The report has produced its own precipitate in the form of another inquiry, this time fronted by Australia's judicial arm. A dozen or so men of the Special Air Service Regiment have been subject to lengthy periods of questioning by New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Paul Brereton.
Concern of this ugliness is tempered with well-seeded praise. "The SAS is in my electorate," Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop took care to point out, "they are regarded as some of the finest men prepared to put their life on the line in conflict situations to defend us and our freedoms, they are one of the finest fighting forces in the world."
The opposition minister for defence, Richard Marles, was similarly tiptoeing with a pseudo-psychologist's hat, wanting a killing force that was doing its bit in accordance with decency. "Our soldiers, particularly our special forces, work in difficult and complex environments. It's important that we know, as a country, that they're doing it in a professional and legal way."
Elite forces trained to liquidate their opponents with ruthlessness do not suggest law book observers and the scrupulous reading of statutes. Their very existence is owed to being unorthodox, to operate outside convention in contempt of local rules and the encumbrances of red tape.
The issue, as ever, is not their operational doctrine so much as the political masters who put them there, inspired by fatuous assessments of what the defence of freedom might look like. The crimes will happen, but the mandate to do so will always come from high and farther afield, those tut tutting types back in the bureaucracy who insist that small wars in vaguely defined theatres are necessary for the national interest.
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