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Australian veteran appeals defamation ruling over killing of Afghans

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KABUL – An Australian war veteran, Ben Roberts-Smith, has lodged an appeal against a defamation ruling that held him responsible for the unlawful killing of four Afghans.

Roberts-Smith, the recipient of the Victoria Cross for gallantry in Afghanistan, retired from the Special Air Service Regiment ten years ago. He recently lost a significant defamation suit against newspapers that accused him of various war crimes.

On June 1, the Federal Court confirmed that the 44-year-old veteran filed an appeal against the ruling. Since 2021, Roberts-Smith had taken leave from his position as a state manager at Seven West Media to focus on the court case, but he resigned shortly after the verdict. His legal expenses have been supported by Kerry Stokes, the billionaire executive chairman of the company.

In 2018, Roberts-Smith initiated the defamation suit to salvage his reputation after Australian newspaper articles accused him of war crimes, including involvement in six unlawful killings. The newspapers in question are owned by Nine Entertainment, a major rival of Seven West Media in the Australian television industry. The defamation claims were dismissed by a judge who found the articles to be substantially true.

Additionally, the judge determined that Roberts-Smith was responsible for four of the six unlawful deaths he had been accused of. Currently, Roberts-Smith remains under investigation by the Australian police for potential criminal prosecution related to war crimes. Earlier this year, a former SAS soldier became the first to be charged with a war crime from Australia’s 20-year campaign in Afghanistan.

Some of Roberts-Smith’s colleagues from the SAS have called for him to be stripped of the Victoria Cross, which would make him the first Australian recipient of the award to face such action. His official citation commended his “selfless valour” during a fierce firefight in Kandahar province in 2010, where he displayed complete disregard for his own safety.

In 2006, he was also awarded the Medal for Gallantry for his roles as a patrol scout and sniper in Afghanistan. In the event that his appeal fails, Roberts-Smith has agreed to cover the legal costs of the newspapers, which are estimated to exceed 35 million Australian dollars (£18m). It is worth noting that during Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan, approximately 39,000 Australians served, resulting in 41 casualties.

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