After a bid for a public interest defense and classified documents needed for his defense were both denied him, whistleblower David McBride pled guilty to three reduced charges on Friday. Joe Lauria reports.
By Joe Lauria
in Canberra, Australia
Special to Consortium News
With his options for a fair trial exhausted, Australian whistleblower David McBride on Friday asked for a new indictment to which he pled guilty on all counts.
McBride, a former military lawyer, was charged with stealing government documents and giving them to journalists to reveal covered-up murders of unarmed civilians by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
His defense had rested on the court accepting his argument that his oath to the British crown gave him a duty beyond obedience to military orders to instead inform the entire nation of these crimes.
But the trial judge, Justice David Mossop, said he would instruct the jury, which was to be selected starting Monday, to disregard any public interest in the defense. “There is no aspect of duty that allows the accused to act in the public interest contrary to a lawful order,” he told the court Wednesday.
McBride’s legal team tried to appeal that decision, but its application was denied by Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum on Thursday. Later that day Mossop ordered that agents of the Attorney General’s office could remove classified documents from the defense’s possession, which McBride’s team had intended to present to the jury.
Because of those regressive rulings, McBride accepted his attorneys’ advice that, left with no viable defense, he should plead guilty.
On Friday afternoon, he asked for a new indictment. On being arraigned for a second time, a defiant McBride stood in courtroom SC7 before a microphone placed in front of him and pronounced “Guilty” to each count read out to him.
McBride was then embraced by his attorney Mark Davis and by his wife, who leaned over the railing from the public gallery.
Mossop agreed to delay sentencing until the new year and to allow McBride to remain free on bail. He faces a maximum of ten years in prison. But Mossop assented to a so-called “intensive corrections order assessment,” which means McBride may be eligible for punishment out of prison.
On the street outside the courthouse immediately afterward, Davis told reporters: “We received the decision just this afternoon, which was in essence to remove evidence from the defense. … The Crown, the government, was given the authority to bundle up evidence and run out the backdoor with it. He is no longer able to put it before a jury.”
“It was the fatal blow made in conjunction with the decision a few days ago that limits what we can say to the jury on David’s behalf in terms of what his duty as an officer was on the oath he took to serve, as we say, the interests of the Australian people.
Well the ruling was: he doesn’t have a duty to serve the interests of the Australian people. He has a duty to follow orders. That is a very narrow understanding of the law in our view that takes us back really to pre-World War II. We all know how military law has been judged since then in terms of compliance to follow orders.
So facing that reality, we’re limited in terms of what we could put to a jury in term’s of David’s duty … together with the removal of evidence makes it impossible, realistically, to go to trial. It is a sad day and a difficult day for us to advise David on his options this afternoon and he embraced them.”
McBride said: “I stand tall and I believe I did my duty and I don’t see it as a defeat. I see it as a beginning of a better Australia.”
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe