Ben Roberts-Smith was found in a recent civil defamation trial to have committed an array of war crimes.
Australian SAS serviceman Ben Roberts-Smith, who was found in a recent civil trial to have been complicit in the commission of war crimes in Afghanistan, allegedly ordered a subordinate to kill an unarmed Afghan imam in 2012, ABC reported on Thursday.
An investigation undertaken by the Australian broadcaster, the findings of which were made public this week, detailed how Roberts-Smith – who was previously considered to be his country’s most decorated living war hero – told an SAS colleague to shoot an elderly imam dead in 2012.
The death of Haji Raz Mohammad, who was a cleric in the village of Sola, Uruzgan, was explained by Roberts-Smith as a necessary action due to the man being an “insurgent.” An internal investigation by Canberra’s military had initially removed any question of foul play, explaining that the elderly man had been seen talking on a radio.
However, ABC reports defense sources as saying that it is now alleged that the man was unarmed at the time of his death. It was also suggested that a radio was planted on the man after he was shot dead.
Australia’s war crimes investigative body, the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI), is overseeing a probe into the matter, ABC reported. The OSI has said that it does not “comment on individuals, allegations or whether they are the subject of investigation.”
The allegations contained within ABC’s report are separate to those in which Roberts-Smith brought a civil defamation case against three Australian newspapers that had published stories about war crimes he was alleged to have been involved in in Afghanistan.
His lawyers have not yet indicated their intention to appeal the court’s finding earlier in June that, based upon the balance of probabilities, Roberts-Smith likely murdered, or ordered the murders of, four unarmed Afghan civilians between 2009 and 2012.
The death of the imam initially sparked a diplomatic incident between the governments of Afghanistan and Australia. Then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai claimed that the shooting was unnecessary, while Canberra’s leadership underscored its soldiers’ account that the man was an insurgent and that the shooting was justified.
Prior to the war crimes allegations, Roberts-Smith had been frequently cited in the media as being Australia’s most decorated living soldier. He was awarded his country’s Medal for Gallantry in 2006 and was given the Victoria Cross for Australia – the highest award in Canberra’s honours system – in 2011. He has denied all claims against him of war crimes.