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Australian Justice Besanko dismisses testimonies of Special Forces veteran Ben Roberts-Smith and his witnesses as dishonest, in comprehensive defamation case judgement

Australian Justice Anthony Besanko has determined that Special Forces war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith and the four witnesses he presented in his defamation lawsuit were neither truthful nor credible in their testimonies, according to a comprehensive judgment.

The complete decision, consisting of 736 pages, was disclosed following the delivery of a preliminary verdict in court. The full judgment was initially delayed to address concerns about national security implications.

The comprehensive verdict reveals Besanko’s opinion that Roberts-Smith and his four witnesses provided dishonest testimonies regarding two alleged homicides at a location known as Whiskey 108 in Kakarak village in 2009.

This incident at Whiskey 108 formed a significant accusation made by the newspapers against Roberts-Smith. The judgment recounted that two men – one elderly and one younger with a prosthetic leg – were discovered in a hidden tunnel within the ruined compound. Despite their surrender, Roberts-Smith allegedly ordered a subordinate to execute the older man before brutalizing the man with a prosthetic leg.

Subsequently, the prosthetic leg was allegedly used by Australian SAS soldiers for a grotesque celebration at their bar, the Fat Ladies’ Arms.

In court, Roberts-Smith brought forth four other Australian soldier witnesses to back his narrative. However, Justice Besanko dismissed all their testimonies as deceptive. “I do not accept the applicant and Persons 5, 29, 35 and 38 as honest and reliable witnesses,” Besanko’s decision asserted.

Contrary to the testimonies of Roberts-Smith’s witnesses, who claimed no men were discovered in the tunnel at Whiskey 108, Besanko concluded that they were dishonest.

In this defamation lawsuit, Roberts-Smith accused three Australian newspapers of misrepresenting him as a “criminal” who violated “the moral and legal rules of military engagement”. Nevertheless, the judge expressed strong criticism of Roberts-Smith’s overall testimony: “I have difficulty accepting the applicant’s evidence on any disputed issue.”

Justice Besanko pointed out possible motives that Roberts-Smith might have had to lie during the trial. One motivation was a financial incentive linked to his claims for damages in this case. Additionally, he had a motive to restore his reputation that he alleges was ruined by the articles’ publication. Lastly, he was motivated to reject findings against him which could lead to further action against him.

Besanko concluded that Roberts-Smith concealed information about burying USB drives containing sensitive and classified Defence materials in his backyard, knowing their relevance to the case.

The defamation trial learned that Roberts-Smith’s ex-wife and a family friend unearthed six USB sticks, buried in a child’s lunchbox in the Roberts-Smith family backyard, and gave the classified files to the police.

In a key incident, Besanko established that Roberts-Smith falsified details to counteract evidence that might seem detrimental to him.

During the trial, newspapers reported that in 2012, Roberts-Smith led a handcuffed man named Ali Jan above a 10-metre cliff, causing him significant injuries. Roberts-Smith then supposedly ordered another soldier to kill Ali Jan before hiding the body in a cornfield.

In his comprehensive judgment, Besanko stated that Roberts-Smith’s explanation of his route from the compound to the creek bed was unconvincing and contained lies.