Ben Roberts-Smith, Decorated Australian Soldier, Loses Defamation Suit Over War Crimes Allegations
Landmark Case Reveals Disturbing Allegations of Unlawful Killings and Misconduct
Ben Roberts-Smith, a highly decorated veteran and recipient of the Victoria Cross for bravery, has suffered a significant legal blow. In a defamation suit against three Australian newspapers, Roberts-Smith alleged that they falsely reported his involvement in the murder of unarmed civilians during his deployments in Afghanistan. However, an Australian court recently ruled that the newspapers had established the substantial truth of these allegations, tarnishing the reputation of the once-celebrated soldier. This landmark case sheds light on disturbing war crimes allegations and brings the conduct of Australia’s military under scrutiny.
The Defamation Suit and Shocking Allegations:
Ben Roberts-Smith, a former soldier of the Special Air Services Regiment (SASR), filed a defamation suit against the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and Canberra Times after they published reports accusing him of murdering Afghan civilians. Roberts-Smith claimed that these articles had damaged his reputation, portraying him as a man who had “broken the moral and legal rules of military engagement” and brought disgrace upon his country and the Australian army.
In a summary judgment delivered by Judge Anthony Besanko, it was determined on the balance of probabilities that several of the allegations made against Roberts-Smith were substantially true. The court found evidence that in 2012, he kicked an unarmed and handcuffed Afghan man off a cliff and subsequently ordered two soldiers in his unit to kill the severely injured man. The judgment also confirmed the truth of reports that in 2009, Roberts-Smith murdered a disabled Afghan man and ordered the execution of a man hiding in a tunnel within the bombed-out Whiskey 108 facility.
Reactions and Implications:
The ruling in the defamation case has sparked reactions both within Australia and abroad. Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, responding to the decision, claimed that foreign forces had committed numerous crimes throughout the 20-year war in the country. A spokesperson for the group emphasized that the incidents discussed in the court case were just a fraction of the alleged crimes, expressing doubt in the ability of any court to hold them accountable globally.
The publications involved in the case, having opted for the defense of truth, welcomed the judge’s ruling. Journalist Nick McKenzie, who reported the story, hailed it as a day of justice for the courageous SAS soldiers who had bravely revealed the truth about Roberts-Smith’s actions, describing him as a “war criminal, a bully, and a liar.” The outcome of the case has far-reaching implications, not only for Roberts-Smith but also for Australia’s military and its reputation.
Examining the Broader Context:
This high-profile defamation suit comes at a time when Australia is grappling with revelations of misconduct within its military ranks. The Brereton Report, released in 2020 albeit heavily redacted, revealed “credible evidence” of unlawful killings by members of the special forces during their deployments in Afghanistan. While the report did not name specific individuals, it recommended investigations into 19 current or former members of the special forces in connection with 23 incidents involving the unlawful killings of “prisoners, farmers, or civilians.”
The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) was subsequently established to pursue these investigations. In a significant development, a 41-year-old former soldier was charged with murder in March, marking the first instance of a serving or former member of the Australian military being charged with war crimes. As the country continues to grapple with the fallout from these revelations, Thursday’s defamation ruling against Roberts-Smith is viewed as a critical step toward justice for the victims’ families.
The defamation suit against Ben Roberts-Smith has cast a harsh light on his alleged involvement in war crimes during his deployments in Afghanistan. The court’s ruling, affirming the substantial truth of the newspapers’ allegations, has irreversibly impacted Roberts-Smith’s reputation and linked his name to disturbing acts of violence and misconduct. This landmark case also underscores the broader issue of unlawful killings and misconduct within Australia’s military, prompting calls for further accountability and justice. As the legal proceedings continue and the country confronts its past, the true extent of these war crimes and their consequences will hopefully come to light, fostering a stronger commitment to upholding justice and the rule of law within Australia and beyond