analysis of defense cultural flaws, but provides almost no detail about the missions and personnel involved in the alleged executions of Afghan civilians and detainees.
However, his redacted findings make it clear that at least some historically significant missions have been compromised by alleged criminal behavior. For example, Judge Brereton identified a large medal of gallantry given to a special forces soldier in a battle that his investigation determined was allegedly “deliberately misreported” by a small SAS patrol. Justice Brereton also described exposing possibly the “worst” episode in Australian military history, though he didn’t provide details on what this entailed.
The work of the War History Unit is official in the sense that it is commissioned and funded by the government as the authoritative national record of Australia’s involvement in certain conflicts. According to the Australian War Memorial, “official historians will be given unrestricted access to government archives with a closed period and with security”.
The unit, led by respected war historian Professor Craig Stockings, is currently responsible for providing “a detailed, authoritative account of Australia’s extensive and complex combat operations” in Iraq (2003-11) and Afghanistan (2001-14), as well as its role in peacekeeping operations in East Timor (1999-2012)”.
The war history unit relies in part on “after action” mission reviews written with input from soldiers and officers in the hours after they return to base after the military operation.
As Justice Brereton found, these reviews were often “manipulated … routinely embellished and sometimes outright made up”.
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