Australian Military Whistleblower Who Faces Prosecution Shares Perspective On End To Afghanistan War
"We knew it was a debacle. Everybody knew. There was a culture of silence to cover it up, and the politicians were never really trying to win the war."
David McBride is a former military lawyer in the Royal Australia Regiment and Australia Special Forces. He completed two tours in Afghanistan and submitted an internal complaint against what he witnessed in the war. He immediately faced scrutiny and harassment.
A few years later, David found journalists with the Australia Broadcasting Corporation, who were willing to listen to him. They accepted classified documents that showed the reality of Australia’s involvement in the war.
What David had to reveal was published as “The Afghan Files.” It was a “quite a big story in Australia,” according to him. But the Australia government responded by raiding the ABC and targeting David with a prosecution for an espionage offense.
In this episode from the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, which Kevin Gosztola typically co-hosts with Rania Khalek, Kevin speaks with David about his deployments to Afghanistan. He shares his view on the last several weeks, when the United States withdrew forces and mounted an unprecedented evacuation effort with a mostly cooperative Taliban.
*Listen to Australian military whistleblower David McBride's interview or watch the interview here.
“I was born in Australia, but I spent a lot of my life in the U.K. I went to Oxford University in England, and then I joined the British Army,” David recalls. “I came back to Australia and I started practicing as a lawyer, and I got a job being a legal officer.” (In the U.S., these are known as JAGs.)
"You wear a uniform, but you’re meant to make sure people comply with the rules of engagement. If people get in trouble, you’re meant to make sure that the law is followed,” McBride adds.
In 2011, David grew concerned with how the Australia Army was lying to politicians. They were saying everything was going well. If you spoke to soldiers, they would say “everybody knew it wasn’t going well, but the idea was to put out false messages to say it was going well.
“I came back in 2013 for my second tour with the Special Forces, which do a lot more direct action which is attacking the enemy with missiles and going to their houses and killing them. I could see again the false messaging was getting out of control.”
After returning to Australia, David made his internal complaint. He attempted to “gently prod the organization” to recognize “we’re not following the law, and we’re not even doing a good job. We’re just trying to win the war by saying we’re winning the war, even though we know we’re not.”
“We’d become very politicized in that we were really just an arm of the politicians, and we would say whatever the politicians wanted us to say, which of course was good news.”
The complaint was not well received. It resulted in scrutiny. “I had a very good career up to that point, and then my career stalled. I was moved sideways. I was given a lot of psychological reviews.”
David recounts, “I was gaslit by the organization, who said it’s all in your imagination. They sent me to a psychiatrist who said that I was nuts and it was all a sense of my own entitlement."
“Eventually, after four years of trying to get people to care, I found some media people who took the classified documents, which I think proved my case, and they made something called the Afghan Files, which was quite a big story in Australia which was one of the first stories to expose the war crimes and coverups and general fact that we weren’t telling the truth about the war.”
The police came after David, and he took off for Spain. He says he was kind of on the run, but he had a daughter in Australia and came back to face the music, where he was arrested in 2018.
“Since then, I have been fighting a charge similar to Julian Assange. It’s an espionage charge, even though I’m a whistleblower. They’re saying I damaged national security.”
David claims he could face over 100 years in prison if they want to put him in prison for that long because the penalty can be severe. “I’m very much treated as if I’m a terrorist.”
While awaiting trial (which was postponed again to 2022), David has followed recent developments in Afghanistan closely.
“These latest events in Afghanistan have been very helpful to me, even though they’re tragic for the people of Afghanistan, because it shows what I’ve been saying all along. That we knew it was a debacle.”
“Everybody knew. There was a culture of silence to cover it up, and the politicians were never really trying to win the war,” David contends. “I believe, as Julian Assange said, they just wanted to keep it going because it was a big money spender for the corporations. It was a big money spender for the political parties because the corporations would make donations to them. And it was a vote-winner."
“Dropping bombs on Islamic people in the mountains won a lot of votes off that section of the population that equates dropping bombs and shooting people up as strong leadership.”
As David puts it, “Australia’s got a lot to answer for—and Britain—because the U.S. cannot carry out these military adventures without some sort of allies.”
He also reacts to a news report about “Captain Louise,” who was attached to the Australia Special Forces and at one time had a partner in the Special Forces. She is a key witness in an Australia war crimes inquiry and had her home bombed.
“It’s a big deal. I was as surprised as anybody by that story,” David says.
Her partner apparently told her his unit was out on patrol. They shot someone in a group of 11 farmers by mistake and panicked. They did not want any witnesses so everyone was murdered, including children. They claimed they were Taliban.
David suggests a stun grenade was thrown at her house. It was likely intended not to kill her but to scare her into recognizing if she gives evidence against certain people then bad things will happen.
“I’ve got two daughters. I got veiled threats to say that everything that you hold dear could be taken away from you,” David shares. “They know I’m pretty nuts, and I’m not going to worry about it too much. But obviously everybody’s got a weakness, and the idea that my daughters would be harmed because I’m giving evidence against certain people, yeah, it’s pretty scary.”
Louise was relocated and now is under witness protection. The attack made her even more determined to tell investigators whatever they need to know.