‘Chilling conclusions’: Howard distressed by Brereton findings

Former prime minister John Howard says any Australian special forces personnel who are charged with war crimes deserve the presumption of innocence, but says he feels distressed by the revelations contained in the Brereton inquiry's report.

NSW Supreme Court of Appeal judge Paul Brereton's four-year investigation found "credible information" that Australian special forces were involved in the murder of 39 Afghan civilians, in many cases covering up their alleged crimes.

Former Prime Minister John Howard: “Its findings are damning of the behaviour of a small group of special forces personnel.”Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Howard, who committed Australian forces to Afghanistan in 2001, said he remained "intensely proud of the bravery and professionalism of those forces in the years that followed".

"Forty-one members of the Australian Defence Force have died in the Afghanistan conflict. All Australians should be grateful for the service of our forces in what has proved to be a long and difficult engagement," Mr Howard said in a statement on Friday.

"None of this diminishes the distress that I and so many others feel about the contents of the Brereton inquiry [report] released yesterday.

"Its findings are damning of the behaviour of a small group of special forces personnel who it is claimed, amongst other things, were responsible for the unlawful killing of 39 Afghan citizens."

Mr Howard noted that none of the 39 alleged murders were committed in the "heat of battle", saying the conduct was "totally at odds with the values, beliefs and practices of our military forces".

Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell released a redacted version of Justice Brereton's report on Thursday, promising to act on the inquiry's "shameful", "deeply disturbing" and "appalling" findings.

The Perth-based SAS's second squadron will be immediately disbanded with a new unit to be established in its place.

Mr Howard said General Campbell responded "candidly and directly to the chilling conclusions" of the inquiry.



"The CDF did not diminish in any way the serious issues raised by it and demonstrated true leadership qualities," he said.

"Due process must now be followed. If charges are laid against individuals they must be handled in accordance with Australia's criminal justice system. Any personnel charged should enjoy the presumption of innocence.

"A long road lies ahead. In the meantime, we should remember the continuing service of our military personnel and, where appropriate, extend a helping hand to them and their families."

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