David McBride: Australian war crimes whistleblower pleads guilty
An informant who helped uncover Australian war crimes allegations in Afghanistan has pleaded guilty to leaking classified information.
David McBride was due to face trial next week, but changed his plea after a legal ruling invalidated his defence.
McBride – a former military lawyer – said he felt a moral duty to speak out after his internal complaints were ignored.
A landmark inquiry later found evidence that Australian forces unlawfully killed 39 Afghans during the war.
McBride admitted he gave a batch of documents to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) because he was concerned about what he believed at the time was “over-investigation” of forces, the court heard.
He pleaded guilty on Friday to three counts of stealing and illegally exchanging classified military information.
The information he provided reinforced a series of reports in 2017 called the “Afghan Files”, which gave an unprecedented look at the operations of elite Australian special forces in Afghanistan, and included allegations of war crimes.
McBride was arrested in 2019 and initially faced five charges, including charges of theft of commonwealth property, violation of the Defense Act and unauthorized disclosure of information.
He intended to argue that his disclosure was protected by Australia’s whistleblower safeguards. But his legal team says they were forced to withdraw that defense after many of their arguments were ruled to jeopardize national security.
After failed attempts to persuade Attorney General Mark Dreyfus to intervene and drop the case – as Mr. Dreyfus did in the Dreyfus case. The case of fellow whistleblower Bernard Collari Last year, McBride tried to claim that it was his duty to leak the documents, because doing so was in the public interest.
After several days of pretrial arguments, the judge rejected the argument and ruled they could not be presented to a jury.
His defense lawyer Mark Davis said this would have dealt his defense a “fatal blow”, with McBride eventually pleading guilty.
He is expected to be sentenced early next year.