By Joe Montero
Whistleblower David McBride will face the start of his trial today (Monday 13 November), and last week, a group of other high-profile whistleblowers signed an open letter to the federal government to call on it to honour the promise to legislate protection for whistleblowers and cut down the cost of waging a legal defence.
The McBride case is a pivotal point, involving the exposure of humanitarian crimes committed by members of the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan, and the failure of the high command and government through their role in creating the conditions for this to happen and hiding the truth afterwards. The extension of this inconvenient truth is that it involved participation in a war built on lies. on aggression to terrorise and control a population, to facilitate what was really a military occupation.
Those who made the decisions and gave the orders are ultimately responsible for what happened, and they don’t want attention to be drawn to this fact.
David McBride, lawyer and soldier was stationed in Afghanistan, and while there, witnessed some of the atrocities. His conscience would not allow him to keep silent. He tried to report what he witnessed through official channels, to find the truth being blocked at every turn, and to be left with no other choice but to go public by leaking classified documents to the ABC.
For doing this, McBride faces court. He faces some obvious barriers to a fair trial. The prosecution can easily invoke national security concerns to block evidence and its examination. The legal definition is so broad it can include anything. This leads to denial of public access what’s going on in the trial.
The importance of this case should never be underestimated. There is a lot riding on it. If the trial continues and leads to imprisonment, the signal sent out will be that other whistleblowers will face risking the same punishment. This will lead towards more secret government. Wrongdoing by those with power in their hands will continue and be encouraged to grow. This toxic mix threatens basic rights in Australia.
The case against McBride has nothing to do with the protection of Australia’s interests. It’s about hiding deliberate and cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians in another country. Those responsible are protected and he who told the truth is victimised and faces the prospect of imprisonment for 20 or more years.
This is bad enough in itself. But when it comes together with the classification of murder as a secret to be hidden away, it points a smoking gun towards a secret agenda to regard punish the Afghan population as the enemy. This inconvenient truth clashes with the claim made that participation in the war was to protect these people.
McBride’s exposures bring to light the gulf between the Australian government’s claims and the truth. This is why, even though the government appointed Brereton Inquiry found McBride told the truth, the prosecution is continuing.
The open letter was composed by Commonwealth Bank whistleblower Jeff Morris, who helped trigger a royal commission into the powerful financial services sector, and Peter Fox, who helped trigger a royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse, accused the Albanese government of doing “little except make further promises and empty platitudes”.
The letter singles McBride and ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle. as two particularly important cases.
If the current government wishes to act on its promises, it could use Section 71B of the Judiciary Act to allow the attorney general to stop a prosecution that is not in the public interest. The barrier against this is that governments rarely look kindly on anything that encourages people to speak out. They prefer a wall of secrecy, because the often have something to hide.
Public support for whistleblowers is high and rising. According to the Human Rights Law Centre, polling shows that more than 80 percent of Australia want whistleblowers to be protected.
This trial will receive widespread attention and a public response that will be impossible for the government to ignore.