Ben Roberts-Smith, one of Australia’s most decorated soldiers, will appeal against a court ruling implicating him in a series of war crimes during his service in Afghanistan.
RNews previously reported that the former member of Australia’s elite Special Air Service regiment sued three Australian newspapers after reports were published in 2018 claiming that he was involved in, among other things, the murder of six unarmed prisoners in Afghanistan.
Roberts-Smith denied the allegations and launched a multi-million dollar defamation suit against the newspapers.
After two years, Judge Anthony Besanko ruled that the newspapers had proven that a large part of the allegations were “substantially true”, and the court dismissed Roberts-Smith’s defamation claim.
However, Roberts-Smith is now set to revive the saga, with federal court documents showing that he has filed a “notice of appeal”.
It is not yet clear on what grounds the appeal was filed, or when it will be heard in court.
Before the trial, Perth-born Roberts-Smith was one of Australia’s best-known soldiers.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross – Australia’s highest military honor – for his “extraordinary bravery” in Afghanistan, where his unit was on the trail of a senior Taliban commander.
Reporters at The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times however, argued that a pattern of criminality lurked behind Roberts-Smith’s unflappable public image.
The newspapers argued that Roberts-Smith kicked an unarmed Afghan citizen off a cliff and instructed his subordinates to shoot him. It was also claimed that he was involved in the shooting of a man with an artificial leg and that he apparently took this leg back to Australia where he and other soldiers used it to drink.
The court ruling also implicated Roberts-Smith in the murder of four unarmed Afghan prisoners.
The case was one of Australia’s longest defamation trials and the verdict was hailed as a major victory for media freedom in Australia. However, it cost media companies about $16 million (about R318 million) in legal fees.
In recent years, Australia has been forced to account for the conduct of its troops in Afghanistan, as well as deeper questions regarding its macho military culture.
A military investigation in 2020 revealed “credible evidence” that members of the special forces “unlawfully killed” a total of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners, as well as allegations of summary executions, body count contests and torture by Australian forces.