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Australia's top soldier 'murdered' Afghan civilians, court rules

This picture shows Australian former SAS member Ben Roberts-Smith, 44. (Photo by CNN)

A court of law in Australia has ruled that a former award-winning Aussie soldier committed murder and other war crimes in Afghanistan.

Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko passed his full judgment on Monday, ruling Benjamin Roberts-Smith, 44, was “complicit in and responsible for the murder” of local civilians during his six tours of Afghanistan from 2006 to 2012.

Court judge Besanko's final verdict noted that based on the evidence and balance of probabilities Roberts-Smith murdered three Afghan men and criminally violated the rules of military engagement.

Judge Besanko, who had issued the court verdict on Thursday, delayed releasing his full judgment until this week to allow the Australian government time to ensure it did not inadvertently divulge national security secrets.

“I have found that the applicant [Roberts-Smith] was complicit in and responsible for the murder of EKIA56... in 2009 and the murder of Ali Jan at Darwan on 11 September 2012 and the murder of the Afghan male at Chinartu on 12 October 2012,” Besanko said in his 736-page court judgment.

Federal judge Besanko found Roberts-Smith engaged in a “campaign of bullying” against another Australian soldier, including what he called a “death threat” when Roberts-Smith said, “If your performance doesn’t improve on our next patrol, you’re going to get a bullet in the back of the head."

The judge also rejected Roberts-Smith's long-running defamation case against three Australian newspapers which had accused him of unlawful killings in Afghanistan based on testimonies by other soldiers.

Judge Besanko said the media outlets had proven substantial truth in their reporting, thus ending the case which was shrouded in secrecy due to the involvement of Australia’s elite Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).

A 2020 report found credible evidence that members of the SAS killed dozens of unarmed Afghan prisoners during the war in Afghanistan; however, only one SAS soldier has been charged till now.

In the meantime, Roberts-Smith, who has not yet been charged with any offenses, has not commented since the ruling.

Roberts-Smith, who has presently quit his job as a television executive, had filed a defamation lawsuit in 2018 against three Australian newspapers who had accused him of unlawful killings.

In the lawsuit, Roberts-Smith contended that the articles published by the Aussie publications had destroyed his reputation and demanded compensation from them.

His unlawful actions in Afghanistan had come under scrutiny in 2017 in light of an independent war crimes inquiry into "questions of unlawful conduct concerning (Australia's) Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan." 

The Australian Federal Police launched an investigation in 2018, checking reports regarding Roberts-Smith's involvement in war crimes in Afghanistan.

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