A whistleblower who helped expose allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan has been sentenced to five years and eight months in jail.

David McBride pleaded guilty to stealing and sharing military secrets on the eve of his trial last year, after legal rulings sunk his defence.

An ex-military lawyer, McBride said he felt a moral duty to speak up.

A landmark inquiry later found evidence that Australian forces had unlawfully killed 39 Afghans during the war.

McBride’s case has sparked uproar in Australia, putting a spotlight on what some say are flimsy whistleblower protections and slow progress towards prosecuting soldiers alleged to have killed with impunity under its flag.

McBride, 60, admits he gave troves of document to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), saying he was concerned about the attitudes of commanders and what he then thought was the “over-investigation” of troops, the court heard.

But instead the information he provided underpinned a series of reports in 2017 called The Afghan Files, which gave unprecedented insight into the operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, and contained allegations of war crimes.

Prosecutors argued McBride was motivated by “personal vindication”, and that the way he gathered, stored and then leaked the documents endangered Australia’s national security and foreign policy.

But McBride’s lawyers asked for leniency, saying he shared the information with “honourable” intentions and out of a sense of personal duty.

During sentencing in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Justice David Mossop agreed McBride was of “good character” but said that he seemed to have become obsessed with the correctness of his own opinions. Sharing military secrets was “a gross breach of trust” for which he has shown “no contrition”, he added.

McBride will be eligible for release on parole after 27 months

May 14, 2024

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