Australian commandos accused of Afghan war crimes

Soldiers from the Special Operations Task Group use their rifle scopes to investigate the surrounding mountains during an operation in southern Afghanistan in this handout photo from the Australian Department of Defence on October 2009. (Australian Department of Defence/AFP)
Updated 08 June 2018
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Australian commandos accused of Afghan war crimes

SYDNEY: Australian special forces have been accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan in a secret defense report leaked Friday that described a “complete lack of accountability” from top military brass.
The investigation, reported by Fairfax Media, quoted unnamed special forces insiders saying some Australian troops engaged in the “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations” with “a disregard for human dignity.”
The report, which Fairfax said was compiled by defense department consultant Samantha Crompvoets, concerned operations by Australian Special Air Service troops and other elite commandos deployed alongside US and allied forces in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
It described a dysfunctional military organization rife with distrust of senior leaders and competition between different elite units.
“Even more concerning were allusions to behavior and practices involving abuse of drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations... and the perception of a complete lack of accountability at times,” the report is quoted as saying.
The Defense Force declined to answer specific questions about the leaked report, but told Fairfax it was taking “all allegations about Australian Forces seriously” and would be making recommendations based on the findings of the inquiry.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also declined to provide details as “there is an investigation underway.”
The opposition Labor party on Friday described the revelations as “deeply concerning” and said subject to national security concerns the report should be made public.
“Our soldiers, particularly our special forces, work in difficult and complex environments,” shadow minister for defense Richard Marles said in a statement.
“It’s important that we know, as a country, that they’re doing it in a professional and legal way.”
Government parliamentarian and former SAS member Andrew Hastie said the allegations “should be taken seriously.”
“We need a free media reporting on all issues that are relevant to the public interest,” he told ABC radio, declining to go into detail about the accusations.


White House threatens to veto aid bill for migrant families

Updated 31 min ago
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White House threatens to veto aid bill for migrant families

  • Hispanic and liberal Democrats press House leaders to add provisions to the legislation strengthening protections for migrant children
  • Many House Democrats say the Senate version’s provisions aimed at helping migrant children are not strong enough

WASHINGTON: The White House is threatening to veto a $4.5 billion House bill aimed at improving the treatment of migrant families detained after crossing the US southern border, saying the measure would hamstring the administration’s border security efforts and raising fresh questions about the legislation’s fate.
The warning came as Hispanic and liberal Democrats press House leaders to add provisions to the legislation strengthening protections for migrant children, changes that might make the measure even less palatable to President Donald Trump. Though revisions are possible, House leaders are still hoping for approval as early as Tuesday.
The Senate planned to vote this week on similar legislation that has bipartisan backing, but many House Democrats say the Senate version’s provisions aimed at helping migrant children are not strong enough. House Democrats seeking changes met late Monday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Right now, the goal is really to stop — one death is just too much,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., as he left that meeting.
Many children detained entering the US from Mexico have been held under harsh conditions, and Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press last week that children have died after being in the agency’s care. He said Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people — more than triple their maximum capacity of 4,000.
Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess. While lawmakers don’t want to depart without acting on the legislation for fear of being accused of not responding to humanitarian problems at the border, it seems unlikely that Congress would have time to send a House-Senate compromise to Trump by week’s end.
In a letter Monday threatening the veto, White House officials told lawmakers they objected that the House package lacked money for beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needs to let it detain more migrants. Officials also complained in the letter that the bill had no money to toughen border security, including funds for building Trump’s proposed border wall.
“Because this bill does not provide adequate funding to meet the current crisis, and because it contains partisan provisions designed to hamstring the Administration’s border enforcement efforts, the Administration opposes its passage,” the letter said.
Several Democrats said some language they were seeking could end up in separate legislation. Several said changes might include provisions aimed at ensuring that detained children are treated humanely.
“We’ve got lives at stake,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif. He said the US has been “the gold standard” for treating refugees fleeing dangerous countries, “and I don’t think we should compromise that at all.”
The meeting may have helped ease Democratic complaints. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told reporters before the meeting that she would oppose the bill but left the door open afterward, saying, “I oppose the situation we’re in, but my main goal is to keep kids from dying.”
Much of the legislation’s money would help care for migrants at a time when federal officials say their agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants and are running out of funds.
The back-and-forth on the spending measure came as Congress’ top Democrats criticized Trump for threatening coast-to-coast deportations of migrants.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that he would give Congress two weeks to solve “the Asylum and Loopholes problems” along the border with Mexico. “If not, Deportations start!” he tweeted.
The president had earlier warned that there would soon be a nationwide sweep aimed at “millions” of people living illegally in the US, including families. The sweeps were supposed to begin Sunday, but Trump said he postponed them.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the threatened raids were “appalling” when she was asked about them at an immigration event Monday in Queens, New York.
“It is outside the circle of civilized human behavior, just kicking down doors, splitting up families and the rest of that in addition to the injustices that are happening at the border,” she said.
On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described Trump’s “chilling, nasty, obnoxious threats” and said the president “seems far more comfortable terrorizing immigrant families” than addressing immigration problems.
“I mean, my God, to threaten separating children from their parents as a bargaining chip? That’s the very definition of callousness,” Schumer said.
It is not clear exactly what Trump, who has started his 2020 re-election bid, means regarding asylum and loophole changes. He’s long been trying to restrict the numbers of people being allowed to enter the US after claiming asylum and impose other restrictions, a path he’s followed since he began his quest for president years ago. His threatened deportations came as authorities have been overwhelmed by a huge increase of migrants crossing the border into the US in recent months.
For years, Democrats and Republicans have unable to find middle ground on immigration that can pass Congress. It seems unlikely they will suddenly find a solution within two weeks.