The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) calls it “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history

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A heavily redacted page from the IGADF report.

The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) calls it “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history”.

We know that it happened in 2012.

But that’s about all we do know.

You can find it on page 103 of the 465-page IGADF report, which has been sending shockwaves through the Defence community and Government more broadly since its release on Thursday.

The short passage giving details of the incident is completely blacked out.

Underneath the blacked-out section, the report says there is “no credible information that troop, squadron and task group commanders either knew or suspected that these things were happening, and that they did not fail to take reasonable steps which could have prevented or discovered them”.

Why was so much of the report redacted?

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Angus Campbell talks about the release of the Afghanistan war crimes report.

The IGADF report recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police for the “murder” of 39 prisoners and civilians and the cruel treatment of two others.

Names, locations and sometimes entire sections or whole pages are redacted from the report — the text obscured by the censor’s broad black lines.

The report bears red text saying redactions have been made for “security, privacy and legal reasons”.

Former Army officer and lawyer Glenn Kolomeitz said the Department of Defence had a “reputation for over-redacting material” and that he was often critical of the department for it.

“This is regularly the subject of legal arguments in various jurisdictions,” he said.

“Defence has been accused of over-classifying material and excessive secrecy and redaction, which the courts have found perhaps shouldn’t have been so redacted and shouldn’t have been so highly classified.”

A portrait of a middle-aged man wearing a suit.

Glenn Kolomeitz says the redaction of details from the report could have been made to avoid prejudicing future investigations or prosecutions.(Four Corners)

Mr Kolomeitz has been through the whole IGDAF report and agrees it is “heavily redacted”.

In this case, however, he understands why.

“There are some operational considerations in there. Noting the nature of the unit involved and the nature of the work they were doing,” he said.

“That factor alone tends to justify redactions to some extent. And there were also undoubtedly privacy issues.”

Mr Kolomeitz, who represented several veterans who gave evidence to the IGADF, said he believed so much of the report was redacted in order to preserve or not prejudice future criminal investigations or prosecutions.

“That has to have been at the front of the mind of the inquiry officer,” he said.

“Another good reason for the redactions in this … is that this inquiry was a coercive, administrative inquiry, which means witnesses are compelled to give evidence.”

The trade-off then is that evidence cannot be used in future prosecutions, Mr Kolomeitz said.

“It can be used, to a certain extent, to further future criminal investigations — but they have to be very careful not to use what’s called ‘derivative evidence’ in sustaining future prosecutions.

“So, by not redacting this material, it could well disclose to investigators material which they shouldn’t be exposed to because it was obtained under coercion, or it’s derivative from material obtained under coercion.”

Mr Kolomeitz says these are the most likely reasons so much of the report is redacted, but he adds that the graphic nature of the report could have been on the inquiry officer’s mind too.

“You don’t want to expose the public to too much gruesome information … so that the public aren’t traumatised and also to not enrage the public or potentially extremists or others who would have a go at Australia,” he said.

“And also, to not prejudice a jury. The more inflammatory stuff a potential jury down the track would see, now, would be inappropriate.

“It would be hard to find a jury that could go into a court room in the future possibly with an impartial mindset.”

Will we ever see the whole report?

Mr Kolomeitz doesn’t think it’s likely the public will ever see the full report.

“These inquiries are supposed to be public inquiries, to some extent,” he explained.

“There’s a whole load of factors that keep this public, yes, but only so far.

“In the fullness of time, we will see a lot more detail if charges are ever preferred and if prosecutions are ever taken up, because criminal prosecutions are public.”

Mr Kolomeitz said if this were to happen the courts would likely be closed to protect certain operationally sensitive material.

“But the nature of criminal prosecutions are that they are public prosecutions, so I think [we would] see a lot more of the information come to light,” he said.

What IS in the report?

Army Reserve Major General Paul Brereton took four-and-a-half years to put the report together and said he received “credible information” that 19 Australian soldiers had illegally killed 39 people and “cruelly treated” another two.

The report found “credible information” that 25 current or former Australian Defence Force personnel were involved in the serious crimes, either carrying out the offences or at least being “accessories” to the incidents.

The soldiers who committed these alleged crimes were elite operators in the SAS and commando units.

The report recommended a total of 36 incidents be referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for criminal investigation.

The inquiry also said junior soldiers were often required by patrol commanders to shoot prisoners to get their first kill, in a practice known as “blooding”.

The inquiry also found evidence some Australian troops in Afghanistan carried “throwdowns” — such as weapons, radios and grenades not issued by the ADF — which would be planted next to the bodies of Afghan civilians to suggest they were a “legitimate target” in any post-incident investigations.

Justice Brereton’s report also said there was a “warrior culture” in the SAS and the personnel who “embraced or fostered” that culture bore “substantial indirect responsibility” for what happened.

What is the top brass saying?

A woman with short blonde hair and glasses speaking a lecturn in front of an australian flag

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds says the report is distressing for all those who have served, or are serving.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Head of the Defence Force, Major General Angus Campbell, said the report was heavily redacted to protect the identities of soldiers who may one day face court over the allegations.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds described reading the report as “very distressing”.

Senator Reynolds, a former Army reservist, said the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had “no alternative” but to accept and learn from the report’s findings.

“It was a very distressing read. It is, I think, distressing for everybody who has or still does wear the uniform.

“But if you look at it the other way the fact is we have faced up to this because it does not reflect our values as a nation.”

The most painful issue for senior Defence figures

While the report found patrol commanders were primarily responsible for covering up or sanctioning the culture that allowed the crimes to be committed, questions have also been raised about how much senior Defence figures knew.

General Campbell said it was this question that was “the most painful” for him and his colleagues.

“What I saw, what I didn’t perhaps connect, what I walked past … no I did not see these things and I’m wondering, what did I miss? What could have been done otherwise?”

He said it worried him deeply that so many people did not know about the behaviour of some of Australia’s most elite soldiers during the conflict.

“Wherever there’s an allegation of an incident there must be a small number of other people in the vicinity of that incident,” he said.

“[It is crucial] that we create pathways that ensure people who have something that they need to say are confident in saying it.”

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