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Australia’s ‘Afghan Files’ whistleblower sentenced to five years for leaking military secrets

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(AFP) : David McBride, who pleaded guilty in November to three charges of stealing and sharing military information, was given five years and eight months’ imprisonment, Australian media reports said.

McBride must serve a minimum of two years and three months before being eligible for parole, they said, after the ruling by Justice David Mossop in the Australian Capital Territory’s Supreme Court in Canberra.

Public broadcaster ABC said it used the leaked material for the “Afghan Files”, a 2017 series alleging that Australian soldiers were involved in the illegal killings of unarmed men and children in Afghanistan.

McBride’s lawyer, Mark Davis, said outside the court he would be launching an appeal, a decision greeted by applause from a gathering of supporters.

The appeal would be based on the question of what “duty” means, he said.

McBride had pleaded guilty in November last year to three charges of stealing and leaking military information to journalists at the ABC.

He made the plea after his lawyers reportedly failed to convince the judge that his oath of military service gave him a duty to reveal information if it was in the public interest.

‘Afghan files’

After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, more than 26,000 Australian uniformed personnel were sent to Afghanistan to fight alongside US and allied forces against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other armed Islamist groups. 

Australian combat troops left the country in 2013, but since then, a series of often-brutal accounts have emerged about the conduct of Australia‘s elite special forces units. 

They range from reports of troops killing a six-year-old child in a house raid, to a dead foe’s hand being severed, to a prisoner being shot dead to save space in a helicopter.

The ABC’s “Afghan Files” revelations led police to investigate its reporter Daniel Oakes and his producer Sam Clark for obtaining classified information – even raiding the broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters, before dropping the case.

In November 2020, a years-long public inquiry reported that Australia’s elite special forces “unlawfully killed” 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan, including by summary execution as part of initiation rituals.

It recommended that 19 individuals be referred to Australian Federal Police, compensation be paid to the families of victims, and that the military carry out a slew of reforms.

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