The War Criminals: Our Soldiers or their Leaders?

Written by Dr Dan Mealey

by Dr Dan Mealey
Afghanistan veteran.

Mental illness in general in Australia is increasingly being met with hostility both in hospital settings and from the population at large. The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, and the The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, aim to place a royal imprimatur stamp upon the notion that Australia has a toxic relationship with its vulnerable.

There is certainly much strength in an elite Special Forces soldier with a weapon in his hand. But there is a significant vulnerability in this soldier that is not being discussed by the nation. This is not only impacting the carriage of justice in investigating serious alleged war crimes, it’s permitting an acceptable punitive response from Defence leaders toward the soldiers they are fundamentally destroying.

Major General (the Honourable Justice) Paul Brereton submitted his (link below) IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Report on 29 OCT. It’s a hard-hitting, factual and all-encompassing analysis of why, during the period 2007 to 2014, Australian military personnel:

  1. knowingly committed clear and unambiguous acts of murder
  2. why these actions were apparently reported by no-one, and
  3. if senior commanders did not know about those incidents, could they, or should they have known?

The response to the Brereton report, made by Professor David Whetham (King’s College London, Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force) on page 438, categorises SOCOMD “war crimes” into three broad domains:

  1. “Bad apples” or those soldiers who, given an alignment of external influences and conditions, are predisposed toward criminality in warfare.
  2. Deficits in training, and
  3. Application (or misapplication) of rules.

Both reports are thorough (acknowledging much has been redacted due to security, legal and privacy constraints) and they reflect the calibre of exemplary analyses of a very serious multifactorial problem, befitting the authors’ military and legal prominence.

What is missing from these reports however, and indeed from national conversation is a clinical profiling of both the accused soldiers, and the ADF organisation as a whole. The clinical standard toward the psychiatric distress of our ADF personnel (or lack of clinical standard) ought to be driving all national discussion pertaining to what ought to be abundantly clear is a manifestation of psychologically fractured individuals.

What must be remembered with every national conversation pertaining to this issue (and especially during judicial inquiry) is that mums and dads of these elite soldiers handed over to the ADF the product of excellent parenting, and that this end-state of alleged war criminality represents even more evidence that there is something pathologically wrong with ADF’s leadership.

At the root of both aforementioned Royal Commissions into the increasingly hostile relationship with the nation’s mentally ill, is an individual, organisational and national confusion between “psychiatric,” “‘moral,” and “behavioral.”

The substance and language of both reports that formed the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Report, were legalistic (which isn’t surprising for obvious reasons). When the nation perpetually allows for such issues to be deconstructed, analysed and reported through the lens of lawyers’ interpretation of the events, this results in the excision of a limb to save the body. But when “saving the body” is the assumed objective of all parties, “saving the body” and “saving the head” became one and the same.

In a military setting, this has the result of defective leadership continuing to erode our military capability, with the soldiers psychologically fractured receiving a jail term instead of compassionate systems of therapy, justice and meaningful re-integration into society. This has overflowing societal implications, of an entire nation punishing all of its mentally ill, because human beings always mimic the behaviour of their most esteemed institutions.

This issue of our elite soldiers and their alleged war criminality however, has touched a raw nerve around the nation. Australians have observed the ever-increasing veteran suicides, mental illness, addictions and homelessness. But no longer are they buying the rhetoric spun that these outcomes are the product or their own weakness or lack of resilience. If our elite soldiers are spinning out of control, this undeniably points to a much bigger problem than the weakness of individual soldiers.

The national sentiments in support of the accused soldiers reflects a growing national understanding of over-arching, entrenched and compelling failures of ADF leadership. Yet the book-throwing sentiments of numerous Australians in positions of power and influence, suggests either a blindness toward these failures or outright complicit involvement.

It’s important that our language reflects a respect where respect is due, and in referencing these war crimes, the word “alleged” ought to be used until such time as judicial processes are complete (for all the accusations ) if we are to speak with a collective generalisation). We are also compelled to remind those presiding over these judicial processes that “crime” and “culpability” are premised upon “consent,” and that consent is manifestly affected by the psychiatric sequelae that in our military setting, our CDF has both caused, dismissed, and then punished.

We’re talking about an organisation that is significantly challenged in its attempts to approximate clinical gold standards of care, with a dangerous shaming and punishment of both legitimate distress arising from poor leadership, and the psychological consequence of service. A suicide attempt in the ADF results in a charge of “Prejudicial Conduct” all of which drives oftentimes severe psychiatric distress of our soldiers into a frightening and dangerous closet of secrecy.

The expectations and demands on our Special Forces soldiers has been well documented elsewhere. This ought to result in the ADF actually creating the national gold standard of psychiatric care (not just meeting that standard) but this unopposed intrusion of very unintelligent ADF leaders into the medical care of their dependency, has completely replaced common-sense clinical management, with an inhumane, and destructive brutality toward the psychological distress their poor leadership is causing.

THIS is the real war crime here, because when you suppress the psychiatric distress of soldiers, when you simultaneously shame, litigiously charge and then dishonourably discharge those soldiers whose psychiatric distress can no longer be suppressed, and when psychologically and morally wounded Australian soldiers are perpetually labelled as the problem here, then get ready for that psychiatric distress to manifest in disturbing psychiatric behaviour, in very violent suicides (to avoid any failure meeting punishment) and the overflowing effects upon both the viability of our defence force and the reputation of our nation.

Australia restoring sanity to all of this, starts with a nation-wide effort to restore compassion where compassion has been lost – without which we will continue to interpret the worsening signs of the valid distress among our soldiers as a punishable weakness, instead of as a major red flag that our ADF is in the wrong hands.

IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Report :



Doug Macleod
They can only be judged by those that have experienced actual warfare. Soldiers are trained to kill, not debate. They do not have the luxury of time, it is multisecond kill or be killed. The fact that non combatants get killed is due to the enemy’s lack of uniform and mixing with the local population, the female swathed in black carrying a baby also swathed can be mistaken for an enemy carrying a weapon, for example. Death of a civilian in war actions is inevitable, bomber crews in the past though targeting war production have similar problems as have all long distance weapons. Small parties do not have the facilities to take prisoners to do so can lead to their destruction. SAS are a small party patrol organisation not equiped for prisoner taking as are infantry units. In summery the blame if any lies at the highest political level by implementing the wrong type of unit and the blame lies at the same level.

Glenn Miller
As always, well written and presented. Spot on.
A fish rots from the head. Leadership at all levels are culpable here. Should these allegations be proven then the “Yamashita Standard” should be applied. This standard was incorporated into the international rules of war to which Aust is a signatory. It holds that commanders are liable for the actions of their troops, regardless. Also the fact that more vets (Vietnam, Afganistan, Iraq) have died from post conflict suicide than were ‘killed in action’ should have sent alarm bells ringing long ago. This is the most shameful episode in our country’s history and sadly it is far from over.

Gary Garcia
When you join the military your mind is clubbed into submission to be a blind order follower. Even if you know something is wrong with their orders you still have to follow them. They don’t give a fuck about you. I don’t know the full story but it looks like to me they’ve used soldiers as captive guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve had issues with what’s known as depression. No one told me about the side effects of drugs I was prescribed after open heart surgery that altered my mind. So I was given more medication for ptsd and depression which turned me into a zombie with constant thoughts of suicide.
Those calling the shots in the government and military are cowards who refuse to take responsibility for their actions lest they lose their social standing. It’s a big club and you ain’t in it.

Mary-Ann Martinek
2004 -ABC by Sarah Clarke- bc This leads to that https://www.abc.net.au/news/2004-04-27/adf-accused-of-wrongly-discharging-personnel/176498 “unfair dismissals” by the chain of command ‘before a medical condition has stabilised’

Tom Webber
Nobody knows what they go through, try walking in their boots.

Mary-Ann Martinek
In 2004 https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-clarke-9211872 in 2004 Sarah Clarke wrote the article “Unfair dismissal claims levelled at Defence Force”
AM – Tuesday, 27 April , 2004 08:08:00
Reporter: Sarah Clarke https://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2004/s1095514.htm

Tony Doyle
The government

Janet Kauter
Their leaders have failed !! They did not stand up for their sections.

Sharron Varney
Their gutless corrupt politicians who blame their Army not them selves for sending them to be killed by terrorists. Sack Morrison and General Campbell the Coward Traitors.

Ian Petch
Too much said that suggests guilt without trial.

Keith Russell
There are far more criminals within our government & company CEOs ok, they may not strike a blow but they have caused many people to take their own lives.

Adrienne Bentley

Wong Ban
Keep in faith as united to fight for justice – Royal Commission. Thank you so much Dr Dan Mealey

Paul Caporn
Never see the political parties sons and daughters on the battlefield

Ian Petch
It’s a known fact that SF soldiers have a higher number of individuals with psychopathic profiles. This doesn’t make them necessarily evil or bad and in fact gives them the perfect qualities for SF. Schumacher the racing car driver has a psychopathic profile similar to the multi murderer the ICE Man. The difference between the two were influences.
So if we have these men with these profiles and we continually expose them to combat such as was experienced in Afghanistan you will get some that will tilt the wrong way. Psychopaths already have , in general, low empathy so if you keep sending them there to kill and kill eventually some will become totally devoid of empathy.
My point is that I believe part of the problem was the use of the SASR as door kickers. We had six highly under employed infantry Bns that could have done much of what the SASR were made to do which would have reduced their combat load and given longer periods between rotations. Who is responsible ? Those who mis employed these men must take a big chunk of the responsibility. Those who’ve been alleged to have committed these crimes must be given full psychological examination before any charges are laid.

Dan Mealey
Ian Petch I know that this profiling of special forces communities as having a higher than average Antisocial personality disorder rate (which is the correct diagnostic terminology for sociopath and psychopath now, since both latter terms carried so much stigma that treatment was affected by the labels) is a rate that is spun with much frequency, But in truth it’s popularise rhetoric, that doesn’t really hold true .
It is true though that when trauma and injustice are not met with compassionate systems of therapy and justice, this starts to erode a human being’s personality, potentially creating complex predominant personality traits, Of which antisocial personality traits might come to the forefront.
It’s important to note that this occurs well after recruitment, and this recruitment process (although not perfect) has a tendency to weed out those with personality disorders, as does each of the many psychological profiling assessments, positive and negative vetting processes, pre-and post- deployment checks, and then all of the more stringent testing processes for entry into special forces roles .
The take home point here is that you’re right… We are expecting our elite soldiers to deploy with repetitive deployment cycles, with no time to rest and reset before being sent off again, experiencing extreme psychological trauma and moral trauma (including being exposed to a war-warped culture where boys are molested as a norm, girls are executed for receiving education, kids are strapped to a suicide vest and exploded for maximum mortality (with our soldiers not being able to do anything about any of these things)… The onus is upon our leaders to firstly recognise this is enough to create severe psychiatric problems for the strongest of us all, And to implement appropriate psychological strategies (both preventative and reactionary)… This is simply not the case
You’re right with respect to a mandatory psychological assessment of those who are accused of such crimes … But remember we are talking about Australian soldiers who are very much accustomed to lying about psychological manifestations of war, because our leaders have created a culture in which those who demonstrate cracks are punished and discharged, rather than rehabilitated and put back into uniform .

Scott Stewart to Ian Petch
There is zero credible evidence to support that claim. Like any community there are a plethora of different personalities and traits.

Ian Petch
Dan Mealey thanks for the info. My “studies “ on this subject were informal and something I looked into when serving. My interest was the psychology of conducting warfare.
Surely command elements didn’t expect to be able to send men on a continuous round about of rotations without damaging the “goods”. If they did, it tells you something about their disconnection with those at the coal face.
These men must be assessed prior to any charges regardless of any perceived ability to lie. I personally think you will find much more damage than expected. I also want to see them assessed for potential self harm as there is a likely hood of PTSD issues.
I just hope that justice is given without political bias or to appease others.

Daniel Danny Lea to Ian Petch
Not sure Kuklinskis profile is the same as Schumachers. Both on the spectrum probably did areas.

Ian Petch to Scott Stewart
Yes and perhaps those with the traits needed to “turn” came to the fore. I’m not making the comment as a general assumption but that they are around. I’m also not suggesting everyone with those traits is evil. Yes there are all sorts of different personalities and traits .

Ian Petch to Daniel Danny Lea
Yes. Watched an interview with the Iceman and it was brought up then. I’ve also come across the comparison in papers. What I’m alluding to is people with this profile are not always evil serial killers. Many are high achievers.

Daniel Danny Lea to Ian Petch
I rated the Parkes Forbes hbo interview. Kuklinski was lower scale but had higher scales of personality disorders. Whilst psychopathy does bring out high achievers like Schumacher and Klukinski (very good as a hit man) there can also that trait of deceit. Influences can provide channels for processes as much as expectations. All up it seems that the allure of sf performing roles that other orgs can do seemed to be the gloss for the politicians perhaps?

Ian Petch to Daniel Danny Lea
I think they were afraid of casualties and were convinced the use of SF would minimise that. They then proceeded to try and turn them in to Aust SEALs. From what I gather it started in East Timor.

Daniel Danny Lea to Ian Petch

John Nolan
The SAS was never formed to engage in large formations but as small deep penetration patrols,and not to exceed troop size. The action and behavior of the two cowboy squadrons, which has unfortunately reflected on the British and New Zealand Regiments is solely due, not to PTSD, but to inept leadership: The Squadron O’C’s, their respective SSM’s and particularly the senior N.C.O’s: the sergeants. I’m not aware of either squadron’s S.O.P”, but in two instances where British patrols were “found”, in The Yemen and Iraq, in both cases by a shepherds one a youth, the other a young boy, both were sent away with sweets etc and both returned with the local militia-and, or, army, which says much for the quality of the soldiers, their training, their leadership and above all their self respect.

Anne Murray
RIP Jarrod Brown. Another life gone early.

Dan Mealey
I’m so sorry to hear this. My deepest condolences to Jarrod’s family and friends. I hope all of you are loved and well supported right now ?

Susan Baker
If we got a Rc into suicide in defence, some of the answers would be given. These veterans hear and see such disgusting behaviour put down to others religious beliefs. We are doing all this back to front. These soldiers will be tried by the damn media. It should never have been out in the public gallery. Disgraceful treatment of our personnel

Andy Chalkley
The question that does not seem to get asked is: “Why were we in Afghanistan in the first place?”
We should not be in other people’s countries, just as they should not be in our country. We did not vote on war. We are not a war-mongering people.
Neither should any foreign entity push us into war.
To send our army into an unfamiliar hostile environment, something is going to go wrong. The press that pushes for war in the first place, is now laying it on the individuals sent to Afghanistan rather than those that sent them to Afghanistan and those that pushed our politicians to send then to Afghanistan.
How can we praise the service of personnel in an action that is questionable in the first place?

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Dr Dan Mealey

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