Most of you will by now be aware of the report by Justice Brereton into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The report is a great shock and brings shame upon the Australian Defence Force and our nation. Nevertheless it is far better that truth be revealed and justice done, than to cover up these issues. Justice Brereton and all the courageous witnesses who spoke truth are to be commended. We need to remember that no individuals have yet been charged and when and if people are charged, they are entitled to the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless the overall narrative of war crimes committed by Australian soldiers cannot be denied.
The Laws of Armed Conflict are formed on moral principles that have largely come from Christianity. Just War Theory, for example, talks both of justice in going to war and justice in the conduct of war. Theologians such as St Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas were fundamental in the development of Just War Theory. The development of the Geneva Conventions and the principles enumerated at the Nuremburg Trials at the end of the Second World War also owe much to Christian ethics. Therefore as Christians we condemn war crimes and seek justice. We hope and pray for a world of peace, but recognise that in a broken world those who engage in war must observe limits and must protect non-combatants. Again, we are therefore thankful for the Brereton Report.
However this report will possibly hit North Queensland more than most places, because of the deep links we have to the Australian Defence Force. Townsville is Australia’s largest garrison town, and many in our Diocese are currently serving or former members of the Australian Defence Force, including myself. We are all deeply grieved by what the report has revealed, and feel soiled by the dishonour it has brought upon the uniforms we wore with pride. It has to be remembered that the allegations of war crimes are mainly concentrated in one sub-unit which is but a small part of our Special Forces, and in turn our Special Forces are but one small part of our Defence Force. The vast majority of personnel who served in Afghanistan or who have served elsewhere demonstrated honour and the best virtues we require of those in the Australian Defence Force.
In the aftermath of the report there will be much soul searching in the Australian Defence Force and much sorrow. There will be also be much analysis and commentary in our community, to which I do not intend to add at present. Unfortunately there are already reports of harassment or bullying of member of the Australian Defence Force and their families. I ask you not to add to this. Rather, please continue to respect and look after those who served and those who continue to serve. There are good counselling services available for current and former ADF members and their families: please follow the link https://afghanistaninquiry.defence.gov.au/welfare-support. ADF Chaplaincy is also always ready to assist, especially for currently serving members. Accordingly any minister in this Diocese who is pastoring to Veterans or current Defence members and their families at this time and feels unable to adequately assist is encouraged to contact me to arrange further support. And please continue to pray for those who put themselves in harm’s way in defence of our country.
The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland
Sexual Abuse contact line: 1800 242 544 or 07 3835 2216