More allegations are stacking up against Ben Roberts-Smith, as he allegedly buried images in his backyard, instead of turning them over.
According to the demands of Inspector-General Paul Brereton, who began his investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, one of his first orders was for all personnel to turn over any images in their possession. As The Age explained, Ben Roberts-Smith didn’t do that. As the publication put it, “Instead, the sources say, Roberts-Smith dug a hole in the backyard of his house in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and buried the USB drives inside a pink plastic children’s lunchbox to hide them from both police and military investigations. Once the Victoria Cross recipient had filled in the hole, he placed a rock on top to mark the spot. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, federal police who are conducting war crimes investigations into the war hero, have since obtained the contents.”
The images bring the nation back to the SAS bar that saw Roberts-Smith cavorting with a prosthetic limb taken from an allegedly slain Afghan man. The other images involve a fancy dress ball, featuring an individual dressed in as a member of the KKK, replete with a burning cross. In the background, Roberts-Smith can be seen pumping his fist.
As The Age noted, “Brereton’s landmark investigation report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan last year posed the greatest challenge to the Australian military in decades after he found serious allegations of up to 39 murders committed by special forces. Roberts-Smith has repeatedly denied committing war crimes or any other wrongdoing and is suing The Age and Herald for defamation. He has insisted he has cooperated fully with the Brereton Inquiry and the federal police. But further evidence obtained by The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes shows the former soldier – who is now an executive at Seven West Media’s Queensland operations – intimidated witnesses in an attempt to stop them giving evidence in inquiries.”
On that point, he will continue in his role at the Seven Network, according to a statement issued by the channel late last night.
“Mr Roberts-Smith denies that he has engaged in any unlawful conduct and he will not be intimidated by Mr McKenzie or Nine into not continuing with the Federal Court proceedings against them,” the statement said.
Roberts-Smith will continue as Seven’s Queensland managing director, the channel said: “Insofar as most of the material aired is old, Seven notes that it is before the federal court and the court process should be respected. Insofar as new allegations are made they do not appear to be supported by evidence.”
Back in April, in a landmark ruling, Federal Court Justice Anthony Besanko will allow four Afghan villagers to remotely give evidence against former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith. The matter will swirl around the treatment of Ali Jan, who the Australian allegedly handcuffed and kicked off a cliff in 2012. Published in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times, Roberts-Smith believes the allegations are “completely without any foundation in truth”.
As the ABC reported, “Justice Besanko said two of the witnesses – one claiming to be a nephew and the other a cousin of Ali Jan – will claim that they had been detained and interrogated by Australian soldiers in Darwan. The nephew will also claim that ‘he saw the applicant kick Ali Jan off the small cliff’. They both claim to have heard gunshots.
“The judgment states that the court will also hear from another witness who claims that ‘he saw a big soldier kick Ali Jan off a cliff’.
“‘He claims that a short time later he heard gunshots. He claims that he saw Ali Jan’s dead body with a gunshot(s) wound to the face.'”
Nick McKenzie of The Age reports that the legal representation of Roberts-Smith fought to stop the four from testifying.
Overnight, Afghanistan’s Ariana News said that “This is the first time Afghans will testify in an Australian case about an alleged war crime. The world will be watching.”
In December, the image of a slain Afghan militant’s prosthetic limb used as a drinking vessel resurfaced, implicating Victoria Cross recipient, Ben Roberts-Smith. The Sydney Morning Herald procured two images, one with Roberts-Smith eyeing the camera, fist-aloft and beer raised as another drinks from it; the second image has Australia’s most decorated living soldier smiling, with his arm around another figure posing with the limb, colloquially known as ‘Das Boot’.
Last year, Roberts-Smith’s lawyer stated that his client was disgusted by the use of the leg as a drinking glass. His lawyer claimed that Roberts-Smith “never drank from that thing…because he thought it was disgusting to souvenir a body part, albeit an artificial one from someone who had been killed in action.”
As The Sydney Morning Herald noted his lawyer “also told the Federal Court Mr Roberts-Smith had been the one who had killed the disabled Afghan militant, saying he was a member of the Taliban. That killing is suspected by police to be an execution and is now the subject of an Australian Federal Police war crimes inquiry and a preliminary prosecution brief of evidence.”
The newspaper also noted that “…multiple official sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing, have told The Age and Herald Mr Roberts-Smith will face fresh war crimes inquiries in addition to ongoing federal police taskforces already probing him. The sources confirmed that the federal police are investigating Mr Roberts-Smith over multiple eyewitness accounts from his fellow Special Air Service Regiment soldiers who allege he executed the unarmed Afghan militant wearing the leg in an operation in Kakarak, Southern Afghanistan, on Easter Sunday, 2009. That alleged execution is the subject of a preliminary criminal brief recently submitted by the federal police to Commonwealth prosecutors.”
Earlier that month, the initial images of the limb surfaced, provoking condemnation from here and abroad.
“It is the most disgusting, shocking and horrific image I’ve ever seen,” Hayatullah Fazly, a member of the provincial council in Uruzgan, told the Guardian, speaking on the phone from his office in Tarin Kowt.
“It is more painful when you consider that were here to help us and make us feel safe. It’s shameful.”
The recent Brereton report focused on the patrol commanders of the Special Operations Task Group, where “criminal behaviour was conceived, committed, continued, and concealed”, with the inquiry linking the ADF to 39 killings of prisoners and civilians.
Zabiullah Farhang, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told The Guardian that the photos showed Australian soldiers “had no respect for the life of Afghans here”.