17 November 2023

'I stand tall': whistleblower David McBride pleads guilty days before trial

| Albert McKnight
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man hugging a woman outside court

David McBride was met by his supporters after he pleaded guilty on Friday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

David McBride has pleaded guilty to three charges laid over his whistleblowing several days before his trial had been scheduled to start, but then told his supporters, “I stand tall and I believe I did my duty”.

He had been accused of providing confidential information to three ABC journalists from 2013 to 2017 during a posting in Canberra while he had been a lawyer and a major in the army.

The prosecution was to argue this disclosure was not part of his official duties.

He was first committed to the ACT Supreme Court in 2019, spent years fighting his charges and his trial was scheduled to start next week.

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However, on Friday (17 November), he appeared in court again and pleaded guilty to three charges.

These were one count of dishonestly appropriating Commonwealth property and two counts of the unauthorised communication of military information to other people while a member of the Defence Force.

Justice David Mossop ordered an intensive corrections order assessment, adjourned until 23 November to begin organising a sentencing date and vacated the trial.

Outside the courthouse, McBride told media and his supporters: “I stand tall and I believe I did my duty”.

“We love you, David,” his supporters called as he walked away.

David McBride has been supported by numerous people at court this week. Photo: Albert McKnight.

McBride’s trial had been scheduled to start on Thursday before it was moved to Monday (20 November) after his lawyers said they wanted to file for leave to appeal.

His lawyers had argued that due to an official oath he had sworn, there may be circumstances when his duty implied that he could act in the public interest of Australia.

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But on Wednesday, Justice David Mossop said he would be directing the jury on the basis that there was no aspect of McBride’s role as a military officer that allowed him to act in Australia’s public interest when that was contrary to a lawful order he had been given.

His attempt to seek leave to appeal on Thursday then failed, with Chief Justice Lucy McCallum saying Justice Mossop’s ruling on issues raised about the oath was “not obviously wrong”.

Mr McBride had originally been handed five charges before pleading guilty to three.

“I stand tall and I believe I did my duty” – David McBride. Photo: Albert McKnight.

“There is no public interest in prosecuting whistleblowers, and certainly no public interest in sending them to jail,” said Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“If McBride is sentenced to a term of imprisonment, the Attorney-General should immediately pardon him to recognise the dangerous impact this case is having on Australian democracy.

“This development must be a warning sign to the government that reform to federal whistleblowing law and the establishment of a whistleblower protection authority is urgent and long overdue. We cannot wait any longer.”

NSW Greens Senator David Shoebridge, who visited the courthouse after McBride entered his pleas, called this “a deeply unsettling day for the Australian public and the public’s right to know”.

“Literally we’ve seen David McBride’s legal defence ripped from under him following the efforts of the Commonwealth government to prove that if you’re in the military, you don’t have any higher duty to the public that overrides your duty simply to follow orders,” he said.

“We’re coming into summer but I can feel the chill right across the country. Anyone in uniform, for example, will be looking at this and thinking even if they have evidence of gross corruption or a war crime, they had better keep quiet, because they might be going to jail just like David McBride.

“You can’t ignore the culpability of the Attorney-General in this, because all of this could have been avoided by him terminating the prosecution, fixing the laws and acting in the public interest, and I don’t believe any of that happened.”

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Contrary to Sam’s beliefs that McBride undermined our national security, it was those who broke the rules of war who undermined our national security.

The ADF are our ambassadors overseas and what they do reflects on all of us. They have rules to follow and when they break these rules along with the law, they harm our reputation and the ability of the ADF to get the locals to work with them. Why would locals trust our ADF when soldiers harm, torture and murder them? They didn’t need McBride to find that out.

What McBride did is alert the rest of Australia and the ADF to what was being done in our name. That is also what other Special Forces soldiers did when reporting the issues. They reported on them because it was the right thing to do and they wanted to ensure the Special Forces returned to being a respected and trusted part of the ADF, by getting rid of those who did the wrong thing.

Of course he has compromised our national security. What he has accused our armed forces of is simply untrue. Has anyone been convicted of the war crimes you allege? He has wrongfully blemished the reputation of our soldiers deterring young Australians from enlisting and sacrificing for our nation. It’s akin to spitting on Vietnam war veterans just because you don’t believe in premise behind war.

This all comes at a dangerous time when China is on the cusp of war with Taiwan and escalating hostilities in the Asia-pacific region. McBride has simply given our enemies more propaganda to use against us and slander the reputation of our troops.

Hope they throw the book at him.

Yeah, shame on him for exposing a cabal of murderers..

Shame on him for exposing the ADF covering up this breach of UN convention.

The only thing he has done is weaken Australia’s national security and undermined our armed forces. We cannot judge acts done during war. The Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaeda are responsible for millions of deaths, genocide and oppression of the people of Afghanistan. What are our armed forces supposed to do in the face of evil? Slap some handcuffs on them and send them to Australia to put in our jails?

Got to agree with Sam here.
There’s plenty of ways for him to call attention to alleged unethical or illegal behaviour without ringing up journalists from the ABC. He isn’t a “whistle-blower” under any definition of the word.

There are rules and the ADF broke them.

There are whistleblower laws and this guy deserves protection.

No Australian national section compromised. He didn’t sell secrets to the Chinese or Russians. He provided an Australian journalist with material showing war crimes.

“We cannot judge acts done during war.”
But that is exactly what we do, Sam. Can you think of no examples? Morant? My Lai? At Nuremburg? You did it when you described the Taliban etc as evil.

There is a moral dimension even to defence.

He tried doing that and was ignored. And they’re not alleged, the inquiry forced by his whistleblowing found war crimes had been committed. And contrary to Sam’s claim, exposing war crimes does not undermine national security at all. Also contrary to the claim, the inquiry focussed on crimes that were not committed in the heat of battle, when people were murdered after the fighting had finished. Trying McBride while murderers are walking free is a disgrace.

You’d prefer murderers and torturers were protected from exposure? Strange way of thinking Sam.

Psycho, show me where Australian soldiers have been convicted of war crimes in an international court of law. My god, the way you keep raving on about it sounds like there was a Nuremberg trial or something!

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