‘Lord of the Flies syndrome’: Top military brass investigated

The role of military chiefs, under whose watch the Special Forces allegedly suffered "Lord of the Flies syndrome," is to be investigated all the way up to the Chief of Army General Rick Burr.

The ADF Inspector General's report into the nation's elite fighting force recommends Australian Federal Police investigate 36 matters, including allegations of unlawful killings and murders against 19 current or former soldiers in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

Some of the incidents involved junior soldiers coaxed into killings by others.

The ADF has also been warned further evidence had been uncovered and the actions of other Special Forces troops on the frontline are to be investigated.

But the Maj Gen Paul Brereton-led inquiry report has flagged the actions or inactions of those who commanded the troops in Afghanistan was also being reviewed because of a "Lord of the Flies syndrome" that the report claims had been allowed to exist from a failure of unit and also "higher command".

Lord of the Flies was the 1954 novel by Nobel-prize winning British author William Golding about a group of wartime evacuee boys stranded on an island and the tensions and deteriorating order between them.

Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, AO, DSC, MVO (left), talks with soldiers during the Australian Army’s 119th birthday celebration at Russell Offices, Canberra. Supplied: ADF
Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, AO, DSC, MVO (left), talks with soldiers during the Australian Army’s 119th birthday celebration at Russell Offices, Canberra. Supplied: ADF

"It is a striking and troubling feature of the incidents described … that although they must have known that what they were being told to do was unlawful, there is no evidence of any subordinate who was told or encouraged to commit an unlawful killing objecting, resisting or even questioning it," the report concludes of the allegations against the Special Forces that have shocked the military.

"This bespeaks a deference to superiors so extreme that it overrides legality and

morality. It may also reflect a 'Lord of the Flies' syndrome."

ADF chief General Angus Campbell said the inquiry found no evidence of knowledge of the commission of alleged war crimes by higher command.

"However, being unaware of, or even deliberately kept unaware of unlawful actions, does not relieve commanders of moral responsibility and the Report finds Task Group commanders bear responsibility for what happened under their command," he said last week.

Chief of Army General Burr commanded Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2008 and was also deputy commanding general of operations.

News Corp has learned the inquiry has been looking at a serious incident by a Special Forces warrant officer that was brought to the attention of General Burr.

What action was taken, if any, is not known.

Defence was asked to confirm the parameters of the incident and what knowledge the General had of the issue but would only reply that the matter was under investigation.

Since the Brereton inquiry report was released, many rank and file serving and former soldiers have come forward to call on the ADF to probe how such a toxic culture could have been allowed to flourish with apparent no knowledge of anyone of any seniority.

Since 2015 Gen Burr has led the charge of reform in the ranks including requiring multiple ethics leadership components during Special Forces reinforcement cycles each year for all non-commissioned officers, commanders and officer ranks, physical changes in unit structures and independent audits and committees.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about the report's recommendation to grant immunity for those alleged to have been involved in crimes in order for them to give evidence against more senior ranks.

Mr Morrison, speaking for the first time since its release, said it was a matter for the Office of Special Investigator, which was now pursuing the issue.

For those needing support:

· The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036

Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046, or through SafeZone on 1800 142 072.


Originally published as 'Lord of the Flies syndrome': Top military brass investigated