Photo: Australian Defence Force

Australia’s most decorated living soldier loses court battle over Afghanistan war crimes

Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated living soldier, has lost a defamation lawsuit against Australian media outlets that accused him of war crimes in Afghanistan.

It has been alleged that the former Special Air Service (SAS) soldier, who has not been criminally charged, murdered unarmed civilians while serving in Afghanistan.

According the BBC, Justice Anthony Besanko found Ben Roberts-Smith’s alleged crimes were “substantially true.”

The elite soldier is alleged to have kicked a handcuffed detainee off a cliff in 2012 in Uruzgan province before ordering a subordinate to shoot him dead. In other incidents, Roberts-Smith is alleged to have ordered the killing of an elderly man as well as murdering a disabled man “with a prosthetic leg.”

Justice Anthony Besanko, the presiding judge, determined that four out of the six murder allegations, by media outlets The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Canberra Times, could be determined to be true.

| Former Australian soldier arrested for alleged war crime in Afghanistan
| Australian defence chief warns of further criminal charges over war crimes in Afghanistan

However, the media outlets were unable to substantiate reports that the soldier had assaulted a woman with whom he was having an affair or that he had threatened a junior colleague to falsify field reports. The judge did confirm the accuracy of additional allegations of bullying.

Roberts-Smith, 44, has not been charged in relation to any of these claims, and no criminal court has made any findings against him. He was awarded Victoria Cross, the country’s highest military honor, in 2011 for his brave act of single-handedly overpowering Taliban machine-gunners attacking his platoon.

During the trial, the soldier argued that five of the killings reported by the newspapers were legally conducted during combat, while he denied the occurrence of the sixth killing entirely.

While Defense Minister Richard Marles declined to comment on the case, the journalists involved referred to the judgment as a “vindication” for their reporting.

More than 39,000 Australian forces, according to the Reuters, participated in the US-led NATO military invasion of Afghanistan and fought against the Taliban. 41 Australian forces were killed in Afghanistan which fell to the Taliban once again in August 2021.