A former SAS sergeant has spoken of his “shock” and “devastation” over findings of alleged war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Mack McCormack served in the SAS from 1980 to 1993, including in the Special Air Services’ second squadron, which was disbanded in the wake of the explosive Brereton report.
Mr McCormack said the report — which recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police for the alleged murder of 39 prisoners — was a “blemish” on the squadron.
But he hoped it would not erode the legacy of the entire squadron and tarnish the reputation of the vast majority of former and serving members of the SAS, who he said served their country with “professionalism and discipline”.
“For the majority, who are total professionals, they will be devastated,” Mr McCormack said.
“The guys who serve in the regiment don’t serve for the money or medals, they serve for their country.
“Service in the regiment is very much like the Olympics or the AFL, and when you have a small group who do something wrong, you don’t tarnish the whole of the AFL or whatever.
“To hold the whole of the squadron responsible for a small minority group, I think that’s pretty tough.”
Mr McCormack described the findings uncovered in the report as “unprecedented”, saying they did not match the “absolute professionalism” he experienced during his 13-year stint with the SAS.
“When you’re out there [on duty], our lives depend on our discipline, and if what we are reading in the reports has occurred, this is undisciplined conduct,” Mr McCormack said.
“And if it’s correct that it is a culture, then it was not a culture that was there during my time in the regiment.”
He said the findings had shaken former SAS members to the core.
“We are in shock, like the rest of Australia, we had no idea these allegations were being put forward,” he said.
“We are extremely proud of the serving members and, like in a relay race, we transfer over our skills to the new guys coming through and they carry the baton, and in this case, it would appear the minority have dropped the baton.”
But Mr McCormack said many in the SAS felt “betrayed” by politicians and the Australian Defence Force top brass who needed to take responsibility for the findings.
“The majority have dedicated their life and career to the defence of their country. They are sent to war by politicians; it’s not the SAS who starts wars,” he said.
“There is a whole chain of command, and you are a dedicated team working together to achieve a task.
“To suggest this is a couple of rogue troops doing their own thing is totally ridiculous in a modern day army.
“For Angus Campbell to suggest the officers didn’t know and that this was happening on the periphery, and they weren’t aware, that is a total impossibility and that is the Officers’ Club door slamming shut on the guys who do the work.
“The top brass need to take responsibility.”
Mr McCormack said it was crucial that defence personnel and their families were supported while being subjected to “public embarrassment”.
“Right now I am feeling the most for the families,” he said.
“If you think it’s tough being in the SAS, try being married to one.
“My heart goes out to the wives and children of the current serving members of the regiment and I’d like them to know how much we respect their father and the sacrifices their family has made in defending our country.
“They sacrifice so much — I used to be away nine months of every year and then I left because my three children were growing up without me.
“Every time we put our foot on the ground we put our lives at risk for our country and you are playing the numbers game.”
Equally, Mr McCormack applauded the soldiers who blew the whistle on the alleged war crimes.
“At the same time, can I say how proud I am of the guys who came forward and made the ADF aware of this situation because it must have been incredibly tough for them with peer group pressure,” he said.
RSL WA president Peter Aspinall agreed it was crucial to look after the welfare of current and former defence personnel and their families.
Mr Aspinall said the emotional impact on troops would be significant.
“I think it would run the whole gamut, from absolute disgust and revulsion, to absolutely being devastated by the revelations, and all stages in between,” Mr Aspinall said.
He was not aware of any allegations against Australian troops of this scale since the case of Breaker Morant who was executed in 1902 for murder during the second Anglo-Boer War.
‘Complete failure’ of command
Former RSL WA president Graham Edwards said he had spoken to SAS members who felt “deserted” by the Government and senior members of the ADF.
“Most of all, I feel for the decent, professional, brave and ethical members of the SAS who are currently serving and who have served and who went to that war at the behest of our Government and put their lives on the line,” he said.
“Many of them were killed in action, they’ve now been discarded by the Government and senior members of the ADF, the system stinks.
“If there are people to pay a penalty then they should be the guilty ones and they should be the ones to be stripped of any medals or commendations, not the whole regiment.
“There has been a complete failure of the command system in the ADF.”
In a statement released on Thursday, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, the Chief of Army, commended those who “had the courage to provide information” to the Brereton inquiry.
“This alleged grave misconduct has severely damaged our professional standing,” he said.
“This action reflects no judgment on the current members of 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment, but we all must accept the wrongdoings of the past.
“This is a challenging time for us all. Our Army must learn, improve, support each other and together we will get through this.”