A massive trove of carefully guarded photographs, messages, police reports and private war stories were made public as the day of Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation trial closed, providing never before seen insights into many key witnesses and war crimes charges.
Mr. Roberts-Smith is filing a lawsuit in Federal Court against nine newspapers, alleging that a 2018 series of articles falsely portrayed him as a war criminal responsible for the execution of six unarmed Afghan prisoners.
He vehemently denies all of their claims, while Nine defends the truth, claiming that Mr. Roberts-Smith is a murderer, bully, and abuser of women.
Judge Anthony Besanco has been hearing closing statements from both Mr. Roberts-Smith’s lawyers and those acting on Nine’s behalf for almost a week, and there’s still a week to go.
A federal court on Thursday released dozens of physical evidence presented over 100-plus days of evidence.
Some of them were previously classified by the Department of Defense, others were kept secret because they divulge personal information about the soldiers and civilians who testified in the case.
ROBERTS-SMITH’S ALLEGED LOVE CANCEL AFP INVESTIGATION
Among the documents is an email exchange between Australian Federal Police investigators and Mr Roberts-Smith’s alleged lover after she reported that a war hero punched her in the face.
Nine claims that the woman known as Face 17 had a secret and strained relationship with Mr. Roberts-Smith and angered him when she nearly revealed their affair to the military authorities at a party in Canberra.
The newspapers claim that she fell down the stairs while drunk leaving the Houses of Parliament, and Mr. Roberts-Smith, enraged by her performance, punched her in the face while still in their hotel.
He denies this claim and told the court that he was separated from his wife Emma during his relationship with Person 17.
Newly released emails show that AFP is asking a doctor to hand over medical records if they indicate that 17 persons suffered a facial injury after a party.
Person 17, in an email to police, said she was unwilling to file an assault complaint or seek an AVO against Mr. Roberts-Smith after speaking with her family and lawyers.
“DARK, GHOSTLY, UNNATURAL” AFGHANISTAN HASTI
The other document appears to be a reflection and confrontation of the memories of SAS veteran and Liberal MP Andrew Hastie.
His statement relates to his conflicts with Roberts-Smith, dislike of SAS drinking culture, and the “darkness” surrounding the military in Afghanistan.
“Guys have become desensitized over time,” Mr. Hastie wrote.
“There was callousness in their views on the enemy. I don’t judge them for that… Many of them have lost friends and their friends have been injured.”
“There were days when (sic) I felt like it was a closed universe where you can create your own morality based on what you want, and it was a dark, haunting and incredibly unnatural feeling.”
Mr. Hastie spoke out against the “failure” of military policies that “incentivized bad behavior.”
He recounted a disturbing moment when his soldiers cut off the hands of dead enemies and how an Afghan judge advised him to simply execute a captive.
“There is no room left in the gate, you should just shoot him here and be done with it,” Mr. Hastie wrote, noting that he informed the chain of command advice.
“Everyone looked at RS as a hero. When guys like this are honored so publicly, it hurts the way people think,” Mr. Hastie wrote.
Mr. Hastie was asked a lot about one paragraph in the letter where he had a dream about Mr. Roberts-Smith and the Australians killing one of their own people and hiding it.
“Not what I saw, but what I heard, and the moral trauma that calls for accountability will eventually come to some people,” the deputy wrote.
ON THE GROUND WITH SAS
The high-resolution photographs provide a closer look at two key missions that are key to the cause.
The first is the city of Darwan, a remote village in the mountains that is suspected to be harboring a traitorous Afghan soldier known as Hekmatullah.
The SAS raided Darwan in September 2012 in an attempt to capture or kill Hektamullah after he killed three Australian diggers in cold blood while they were playing cards at their base two weeks earlier.
Mr. Roberts-Smith is accused of pushing an unarmed farmer off a cliff at Darvan. He completely denies this claim.
Man 4 of the SAS, possibly Nine’s key witness to their murder charge, marked in the photograph the point where his best friend, another SAS soldier, allegedly executed a badly wounded farmer.
The second set of photographs, also noted by SAS witnesses, is of the fiery moment when a 500-pound American bomb fell on a Taliban compound in 2009.
The junction, known as Whiskey 108, is believed to be the site of a double execution.
Mr. Roberts-Smith denies firing a machine gun at one captured Afghan at Whiskey 108 and also denies that he ordered Man 4 to execute a second captive.
Daily Telegraph previously uncovered unseen ground photographs of the Whiskey 108 raid showing the chaos that followed the airstrike.
COURT CLOSING CONTINUES WITH STATEMENTS OF THREATS, COLLUSION
Nine barrister Nicholas Owens SC on Thursday went on to close his case in a legal marathon, saying Mr Roberts-Smith had flown around the world to “call out” with his old SAS comrades on Darvan and Whiskey 108.
Mr. Owens claimed that Mr. Roberts-Smith was called to testify in an undercover war crimes investigation in December 2019, and he visited New Zealand, the United States and Perth a few weeks after this interview.
According to Owens, at each destination he visited his “closest friends” on the case.
“He traveled the world to meet these witnesses face to face, and we believe the only plausible conclusion is that at least some of their time together was spent discussing the substance of what they remember about the missions.” Owens said.
“(These meetings) reveal clear evidence of collusion on a significant scale between, critically and centrally, Mr. Roberts-Smith (and his friends)”
Each of the men he allegedly visited was also charged with war crimes by the Nine – each completely denied the allegations.
Originally published as War zones, letters, police investigations declassified in Ben Roberts-Smith trial