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Top Australian soldier loses libel case

HISTORY: Ben Roberts-Smith, one of Australia’s most decorated soldiers, lost his libel case against three newspapers which accused him of war crimes in Afghanistan.

The case concerns 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 killing of six Afghans during a a deployment.

Their allegations included that he shot an unarmed Afghan teenager and kicked a handcuffed man off a cliff before ordering him shot.

Roberts-Smith had called the reports false and sued the newspapers, seeking unspecified damages.

He accused them of portraying him as someone who “broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement”.

But a court in Sydney ruled in favor of the newspapers on Thursday.

“In light of my findings, each proceeding must be dismissed.”

Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko said they had proven four of the six murder allegations and therefore each defamation suit should be dismissed.

Speaking in court, Australian investigative journalist Nick McKenzie said the soldiers who spoke out had been exonerated.

“I would just like to say that today is a day of justice. It is a day of justice for those brave SAS men who stood up and spoke the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is – a war criminal , a bully and a liar. Australia should be proud of these SAS men. They are the majority in the SAS and they stood up for what was right, and they were vindicated.

The case shed light on the covert wartime conduct of Australia’s elite SAS troops.

Roberts-Smith, was considered a national hero after winning several major military honours, 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 a much-requested speaker and media executive.

His portrait hangs at the Australian War Memorial.


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