An Australian whistleblower whose information led to the exposure of war crimes in Afghanistan has pleaded guilty in court to leaking classified information, the BBC reported on Friday.
Documents provided by David McBride to national broadcaster ABC led to the airing of “The Afghan Files,” which alleged that Australia’s Special Forces had committed war crimes.
An inquiry found that 39 Afghans had been unlawfully killed by Australian forces during the conflict.
McBride, who was due to face trial next week, changed his plea after a legal ruling undermined his planned defense.
The former military lawyer said he had a “moral duty” to release the information to the media after authorities ignored his complaints in private.
On Friday, he pleaded guilty to three charges of stealing and unlawfully sharing secret military information. He was arrested in 2019 in a federal police raid.
McBride had planned to appeal to Australia’s safeguards for whistleblowers in his defense, but his case was undermined after his actions were ruled an endangerment to national security.
He then argued that he had a duty to leak the documents in the public interest. But a judge rejected the argument and McBride’s right to trial by jury, leading to him entering a guilty plea.
Rex Patrick, a former senator and founder of the Whistleblower Justice Fund, said the guilty plea demonstrated a weakness in Australia’s protection for whistleblowers. “This is a dark day for democracy in Australia,” he added.
Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said: “There is no public interest in prosecuting whistleblowers, and certainly no public interest in sending them to jail.”
McBride is set to face sentencing in early 2024.