In the public interest.
A key quote:
Martin Luther King said “sometimes silence is the greatest betrayal of all’, or as General David Morrison put it “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.
A man after my own heart… there are many great men in the military. I respect truth, honour and justice. If you know of a crime stand for truth. End of story, literally.
Note: the process David took is a process many take as they are not answered, ignored and accountability absent. Then attempts are made to intimidate the press rather than the hard work of looking within. Denial is not a river in Egypt.
The issue of disrespect is mentioned in the article, I note this attitude is across the board as values are not modelled as ‘who we are’ as a culture. Democracy in my view is not just a word, it is who we are yet there are some in high places that consider accountability, transparency and freedom of speech an impediment rather than a value that drives to the heart of why we do what we do.
Fifty-nine years ago today, my father, Dr William McBride, “discovered” that the drug thalidomide was causing birth defects. A relatively junior gynaecologist in his thirties with a young family, the long weekend gave him an opportunity to do the necessary thinking and draw the fateful conclusions.
As a former army officer who released classified documents to journalists, today I face a very different set of circumstances on a June long weekend. I will soon be facing trial in the ACT Supreme Court for charges relating to this act.
Much as I would have liked it, my life has none of the fame and fortune of my father. He started at the bottom and reached the top, and I started at the top and may yet reach the very bottom. Yet despite outward appearances, I’m happy with where I’ve been, and where I’m going. My passion for using my brain to defend democracy and our hard won democratic freedoms is undiminished.
Having been sent to boarding school at a young age, I grew up on stories of WWII. My imagination was constantly filled with the deeds of those who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we now take for granted. Subsequently, all I ever wanted to be was a soldier.
Even now I don’t consider myself an ex-soldier. My uniforms hang pristine waiting for the day they might be used again. But the essence of being an officer is not in the uniforms, or the medals. It’s in the funerals. The moment when you face a young man or woman who will face the rest of their life without their loved one. People accept death. It’s part of the job. What they can’t accept is waste. The question they want answered is consistent and valid: “Can you reassure me my beloved did not die for nothing.”
I take this responsibility seriously. It matters. A society that takes the lives of its most dedicated and idealistic youth recklessly or cynically is a society doomed to fail.
My time in the British Army taught me what leadership is, and what it isn’t. Its not about looking tougher than your soldiers, or giving them orders. They largely know what to do before you tell them, having spent their whole lives “in uniform”. There is one thing they rely on you to do: stand up and be counted when it matters. One job. But it’s a job that needs to be done, and only you can do.
I did two tours of Afghanistan for Australia. Each was hard in its own way, but equally they were also the best things I have done in my life. As an officer your responsibility remains the same, whether you are protecting soldiers from the Taliban or their own political masters. In 2013 my career reached a crisis point. It was my second deployment, this time as legal officer with the Special Forces, those who sacrifice most for our country. The point came where there was no doubt in my mind that a line had been crossed, and lives were being cynically wasted. My duty was to “stand and be counted” and I did. Whatever happens from now on is in many ways irrelevant. I did what I believe had to be done. My main enemy was not the chain of command, or even the police, rather myself.
The process of standing up took many years, and many forms. It started with a politely worded internal complaint. When that failed, I went first to the police, and then the minister. Finally I went to the press. Which brings us to my trial. The details probably matters less than the principle, namely, that I believed the Australian Defence Force had failed. Failed in its duty to its soldiers, failed in its duty to Australia. It’s a claim I stand by to this day.
Whatever glossy ads we make, the life of those who defend our shores is a hard one. It is performed by hard people, and it needs to be. Death will always be part of the job. They accept that. What they can never accept is that those who they entrusted with their lives and the futures of their families, did not do “everything possible” to keep them alive or bring them home. Everything.
Soldiers need to die but the way we treat them says everything about who we are as a nation. A nation that treats its soldiers with disrespect is a nation in decline, but one that deserves to decline. I have no regrets about what I did, and I am ready to face the consequences as the justice system sees fit.
I am lucky in this regard in that Australia has possibly the most enviable legal “pedigree” in the world. Born of the ancient tradition of parliamentary democracy and “rule of law” whose beautiful, but painful evolution can be traced back through 800 years of the Magna Carta.
The rights and freedoms we enjoy are the product of idealism combined with suffering. In addition to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, we have undoubtedly inherited the almost timeless, wondrous spirit of the Indigenous people of this continent. While we are protected by these laws they also come with responsibilities. To the earth, and to each other. To ourselves.
A judge will decide my fate, and as a “true believer” in the rule of law, I willingly submit myself to that fate. How could I not, as it is the very same rule of law from which I claim my unenviable but inevitable duty. Whatever they decide, I believe that I did my duty.
David McBride is a former military lawyer and captain in Britain’s elite Special Air Service and the whistleblower at the centre of Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC’s Sydney headquarters on Wednesday. He was charged in September last year with theft of Commonwealth property, namely war crimes investigation files, and three counts of breaching the Defence Act. He was also charged under old secrecy provisions in the Commonwealth Crimes Act. He is due to face court on June 13.