Former SAS soldier charged with war crime
Former soldier charged with war crime in Afghanistan
A decorated former SAS soldier shown in a Four Corners story shooting an Afghan man in a wheat field has become the first Australian serviceman or veteran to be charged with a war crime under Australian law. Former trooper Oliver Schulz, 41, was arrested by the Australian Federal Police at Jindabyne in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains this morning, after a years-long investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
Awaiting trial in local court
His case was mentioned in Queanbeyan Local Court this afternoon, where his solicitor made no application for bail. He has been remanded in custody to appear at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on May 16.
Charge related to shooting death of Afghan man
His charge, the ABC understands, relates to the shooting death of Afghan man Dad Mohammad during an ADF raid in May 2012 in Uruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan.
Historical charge with precedent for Western allies
If found guilty, Mr Schulz could face life in prison. His arrest marks a historic shift in the response to suspected military wrongdoing, both in Australia and among Western allies, who have avoided holding war crimes trials in civilian courts, according to international law experts. “It’s unprecedented,” said University of Tasmania law professor Tim McCormack, a special adviser on war crimes to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Former soldier awarded commendation for gallantry
Mr Schulz was awarded the Commendation for Gallantry for his service in Afghanistan, where he completed multiple tours. He was stood down by the ADF after the killing was revealed by ABC Investigations and Four Corners.
Four Corners program revealed footage showing shooting of Afghan man
The Four Corners program, Killing Field, broadcast explosive footage taken from a helmet camera worn by the dog handler from Mr Schulz’s patrol. It shows an SAS dog mauling Mr Mohammad in a field, before the dog is called off and Mr Schulz is seen training his weapon on the man. Mr Mohammad was a father of two, in his 20s, from the village of Deh Jawz-e Hasanzai.
ADF investigator cleared Mr Schulz after incident
Four Corners also revealed that the ADF had investigated the killing months after the 2012 incident, following complaints from Afghan villagers. However, ADF investigators cleared Mr Schulz after being told Mr Mohammad had been “tactically manoeuvring”, was carrying a radio, and had been shot in self-defence.
Brereton inquiry recommendations
The Brereton inquiry handed down its findings in November 2020, recommending that 23 incidents and 19 individuals be referred for further investigation by police. That inquiry recommended that any alleged war crime should be prosecuted in a civilian criminal court in a trial by jury, rather than in a military tribunal.
Prosecution a significant move
This year, a brief of evidence was signed off by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, whose consent is required to start a war crime prosecution. “The willingness of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to use that legislative framework is a very significant thing,” Professor McCormack said.
Australian Federal Police statement
In a statement, the AFP said it was working with the OSI “to investigate allegations of criminal offences under Australian law related to breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict by Australian Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016”. “As the matter will be before the court and the investigation is ongoing, no further comment will be made,” the statement said.
Legal definition of war crime under Australian law
Under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, a killing constitutes the war crime of murder if the victim is neither a combatant nor out of action due to injury or damage. Prosecutors must also prove that the perpetrator knew, or was reckless to, this fact. The killing does not constitute a war crime if it occurred as a result of an attack on a military objective, during which the perpetrator did not expect excessive civilian casualties.