Decorated Australian war veteran unlawfully killed prisoners in Afghanistan, judge says

Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia's most decorated living war veteran committed war crimes, a judge has ruled, ITV News' Callum Watkinson reports

Australia’s most decorated living war veteran unlawfully killed prisoners and committed other war crimes in Afghanistan, a judge has ruled.

Federal Court judge Anthony Besanko dismissed claims by Ben Roberts-Smith that he was defamed by the media, ruling that articles published about his war crimes in 2018 articles were substantially true.

Victoria Cross recipient Roberts-Smith, a former Special Air Service Regiment corporal who is now a media company executive, was also awarded the Medal of Gallantry for his Afghan war service.

But allegations against him included the killing of a prisoner who had a prosthetic leg by firing a machine gun into his back in 2009, before keeping the man's prosthetic as a novelty beer drinking vessel.

Roberts-Smith allegedly kicked an unarmed, handcuffed farmer off a cliff into a riverbed who was then shot. Credit: AP

Another accusation was that Roberts-Smith kicked an unarmed, handcuffed farmer off a cliff into a riverbed where an SAS colleague then shot the farmer dead in 2012.

Reports of domestic violence allegedly committed by Roberts-Smith were found to be unproven and defamatory, but the judge found this would not have further damaged the veteran’s reputation in the civil case.

He had made claims of defamation against The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over their articles.

Australian journalists Nick McKenzie, second left, and Chris Masters, right, who were involved the civil case. Credit: AP

Roberts-Smith’s legal costs have been underwritten by billionaire Kerry Stokes, executive chairman of Seven West Media where he is employed.

He is one of several Australian military personnel under investigation from Australian Federal Police for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, but so far, only one has been charged.

The first criminal charge for an alleged illegal killing in Afghanistan was made in March, when former SAS trooper Oliver Schulz was charged with the war crime of murder in the death of an Afghan who was shot in 2012 in a wheat field in Uruzgan province.

Australian Special Air Service Association chair Martin Hamilton-Smith described the ruling as a “very disappointing day” for the elite regiment.

He said if more veterans were to be prosecuted for war crimes, they should be charged without delay.

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