Special forces soldiers say the federal government's ­enlistment of the Queen to allow them to be stripped of their medals shows the government was planning their punishment long before the Afghan war crimes report was released.

"The fact that they knew what was coming and did nothing to put in place support for the families of soldiers who died for their country is appalling," former special forces 2nd Commando Regiment officer Heston Russell said.

But a government spokesman insisted the changes had been in motion since 2015 and that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not briefed on war crimes detailed in the Brereton report until days ­before its release last month.

Former Special Forces Officer Heston Russell has criticised the government for its response to the Brereton report. Picture: Brett Costello
Former Special Forces Officer Heston Russell has criticised the government for its response to the Brereton report. Picture: Brett Costello

 

Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell originally wanted to strip 3000 soldiers of their medals. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary Ramage
Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell originally wanted to strip 3000 soldiers of their medals. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary Ramage


Today Mr Russell will join with former soldier and senator Jacqui Lambie to call for the release of briefing documents from army top brass to prove that is the case.

"The psychological, emotional and traumatic damage to Australia's service men and women had been planned months in advance of the ­report's release," Mr Russell said.

The Queen signed off on a change to Unit Citations Regulations on July 13 this year, allowing the Governor-General to strip a unit of its ­citation on the recommendation of the Defence Minister or the Chief of the Defence Force.

The changes, which also allow for a citation to be forfeited if an individual is convicted of a "disgraceful or serious" offence, are the first since the citations were introduced in 1991.

Defence Chief Angus Campbell said he would strip meritorious service awards from 3000 Afghanistan veterans to show their "collective responsibility" for the alleged war crimes revealed in the Brereton Report.

But he backtracked after the Prime Minister stepped in and said the actions of a few soldiers facing war crimes ­allegations "do not reflect on the many thousands of others who serve today and who have served before".

Ms Lambie said: "The only reason you'd change the rules around Meritorious Unit Citations in July, months before the release of the Brereton Report, is because you had a sense of what's about to come."

She said the move to strip veterans of their medals meant soldiers "who've done nothing other than serve their country with honour, dignity, courage and selflessness are operating with a stain against their names that's been placed on them by their own government''.

"Whatever comes of this investigation, you can't hang 3000 guys out to dry and say it's all 'too bad, you're all as guilty as each other'."

Kerry Danes, who joined the special forces in 1981 and served in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2008, would be among those having his meritorious unit citation scrapped. He said the punishment to the whole special forces task group was a "kneejerk" reaction.

Retired Command Sergeant Major Kerry Danes would be among those having his medals stripped. Picture: Supplied
Retired Command Sergeant Major Kerry Danes would be among those having his medals stripped. Picture: Supplied


"We, the SAS community, appeal to our prime minister to intervene and to stop this collective punishment that will impact those, in the thousands, who have had nothing to do with any of the allegations and who have served in countless operational theatres over many generations, with honour and integrity and have fallen in service to mental illness and combat," he said.

He also spoke out about the damage that would be done if the Chief of Army did not consider the "generational harm" to veterans and serving soldiers if he followed through on the threats to disband the 2 Squadron (SAS).

"I was personally disappointed in the decision which is seen by the majority of SAS veterans as a slap in the face for everyone who ever served in 2 Squadron, and in SASR," he said.

"To remove 2 Squadron from the SASR Order of Battle and to make this our legacy of an enduring negative reminder in our unit's history is disgraceful."

A government spokesman said: "The Department of Defence undertook a full review of the Defence Honours and Awards Medal Instruments and changes were agreed by the government back in 2015, and subsequently by Her Majesty the Queen."

He said the changes were first drafted during Malcolm Turnbull's prime ministership.

Originally published as Queen dragged into medal scandal



Rural vigil for Tamil family given green light

Premium Content Rural vigil for Tamil family given green light

“They are still trapped in detention on Christmas Island, 5000km from their Biloela...

LETTERS: Now is the time to question council on rates

Premium Content LETTERS: Now is the time to question council on rates

“Council has got plenty of room to make internal savings and yet maintain...

Cop allegedly seriously bashed while on duty

Premium Content Cop allegedly seriously bashed while on duty

The well-known officer is under specialist care for a potentially serious medical...