She was the outsider who smashed the code of silence over unlawful killings inside Australia's elite special forces.

But Canberra-based military sociologist Dr Samantha Crompvoets was originally commissioned to deliver an entirely different report: an investigation into the culture of special forces and tensions with commandos.

What she uncovered, five years ago in a document that has remained classified until this week, was a story that would rock the military and tear at the reputations of the 'God like' men who risked their lives in Afghanistan in Australia's longest war.

One soldier told her: "Guys just had this blood lust. Psychos. Absolute Psychos. And we bred them."

Dr Crompvoets wrote soldiers told her of incidents where Special Forces would cordon off a whole village, taking men and boys to guesthouses.

"There they would be tied up and tortured by Special Forces, sometimes for days. When the Special Forces left, the men and boys would be found dead: shot in the head or blindfolded and with throats slit,'' she wrote.

Canberra-based sociologist Dr Samantha Crompvoets.
Canberra-based sociologist Dr Samantha Crompvoets.

 

She also recounts claims that two 14-year-old boys were stopped and searched by SAS soldiers, before having their throats slit.

"The rest of the troop then had to 'clean up the mess', which involved bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river," she wrote.

Her shocking secret letter to Defence Force chief Angus Campbell included soldiers making comparisons to the massacre of unarmed civilians during the Vietnam War in the village of My Lai and the torture of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Soldiers confided to her their horror and disgust at what they had witnessed and heard.

"So for me, they knew they were telling me stuff and I was reporting straight to Angus Campbell,'' she told news.com.au.

"There was this kind of, 'she's got the ear of the chief.' That was an advantage for me. Sometimes, it was a criticism of me. But they knew I was going to report accurately, or I could get the message to the right person."

The soldiers wanted to talk but feared the repercussions.

"It's quite complex for them to talk about those things internally because they felt so threatened,'' she said.

"There were so many people who wanted to protect the reputation of special forces. It was just too difficult. It was too hard."

The fallout from the report has shocked the nation and the world. Picture: Department of Defence
The fallout from the report has shocked the nation and the world. Picture: Department of Defence

There were two documents she delivered in 2016. The report she was commissioned to deliver and a no holds-barred private letter to General Campbell outlining what she had found.

But the woman the soldiers told their secrets too was at pains to note that she had never gone to war or even served in the military.

Dr Crompvoets was almost apologetic in her letter, noting that she is an academic, not a soldier.

She has a PhD in Epidemiology in Population Health from the ANU school of sociology and Bachelor of Science from Melbourne University in the history and philosophy of science/psychology.

She did not test or investigate the claims but simply reported them. It was the Brereton report that then investigated these claims in the years that followed.

An organisational culture expert, she was commissioned in 2015 to speak to soldiers and delivered her shocking report in 2016.

"That second report was actually what I was engaged to do. It was almost like, "Here's the answer to what you contacted me to do,'' she said.

"But in the process of doing that report I also said, "this is what I am hearing. And Angus (Campbell) said: write it all down."

Dr Crompvoets' work sparked the long-running Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry report, known as the Brereton report, which was released on Thursday.

Several cases have been referred for prosecution. Picture: Department of Defence
Several cases have been referred for prosecution. Picture: Department of Defence

Her own report was also released publicly for the first time as an attachment.

She confessed to being confronted by the magnitude of the letter she sent in 2015.

"I pressed send and got on an international flight. It was such a massive thing. It was 'send', and then I just needed to decompress,'' she said.

"There was no doubt it was taken incredibly seriously. Which is why writing that letter was such a big deal. Reading back on it now, I spent so much time trying to situate myself. I've never been to war. So I felt incredibly vulnerable. But they were just fantastic."

She confesses that reading the Brereton report this week was a cathartic feeling.

"Honestly, it wasn't until I read the Brereton report the other day. I had a massive meltdown, just reading it. I sobbed and sobbed,

"I think I had intentionally kind of forgotten what I had written. I had really pushed it down.

"They just needed this avenue. But even in the last few days, I am getting so many messages from people who want to disclose stuff saying, 'I served in this regiment, at this time, I want to tell you some things. Please call me.'"

 

 

 

Originally published as Woman who blew the whistle on SAS



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