“None of this diminishes the distress that I and so many others feel about the contents of the Brereton inquiry [report] released yesterday.
“Its findings are damning of the behaviour of a small group of special forces personnel who it is claimed, amongst other things, were responsible for the unlawful killing of 39 Afghan citizens.”
Mr Howard noted that none of the 39 alleged murders were committed in the “heat of battle”, saying the conduct was “totally at odds with the values, beliefs and practices of our military forces”.
Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell released a redacted version of Justice Brereton’s report on Thursday, promising to act on the inquiry’s “shameful”, “deeply disturbing” and “appalling” findings.
The Perth-based SAS’s second squadron will be immediately disbanded and a new unit will be established in its place.
Mr Howard said General Campbell responded “candidly and directly to the chilling conclusions” of the inquiry.
“The CDF did not diminish in any way the serious issues raised by it and demonstrated true leadership qualities,” he said.
“Due process must now be followed. If charges are laid against individuals they must be handled in accordance with Australia’s criminal justice system. Any personnel charged should enjoy the presumption of innocence.
“A long road lies ahead. In the meantime, we should remember the continuing service of our military personnel and, where appropriate, extend a helping hand to them and their families.”