SAS GENERAL URGED TROOPS TO WRITE OF ABUSE
PAUL MALEY – The Australian Defence Editor 9th June 2018
The SAS became so concerned about alleged misconduct by its elite troopers that in late 2015 then SAS commander Major General Jeff Sengelman invited every member of the regiment to write to him personally about alleged misconduct.
The extraordinary meeting was convened amid an atmosphere of deepening anxiety about alleged battlefield excesses, poor practices and a toxic culture within Australia’s special operations community.
General Sengelman, who declined The Weekend Australian’s request for an interview and who has since left the military, is understood to have become so concerned about mounting allegations of abuse, misconduct and even battlefield war crimes, that he resolved to personally petition the troops for information.
Former SAS captain turned Liberal MP Andrew Hastie was among those asked to write. He said yesterday “many good men and women had served in the SAS” but he supports an ongoing investigation into allegations of war crimes while Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson cautioned against “seeking to tear down” the SAS.
Mr Hastie said: “War is a terrible, degrading thing. Our soldiers have had to make tough decisions in complex, dangerous and uncertain environments. People are imperfect. But I also believe that everyone who wears the uniform is accountable to the Australian people. That is why these grave allegations of war crimes must be answered.”
See Andrew Hastie’s full statement on the allegations here.
Dr Nelson, a former defence minister, said SAS troops “for almost two decades have been sent repeatedly into dark places others dare not go with lists of terrorist insurgents to capture or kill” and that many had paid a heavy price, physically and psychologically. “To the nation, I say, ‘be careful. Be very careful in passing judgment on them’,” Dr Nelson said.
“Whatever wrongs may have been done, let us not become a people unworthy of the extraordinary courage of these young Australians. If anyone bears responsibility, let it be the political class, including me who sent them and the military leadership tasked with adherence to the truths by which we live.”
General Sengelman is understood to have addressed the troops at Campbell barracks at Swanbourne, Perth, with the imprimatur of Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, then chief of army. It is understood about 200 SAS operators attended the meeting and General Sengelman received about 200 letters in reply.
None of the letters contained allegations of criminal behaviour, which the army would have been obliged to report. Instead, they revealed a tsunami of drug and alcohol abuse, violence and bullying, reinforcing a concern already widespread in the army that the SAS’s elite and secretive culture had contributed to a breakdown of professional standards.
General Campbell would go on to ask Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin to call in the Defence Inspector-General to investigate the more serious allegations, partly based on feedback from the troops. Those allegations form the basis of the Inspector-General’s inquiry, which is due to finish later this year. One source familiar with the inquiry said General Sengelman’s appeal to the troops was a well-intentioned attempt by a commanding officer to sort gossip from fact.
“Angus’s starting point was very simple,’’ a source with knowledge of the inquiry told The Weekend Australian. “There’s just too much of it for all the allegations to be wrong.”
See the statement from the Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson here.
News of the letters came as reports emerged of a 2016 report into the SAS commissioned by General Sengelman. The report, conducted by defence consultant and sociologist Samantha Crompvoets, drew on interviews with serving SAS troopers who spoke of “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations”, as well as a culture of drug and alcohol abuse.
Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James pointed out that General Campbell and Deputy Chief of Army Rick Burr were ex-special forces. “The two of them initiated this inquiry. If the two of them initiated this there would have to be a bloody good reason. Neither of them are idiots and they’re straight as a die,” Mr James said.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin said it was not appropriate to comment during the investigation.
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