Judge Says Decorated Australian Veteran Committed War Crimes

Ben Roberts-Smith loses defamation case
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2023 5:47 AM CDT
Australia's Most Decorated Vet Loses Defamation Case
Australian journalists Nick McKenzie, left, and Chris Masters, right, walk with their legal team from the Federal Court in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, June 1, 2023.   (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia's most decorated living veteran, has lost his defamation case against three newspapers that reported that he had committed war crimes in Afghanistan. After a year-long, high-profile trial, federal Justice Anthony Besanko determined that the newspapers have proven that the former Special Air Services had committed war crimes including killing unarmed Afghan prisoners, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Roberts-Smith, now a media executive, sued the Herald along with the Age, and the Canberra Times over stories published in 2018 that accused him of misconduct while serving in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012.

The judge ruled that four of the six unlawful killings Roberts-Smith was accused of had been proven to the civil court's standard of balance of probability, including an allegation that he kicked a prisoner off a cliff and ordered a soldier under his command to kill the badly injured man, the AP reports. The judge also ruled that allegations Roberts-Smith bullied and assaulted other soldiers were true. Besanko ruled that an allegation of domestic violence was unproven, but in light of the proven allegations, it did not further harm Roberts-Smith's reputation. The 44-year-old is also being investigated by Australian federal police.

Nick Smith, one of the journalists who exposed the war crimes, praised the SAS veterans who testified against Roberts-Smith, the Guardian reports. "Today is a day of justice. It’s a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is—a war criminal, a bully, and a liar,” he said, per the AP. In another allegation that the judge ruled had been proven, Roberts-Smith killed a prisoner with a prosthetic leg, which other soldiers kept as a drinking vessel. (More Australia stories.)

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