A senior SAS soldier who will likely be the final witness to testify in the protracted defamation trial launched by Ben Roberts-Smith has backed the war veteran on a key piece of evidence.
The serving elite soldier dubbed Person 81 began his evidence in the Federal Court on Wednesday nearly a year after the trial began.
He had risen through the ranks to captain and was heading the patrol to a Taliban compound known as Whiskey 108 in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province in 2009.
He ordered the patrol commanders to clear the compound after Australian troops had dropped a series of 500-pound bombs on it.
After the infrastructure had been “significantly destroyed” Person 81 entered and distinctly recalls an Afghan woman was sweeping, and body parts among rocket paraphernalia.
And while he does remember a secret tunnel was found, he is unsure of where he was and how he was told.
Defence barrister Arthur Moses SC, representing Mr Roberts-Smith, asked if anyone informed him if Afghan fighting-aged males were found inside the tunnel.
“No,” he said.
The Victoria Cross recipient is suing for defamation The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times over 2018 reports claiming he committed war crimes in Afghanistan including murder, and acts of bullying and domestic violence.
The 43-year-old denies all claims of wrongdoing, while the mastheads are defending them as true.
The newspapers allege two men did willingly surrender from hiding in the tunnel at Whiskey 108, and were subsequently taken prisoner by Australian forces.
The war hero is accused of throwing one of the men who had a prosthetic leg onto the ground and opening fire on his back.
“It was an exhibition execution. He wanted people to see he was going to kill someone out there in front of everyone,” another soldier dubbed Person 24 previously told the court.
Another former SAS soldier testified that Mr Roberts-Smith forced the other prisoner to kneel and ordered his younger colleague to shoot him.
But the captain at the time denies ever seeing fighting-aged males coming out of the tunnel, nor did he see any prisoners taken captive.
And nobody in his troop told him unlawful activity had occurred that day, he said.
“What would you have done (if they had)?” Mr Moses asked.
“I would have reported it,” he said.
Most of Person 81’s evidence on Wednesday was concealed behind a closed courtroom.
He is due to resume his testimony on Thursday morning when the trial before Justice Anthony Besanko resumes.
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