Australia’s Most Decorated Soldier Loses War Crimes Defamation Case
Ben Roberts-Smith, the recipient of the Victoria Cross, claimed that he was falsely accused by the media, but a judge ruled on Thursday that he unlawfully killed prisoners and committed other war crimes in Afghanistan.
Judge Anthony Besanko of the Federal Court determined that the articles written in 2018 about several war crimes committed by Roberts-Smith, a former Special Air Service Regiment corporal and current media company executive, were essentially true.
In 2009, Roberts-Smith, who was also awarded the Medal of Gallantry for his service in the Afghan war, shot a prisoner with a prosthetic leg in the back. He kept the man’s prosthetic to use as a fun beer mug.
In addition, Roberts-Smith was accused of shooting a handcuffed and unarmed farmer dead in a riverbed after kicking him off a cliff in 2012. The allegations of domestic violence made against Roberts-Smith were found to be false and defamatory. The judge concluded that the veteran’s reputation would not have been further harmed by this, though.
The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Canberra Times were the targets of defamation lawsuits brought by Roberts-Smith due to their articles.
To consider filing an appeal with the Full Bench of the Federal Court, his attorney Arthur Moses requested 42 days.
Kerry Stokes, the billionaire executive chairman of Seven West Media, where Roberts-Smith works, has agreed to cover the costs of Roberts-Smith’s legal representation.
The Australian Federal Police is looking into Roberts-Smith and other Australian military personnel for possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
In March, the first criminal accusation regarding an alleged illegal killing in Afghanistan was brought. Oliver Schulz, a former SAS trooper, was accused of committing a war crime by killing an Afghan in a wheat field in Uruzgan province in 2012.