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"War is violent": Ben Roberts-Smith trial's explosive opening statements

"War is violent": Ben Roberts-Smith trial's explosive opening statements

The defamation lawsuit launched by Ben Roberts-Smith against Nine-owned newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Canberra Times, has commenced with an explosive statement from the soldier’s lawyers.

Bruce McClintock SC said the reports published in 2018, which contained allegations including involvement in the unlawful killing of Afghans and bullying of Special Air Services Regiment (SAS) colleagues, “destroyed” Mr Roberts-Smith’s reputation as an “exceptional solder” with “dishonest”, “corrosive” journalism. 

“This is a case about courage, devotion to duty, self sacrifice,” Mr McClintock told the court.

“This is a case about how a man with a deservedly high reputation of courage, skill and decency in how he carried out his military duties had his reputation destroyed by a campaign of jealous people,” he told Justice Anthony Besanko.

The court also heard of the decorated soldier’s high kill count during his time in Afghanistan.

Mr Roberts-Smith alleges he was defamed by accusations that he “broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement” while deployed and is “therefore a criminal”.

Mr McClintock spoke of Australia’s pride in its military, but that many were unwilling to confront the real, violent nature of war.

“The people reporting on matters involving [Mr Roberts Smith] have forgotten [that war is violent] in their rush to tear him down,” he said.

The court also heard Mr Roberts-Smith was a recipient of “puerile” behaviour from fellow soldiers after he was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition for his bravery.

Nine have claimed one witness, known as Person 1, was bullied by Mr Roberts-Smith.

The media giant’s court documents claim Mr Roberts-Smith and the late Sergeant Matt Locke shot and killed a teenage boy.

Mr McClintock countered that the boy was a “fighting age male” and a “spotter” for the enemy.

Mr Roberts-Smith is expected to tell the court of an incident with another soldier, Person 10, who Roberts-Smith saw shooting towards a woman and child. 

When they returned to base, Mr Roberts-Smith confronted Person 10 and asked why he’d shot at unarmed civilians.

Mr McClintock said when Person 10 “giggled” in response Mr Roberts-Smith punched him in the face.

“He shouldn’t have done this but he was shocked by Person 10’s intention and the lack of understanding of the gravity of his actions,” he said.

The potential impact of killing an innocent woman and child, not just on the SAS and our country generally, but on Person 10 himself would have been a disaster.”

The prosthetic

Mr McClintock said the leg of an Afghan man Mr Roberts-Smith was alleged to have shot dead, was “souvenired” by another SAS officer - an enemy of Mr Roberts-Smith - who took it and mounted it back at the base.

The leg was later used as a “novelty-drinking vessel”, with pictures of soldiers drinking from it having since emerged.

"It might appear bad taste to drink from a souvenir prosthetic leg taken from a dead enemy," Mr McClintock told the court.

"In the scheme of human wickedness, it does not, in my submission, rate terribly high. 

"And allowances should be made — my client will say something along these lines — for the necessity for men who've engaged in armed combat to decompress afterwards."

Mr McClintock said his client did not drink from the leg.

Mr McClintock’s opening address is expected to run for two to three days before Mr Roberts-Smith takes the stand as a witness.

The trial will run for two months.

Image: Getty Images