Roberts-Smith ‘told SAS to kill prisoners’

Greta Stonehouse |

Ben Roberts-Smith directed special forces soldiers in training to shoot Afghan prisoners and “surprised” a comrade by ordering a mock execution, a witness has testified in the Federal Court. 

The former SAS soldier codenamed Person 19 told the war veteran’s defamation trial on Tuesday about a 2012 training exercise at Lancelin near Perth simulating “live fire’ conditions in Afghanistan. 

Another trainee acting the role of an Afghan “civilian … not an enemy combatant,” in traditional dress was kneeling facing a wall while his squadron observed, the former commando said. 

“Mr Roberts-Smith said … Person 10 ‘I want you to shoot the PUC’,” Person 19 said, using the abbreviation for a person under control. 

He said he “distinctly” remembers the moment as it was unusual, and noticed the kneeling soldier appeared “quite surprised as well”.

“No one had expected to hear that phrase,” he said. 

Person 10 then went “bang” pretending to shoot the captured man, he said.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation over reports that he committed war crimes and murders in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2012.

The 43-year-old Victoria Cross recipient vehemently denies those allegations, accusations of bullying, and of domestic violence.

Person 19 is among a long list of army personnel the newspapers have summoned to support their truth defence.

On Tuesday another training exercise involving a makeshift mud Taliban compound was described to the court.

As trainees sat in a semi-circle discussing “sensitive sight exploitation,” the war hero allegedly detailed missions where officers would be “kept outside,” Person 19 said. 

“Any people we suspect are enemy combatants we take them into a room and shoot the c***s,” he recalled his leader saying. 

He also recounted hearing Mr Robert-Smith discuss with Person 35 how “throw down weapons” could be placed on a dead body for photographic evidence “so they could be deemed an enemy combatant”. 

One morning soon after he recalled a local cafe breakfast where Mr Roberts-Smith said an inexperienced trooper “needed to prove himself,” and used the term “blooding the rookie”.

Person 19 understood the phrase referenced a junior soldier getting their first kill in action to “prove their worth by having the fortitude to shoot a prisoner if required”.

But just five days ahead of his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan, Person 19 was removed from the patrol due to disciplinary action. 

An ADF investigation found his car had been stolen while carrying a “bag from work” along with body armour and ammunition, which he had intended to hand in, he said.

Following a military court hearing, he was sentenced to 42 days in the defence force jail, while the process unearthed his “false declaration” regarding his girlfriend living with him at the time.

The “gross error of judgement” ruined his 14-year military career, he said, as he was subsequently discharged from the ADF in 2014.

Person 19 also claimed he later spoke with Mr Roberts-Smith about his alleged bullying and punching of a younger trooper who considered formally complaining. 

“You tell that c*** he better not say anything otherwise I’ll get him charged for war crimes,” Mr Roberts-Smith allegedly said. 

Arthur Moses SC, acting for Mr Roberts-Smith, said Person 19 blamed his client and wanted to “damage” him for what happened.

“I completely reject that,” Person 19 said. 

He repeatedly denied assertions from Mr Moses that he was lying in evidence.

Person 19 admitted discussing rumours with investigative journalist Chris Masters about the war hero unlawfully killing prisoners, and not deserving some of his medallic achievements. 

“You’ve come here today to give evidence to try and support Mr Masters in his claim,” Mr Moses said.

“No, if I had a choice I wouldn’t be here,” Person 19 said. 

The trial continues. 

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