A Sydney court hears the defamation trial of a decorated soldier, accused of killing an Afghan prisoner and ordered the execution of another detainee in southern Afghanistan on Easter Sunday in 2009.
Ben Roberts-Smith, a former Special Air Service (SAS) corporal, ordered a junior soldier to kill an Afghan prisoner during a raid on a Taliban compound, according to a serving SAS soldier.
Roberts-Smith is a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest medal for gallantry awarded to military personnel.
This latest batch of evidence and testimony is part of a long-delayed defamation trial, which was initiated by Roberts-Smith, 43, who is suing Melbourne’s The Age newspaper and The Sydney Morning Herald over reports published in 2018 that he believes portrayed him as a war criminal, linking him to six killings of unarmed Afghan detainees.
The serving SAS soldier giving evidence remained anonymous for security reasons and is only referred to in court as Person 41, deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 at the same time as Roberts-Smith.
Person 41 said that he was searching a compound when he heard a disturbance outside, where he saw Roberts-Smith, another soldier identified as Person 4 and an older Afghan male prisoner held against a wall.
Person 41 told the court that Roberts-Smith and Person 4 asked him for the suppressor from his M4 rifle, which he lent to Person 4, presuming he was going to investigate the tunnel as a potential hideout for insurgents.
But instead, Person 41 said, “RS walked down and grabbed the Afghan male by the scruff of his shirt.”
Person 41 said that Roberts-Smith moved the man for 2 meters until he was in front of Person 4, “then kicked him in the back of the legs behind the knees until he was kneeling down. RS pointed to the Afghan and said to Person 4, ‘shoot him’.”
Person 41 said that he immediately stepped back into the compound at this point, not wanting to witness what he believed was about to occur.
He heard shots and then saw the Afghan male’s body on the ground, which he inspected: “There was quite a lot of blood flowing from the head wound.”
Person 4 handed back Person 41’s suppressor, which Person 41 said was warm from being used.
Person 41 then witnessed another execution after seeing Roberts-Smith frog-march an Afghan man while holding him by the scruff of his shirt.
“I turned to face RS to see what was happening. He then proceeded to throw the Afghan male down on to the ground; the man landed on his back. RS then reached down, grabbed him by the shoulder, flipped him over on to his stomach and then I observed him lower his machine gun and shoot approximately three to five rounds into the back of the Afghan male,” he said.
When Roberts-Smith realized Person 41 was watching, he reportedly said to him: “Are we all cool, are we good?”
Person 41 said he responded: “Yeah, mate, no worries.”
Roberts-Smith has already admitted killing the second Afghan man, who had a prosthetic leg, but argued that it was a legitimate kill as the man was running with a weapon outside the compound.
Person 41 said he did not tell anyone about what he witnessed in 2009 because “I just wanted to keep quiet about the whole thing. I figured it wasn’t my business. I was a new trooper, my very first trip with the SAS, I just wanted to toe the line. You just go along with whatever happens.”
Person 4 is also scheduled to give evidence on behalf of the newspapers. (Source: Arab News)