Australia: Senior officer loses defamation case over war crimes in Afghanistan

Accused of war crimes in Afghanistan by three Australian newspapers, Ben Roberts Smith, former corporal of the SAS - the special forces of the Australian army - lost this Thursday, June 1, his defamation lawsuit, a judge having rejected several of his complaints. Back on the case nicknamed by some "the trial of the century" and which shook the country continent.

Journalists Chris Masters and Nick McKenzie of newspapers who accused Ben Roberts Smith of murder. Here, at the end of the hearing on June 1st. AP - Mark Baker

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He was Australia's most decorated war veteran. Considered a national hero, Ben Roberts Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2011 for his "exceptional bravery", the highest military award after he was tasked with his unit with tracking down a senior Taliban commander.

In 2018, three newspapers accused the high-ranking officer of murder or complicity in the murder of several unarmed civilians during his service in Afghanistan. The soldier denies and sues the Age, the Sydney Herald and the Canberra Times.

The trial will last 110 days, more than forty witnesses will take the stand. Chilling and incriminating testimonies, which will confirm the allegations of the press for at least four murders including that of a farmer thrown from the top of a cliff, seriously wounded and who will be coldly shot on the orders of Ben Roberts Smith. The elite soldier also ordered the murder of an old man and a disabled youth who were hiding in a tunnel during a bombing. The judge also acknowledged acts of aggression and intimidation against his comrades.

A victory for Afghan victims

For Australian journalist Nick McKenzie, it is also a victory for the soldiers who testified against their former comrade and for the Afghan victims. "This is a day of justice for these brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about Ben Roberts Smith, a war criminal, a tyrant and a liar," the journalist said. "Today is a day of justice for the Afghan victims of Ben Roberts Smith," he added.

Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalist Nick McKenzie said "today is a day of justice" including for the "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".

— The Sydney Morning Herald (@smh) June 1, 2023

Ben Roberts Smith, who was not required to attend the hearing, learned of the verdict from a deckchair on a beach in Bali, as shown in a photo widely shared on social media.

Nine News report SAS veteran Ben Roberts-Smith is in Bali, a day before the decision in his defamation suit against Nine Entertainment is handed down.

— Naveen Razik (@naveenjrazik) May 31, 2023


and with AFP)

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  • Australia
  • Justice
  • Afghanistan