Australian soldier proven guilty of war crimes in Afghanistan

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MONITORING (SW) – Australia’s most-decorated living soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has lost a historic defamation case against three newspapers that accused him of war crimes in Afghanistan.

The outlets were sued over articles alleging he killed unarmed prisoners. The civil trial was the first time a court has assessed accusations of war crimes by Australian forces. A judge said four of the six murder allegations – all denied by the soldier – were substantially true.

These included:
  • A handcuffed farmer the soldier had kicked off a cliff – a fall which knocked out the man’s teeth, before he was subsequently shot dead
  • A captured Taliban fighter who was shot at least 10 times in the back, before his prosthetic leg was taken as a trophy and later used by troops as a drinking vessel
  • Two murders which were ordered or agreed to by Mr Roberts-Smith to initiate or “blood” rookie soldiers.

Justice Anthony Besanko found the newspaper had not proven two other murder allegations; nor reports Mr Roberts-Smith had assaulted a woman with whom he was having an affair; nor a threat against a junior colleague.

But additional allegations that he had unlawfully assaulted captives and bullied peers were found to be true.

Mr Roberts-Smith, who left the defence force in 2013, has not been charged over any of the claims in a criminal court, where there is a higher burden of proof. The 44-year-old was not present for Thursday’s judgement.

After the decision, a Taliban spokesman said the case was proof of “uncountable crimes” by foreign forces in Afghanistan, but added he did not trust any court globally to follow them up, reported the BBC.

Australian troops were deployed to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021. Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles declined to comment on the case, saying it was a civil matter.

Mr Roberts-Smith is Australia’s most famous living war veteran and served with the elite Special Air Service (SAS).