Australian whistleblower to represent himself at trial

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian army whistleblower charged with leaking secret documents alleging misconduct in Afghanistan said on Thursday he would defend himself at trial next year rather than face potential delays by hiring a lawyer with a security clearance.

David William McBride, 55, appeared briefly in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court on charges relating to the leaking of classified documents about Australian Special Air Service involvement in Afghanistan to Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporters.

Registrar Annie Glover continued McBride's bail until he appears in court next on Monday for a trial date to be set in March or April.

Glover also said the ABC's application to keep McBride's trial open to the public and media would be back in court on Nov. 21.

McBride, a former military lawyer, said outside court that while he had been offered legal aid, he had decided to represent himself.

"The government said you can only have a lawyer who has a top secret security clearance and we will decide who gets a top secret security clearance," McBride told reporters.

"So it gave them the ability to stretch the trial out for two years after they reviewed the person and then saying at the end of the two years, disingenuously: 'Oh well, the person didn't pass. You're back to the drawing board,'" McBride said.

"I'm not going to put myself especially in the Department of Defense's hands because I don't trust them," he added.

McBride said he intended to call as witnesses Attorney-General Christian Porter, Governor General David Hurley, who is also a former chief of defense, as well as another former chief of defense, a former defense department secretary and a former defense minister.

He admits to leaking documents that formed part of the basis of an ABC investigation broadcast in 2017 about Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The ABC reported growing unease in the Australian Defense Force leadership about the culture of special forces and that Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children in 2013.

The leak was the target of a police raid on ABC headquarters in Sydney in June. Police raided the Canberra home of a News Corp. Australia reporter a day earlier in search for unrelated classified documents. The raids were condemned as media intimidation and sparked criticism of an increasing culture of secrecy in Australian institutions.

The Australian Defense Force Inspector-General, an independent office that monitors military justice, is examining allegations that elite Australian troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan from 2006 and 2014.

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