Tuesday September 26, 2023

Famed Australian soldier loses war crimes defamation case

June 02, 2023

SYDNEY: One of Australia´s most decorated soldiers lost a landmark defamation case against major newspapers on Thursday after a bruising trial that saw accusations of murder, domestic violence, witness intimidation and war crimes. Ben Roberts-Smith, a former member of Australia´s elite Special Air Service regiment, sued three newspapers after 2018 reports alleged he was involved in the murder of six unarmed prisoners in Afghanistan.

Roberts-Smith denied the allegations and launched a multi-million-dollar defamation case in response. But after two years of deliberations, Justice Anthony Beskano said the papers had proven that the bulk of their allegations were “substantially true” and dismissed the case. The verdict was hailed as a major victory for Australian media freedom, with journalist and defendant Nick McKenzie tweeting: “Justice.” Before the trial, Perth-born Roberts-Smith had been Australia´s most famous and distinguished living soldier. He won the Victoria Cross -- Australia´s highest military honour -- for “conspicuous gallantry” in Afghanistan, where his unit was hunting for a senior Taliban commander.

He met then Queen Elizabeth II and his image hung in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. But reporters at The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times alleged that behind Roberts-Smith´s lauded public persona lay a pattern of criminal behaviour. The papers said Roberts-Smith had kicked an unarmed Afghan civilian off a cliff and ordered subordinates to shoot him.