David McBride, a former Australian army lawyer and whistleblower who exposed murder, has been jailed. 

McBride has been sentenced to five years and eight months in jail, with a non-parole period of 27 months.  

The sentence comes after McBride exposed alleged war crimes by Australian forces in Afghanistan, actions which later inquiries found to be true.

McBride's conviction has raised significant questions about Australia's commitment to justice and transparency, especially as the individuals accused of these war crimes remain uncharged. 

This stark contrast in legal outcomes highlights the challenges whistleblowers face and casts a long shadow over Australia's military justice system.

Sixty-year-old McBride admitted to leaking documents to the ABC, which led to a series of impactful reports known as The Afghan Files. Barristers noted in court that McBride originally intended to expose the ADF’s excessive treatment of its own soldiers, but journalists ended up publishing “a totally different story to the one that [McBride] was pushing”.

These reports revealed not only the unlawful killing of dozens of Afghans but also a concerning culture among Australia's elite forces that allegedly covered up these actions.

Many allegations were supported by the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force in the subsequent Brereton report.

That report called on the chief of the Defence Force to refer 36 matters relating to 25 incidents and involving 19 individuals to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.

However, the only charges laid so far have been against the source of the information -  McBride himself.

During his sentencing, Justice David Mossop acknowledged McBride's previously good character but underscored the “gross breach of trust” his actions represented. 

The courtroom atmosphere was charged as the sentence was delivered, with shouts of “shame on you” directed at the judge.

McBride's legal ordeal and the lack of prosecutions against the actual perpetrators of the war crimes have prompted a broader debate on the effectiveness and fairness of whistleblower protections in Australia. 

Critics argue that such protections are inadequate, as evidenced by McBride's case, which may deter others from coming forward in the future.

This case serves as a sobering reminder of the precarious path whistleblowers tread and the systemic obstacles they face, often at great personal risk and with minimal support. 

The Australian government's reticence to reform whistleblower protections and address the alleged war crimes more directly only adds to the urgency for change, according to human rights organisations and many members of the public.

More analysis is accessible here.