An Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) operator and the most decorated Australian soldier alive has sued three newspapers for defamation over war crimes allegations.
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times and The Age for accusing him of war crimes.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is investigating Cpl. Roberts-Smith and other special operators about potential war crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan. This is the second ongoing investigation on the decorated SAS operator for illegal actions during his Afghanistan deployments.
More specifically, the SAS operator is suspected of taking a handcuffed Afghan to the edge of a small cliff and kicking him off during an operation on September 12, 2012, in the village of Darwan. Then, he allegedly ordered a junior SAS operator to shoot the injured prisoner.
The second investigation is about an incident on the same day. Cpl. Roberts-Smith and his patrol were hunting an Afghan soldier who had gone rogue and killed three Australian soldiers. The SAS operators spotted the Afghan crossing a river. Cpl. Roberts-Smith gave chase. He crossed the river by himself and cornered the rogue Afghan soldier, killing him in a firefight. A Kalashnikov rifle and detonators were discovered on the body of the Afghan.
The three Australian newspapers are claiming that the Afghan was unarmed.
Cpl. Roberts-Smith has denied any wrongdoing. His second-in-command on that day, identified only as Person 11, since he is still on active duty, has been collaborating Cpl. Roberts-Smith claims.
According to Australian media, however, the AFP has sworn eyewitness accounts from Afghan locals from the vicinity of Darwan that incriminate Cpl. Roberts-Smith.
Bruce McClintock, the defence attorney of the SAS operator said that “My client took the body down to the river so it could be photographed. He took the AK-47 and the detonators … and with them, swam back across the river. He’s accused of killing an unarmed man. So far as being unarmed, my client put on display the AK-47 in the patrol room at Tarinkot [the SASR base] with the bullet hole still in it.”
The trial is set to take place in June 2020.
Cpl. Roberts-Smith won the Victoria Cross, the equivalent of the Medal of Honor, for saving his SAS patrol during an engagement with a superior Taliban force in June 2010.
Following the wave of publicity that came after his Victoria Cross, Cpl. Roberts-Smith has said that “I do what I do because I believe in the country that we live in. I believe we are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism into Australia… I want my children to [be] able to live as everyone does now without the fear of getting on a bus and having it blow up.”