Note: this article was written in January of 2021, after publication of the Brereton report. It didn’t find a publisher at that time. Cats may appreciate this and a companion article. Note that the Brereton report has been moved.
The most interesting, and in many ways the most useful, part of the Brereton report is Annex A, the Whetham Report, to Part 3, Strategic, Operational, Organisational and Cultural Issues. It’s written by Dr. David Whetham. Among (many) other things, he’s Director of the King’s Centre for Military Ethics at King’s College, London. He was made Assistant Inspector-General of the ADF for the purpose of this very report. Here’s his bio from King’s.
David Whetham is Professor of Ethics and the Military Profession in the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London. He is the Director of the King’s Centre for Military Ethics and delivers or coordinates the military ethics component of courses for between two and three thousand British and international officers a year at the UK’s Joint Services Command and Staff College. Before joining King’s as a permanent member fo staff in 2003, David worked as a BBC researcher and with the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] in Kosovo, supporting the 2001 and 2002 elections.
David saw front-line service in the BBC, before finding his purpose in life. Don’t hold that against him, though. He has a Pullman carriage on the gravy train generated by the West’s addiction to police actions all over the place, and the incessant moral posturing that goes with it. For moral posturing, think Tony Blair. If that’s too distant a memory, try ScoMo.
Military ethics is a boom industry. Have a look, for example, at the “key people” at the Centre. There are 19 of them; just the key people, mind you. King’s seems to have just about cornered the market. Find the active service. There is only one that I can see. Lt. Col. Tom Mcdermott DSO MA, formerly of the British Army, now with the ADF.
At the beginning of his report, Dr Whetham demonstrates his firm grasp of ethical concepts.
…the extensive interview transcripts consulted for this report were derived from a process in which the normal rules of evidence do not apply – for example, hearsay evidence was acceptable. This reflects an inquisitorial process, aimed at finding the truth rather than necessarily providing evidence to the standard required to secure a criminal conviction (ie, beyond reasonable doubt). …I have also had access to…the extensive anonymised, candid, and lengthy conversations carried out by Dr Samantha Crompvoets…I am satisfied that they represent ‘multiple authentication points’, providing a sufficient evidential base to be able to draw some reliable conclusions within those caveats. [My emphases.]
All skepticism aside, read it for some very interesting background on the situation of SASR in both Afghanistan and Australia. The picture that emerges is of a gradual ginding down of SASR over the course of a long and demanding campaign which was increasingly purposeless.
[T]here was…an acknowledgement that they were ‘more relaxed’ about…rules which were considered to be just ‘minor infringements’. For example, there was supposed to be no alcohol, but there was a pub in the base – the Fat Lady’s Arms – ‘somewhere there where we can do certain stuff but we’re not going to get caught and it’s not going to be regarded as misconduct because that’s who we are and that’s what we do’. Although unauthorised, the pub managed to get resupplied through the system. A Sergeant with 10 operational tours said, ‘I have seen alcohol consumed on every operation since 1999 by every rank on every operation since 1999, by every rank and including JTF and unit commanders’. While alcohol on deployments was linked to ‘risky or unacceptable behaviours’, it is ‘difficult to conclude that almost everyone in the SOCOMD chain of command was not aware of this’. Alcohol was widely justified as a coping mechanism for stress, grief and high tempo operations and the unit was basically given a pass because it was ‘special’, reinforcing a perception of entitlement, with the ‘logic of exceptionalism warranting the application of different rules and behaviours…’.
Insufficient sleep and fatigue leads to poor judgment, lack of self-control, and impaired creativity as well as increasing the likelihood that people will engage in unethical behaviour. A factor that must have increased the challenge of getting any psychological rest was the lack of safe space, even in Camp Russell…Past that four-month mark in a rotation, and you can physically see guys sort of slowly degrading as far as, you know, just alertness and things like that.
There was a perception among some that … the shift to day operations instead of night in response to pressure from the Afghan government added to the risks for SOCOMD personnel…The disenchantment caused by ‘catch and release’ also added to that sense of fatigue…
Read the whole thing.