STORY: Ben Roberts-Smith, one of Australia’s most decorated soldiers, has lost his defamation case against three newspapers which accused him of war crimes in Afghanistan.
The case relates to articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Canberra Times which, citing other soldiers who said they were there, accused Roberts-Smith of being involved in the murder of six Afghans during deployment.
Their allegations included that he shot dead an unarmed Afghan teenage spotter, and kicked a handcuffed man off a cliff before ordering him to be shot dead.
Roberts-Smith had called the reports false, and sued the papers, seeking unspecified damages.
He accused them of portraying him as someone who “broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement.”
But a Sydney court ruled in the newspapers’ favor on Thursday.
“In light of my conclusions, each proceeding must be dismissed.”
Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko said they proved four of the six murder allegations, and therefore each defamation proceeding must be dismissed.
Speaking outside the court, Australian investigative journalist Nick McKenzie said the soldiers who spoke out had been vindicated.
“I’d just like to say today is a day of justice. It’s a day of justice for those 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. Australia should be proud of those men in the SAS. They are the majority in the SAS and they stood up for what was right, and they have been vindicated.”
The case has put a spotlight on the secretive wartime conduct of Australia’s elite SAS troops.
Roberts-Smith, was seen as a national hero after winning several top military honors, including the Victoria Cross, for his actions during six tours of Afghanistan from 2006 to 2012.
He later carved out a post-military career as an in-demand public speaker and media executive.
His portrait hangs in the Australian War Memorial.