A SAS soldier claims that he witnessed Ben Roberts Smith order another soldier to kill a man in Afghanistan during a raid on a compound. Roberts Smith denies both of these claims.
Ben Roberts Smith shot and killed an unarmed civilian in Afghanistan outside a compound. He fired his machine gun into the back of the man who was lying on the ground. One of his SAS comrades told the federal court.
The court was informed minutes earlier that Roberts-Smith had allegedly instructed a subordinate soldier, to execute an old man.
A day of extraordinary evidence was presented by a SAS member who is still serving. He claimed that he witnessed the decorated soldier “frog-march”, an unarmed Afghan prisoner, outside the compound and then throw him to his back.
“RS” then reached down to grab him by the shoulder, and flipped him onto his stomach. He then lowered his machine gun to shoot three to five shots into the back of the Afghan man.
Roberts-Smith turned to his friend and asked, “Are we all cool?” The court was then informed.
An SAS soldier was anonymised by the court as Person 41. He was part of an attack on Whiskey 108 compound in Uruzgan on Easter Sunday 2009.
Roberts-Smith is now suing the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald for defamation. He claims that a number of reports portraying him as having committed war crimes including murder, are defamatory. The newspapers are offering a defense of the truth. Roberts Smith denies any wrongdoing.
Two men were accused of murdering an elderly man and a man with prosthetic legs. They were allegedly found in a secret tunnel within the compound. These are just two of the main allegations against Roberts-Smith.
Roberts Smith previously testified that he did not order the death of the elderly man and that the other victim was an insurgent with a weapon outside the compound.
Whiskey 108 was an area in Kakarak that was known for being an insurgent stronghold. It is located on the west side of the Dorafshan River and close to an allied forward operating center.
Australian troops cleared the compound on 12 April 2009 to check for insurgents, weapons and bomb-making material.
Person 41 testified that he was outside a compound walled when he saw Roberts Smith “frog-marching,” an Afghan man, away from the compound’s entrance.
Roberts-Smith had his machine gun in the right arm and held it up. He then frog-marched the Afghan with his left arm.
“I turned to face RS to see what was going on. The Afghan male was then thrown to the ground by him. The Afghan male fell on his back. RS reached down to grab him by the shoulder, and flipped him onto his stomach. He then lowered his machine gun to shoot three to five shots into the back of the Afghan man.
“After he had done that, I looked up at him and said, ‘are you all cool, are we good?’ To which he replied, ‘yeah, mate, no worries.
Person 41 stated that he didn’t walk towards the body of the victim to inspect it after the shooting. He didn’t comment on whether or not the body was wearing a prosthetic leg.
Person 41 stated to the court that he witnessed Roberts-Smith ordering a soldier to execute an elderly man who was allegedly trapped in a tunnel within the compound.
He was looking into a room within the compound that he had found bomb-making materials, opium, and other substances when he entered a courtyard to find Roberts-Smith, a soldier known as Person 4, and another soldier standing over an elderly Afghan man near the tunnel entrance.
Person 41 stated: “RS [Roberts Smith] walked down to grab the Afghan male by his scruff of the shirt.”
Roberts-Smith walked him about two meters until he was in front Person 4. Then, he kicked him in his back behind the knees until he fell to the ground. RS pointed at the Afghan and told Person 4 to’shoot him.’
Person 41 stated that he didn’t want to see what was happening and returned to the same room where he was. He claimed he heard a muffled shot from his M4 rifle. “I have fired thousands of these rounds, and I know how they sound.” He waited “15 seconds” more before returning to the courtyard.
Roberts-Smith, he said, was not in the courtyard anymore, but Person 4, who was standing over the Afghan male, was still alive from a single gunshot to the head.
He examined the body. “There was quite some blood flowing from the scalp wound.”
The two Australian soldiers didn’t speak.
“He seemed to have been in shock to me.”
The court heard that Person 41 was anxious about being subpoenaed in the case. Roberts-Smith lawyers interrogated him over who he had spoken with about what he saw in Afghanistan.
Roberts-Smith lawyers also drew our attention to alleged contradictions in this newspaper’s case. The defense of the newspapers claims that the elderly Afghan was executed by a different soldier known as Person 5. Roberts-Smith was merely a witness who did not intervene.
Person 41 was also questioned about the antipathy of Roberts-Smith in the SAS. He admitted that there were “haters” in the regiment and was jealous of his decorations.
Person 41 applied for, and the judge granted, a certificate pursuant to section 128 of The Evidence Act, which protects him from self-incrimination.
Person 4 is expected to testify for the newspapers later in the trial.
Roberts-Smith’s defamation case was reopened Wednesday at the federal court, after another delay of several months due to Covid restrictions and lockdown.
Roberts-Smith was quizzed about the alleged murder in the compound of an elderly man during earlier evidence. Roberts-Smith said that he did not order the shooting of the man and that he was “completely false” in his allegations.
The Easter Sunday 2009 events in Whiskey 108 in a village called Kakarak in Uruzgan Province have been central to the accusations made against Roberts Smith, a Victoria Cross winner and one of Australia’s most decorated soldiers.
According to reports, Roberts Smith also allegedly dragged the Afghan man, who was wearing a prosthetic leg, outside Whiskey 108 and then shot him with a machine gun “10 to fifteen times.”
Roberts-Smith claims he killed the man using the prosthetic leg. However, he claimed that the man was an insurgent who ran outside the compound and carried a weapon. Roberts-Smith claims the man was a legitimate victim, a threat, to soldiers’ safety and was killed within the laws.
Later, another soldier took the prosthetic leg and used it as a drinking vessel at The Fat Ladies’ Arms, an unofficial bar on the base that served Australian soldiers.
Roberts-Smith claimed he never drank from his leg. However, he admitted in court that he “contributed and encouraged a culture which allowed for the consumption of the leg”. He was photographed with soldiers who were drinking from his leg.
The trial continues before Justice Anthony Besanko.