Ben Roberts-Smith wasn’t in earshot when his SAS patrol commander spoke of the need to “blood the rookie” during a 2009 tour in Afghanistan, a court has been told.
A still-serving soldier, codenamed Person 14, last week said Mr Roberts-Smith had been “present” when the statement was made inside a large room of the Australian base in Tarin Kowt in 2009.
But under cross-examination on Tuesday, he clarified the now-retired SAS corporal was in the room but not in the conversation between the patrol commander, Person 14 and a few others.
That led to an accusation by the Victoria Cross recipient’s lawyer that the witness had lied to the Federal Court in his earlier evidence.
“You’ve come here to throw Mr Roberts-Smith under the bus in any way you can, haven’t you?” Arthur Moses SC said.
“No, he was present in the room, but not present in the circle we were in,” Person 14 replied.
“When you said … that Mr Roberts-Smith was present, he wasn’t present, was he?” Mr Moses continued.
“He was in the room but he was not part of that. He was present but not for that conversation,” the witness said.
The phrase references a junior soldier getting their first kill in action, and allegedly led to Mr Roberts-Smith being complicit and responsible for the shooting of an unarmed, non-threatening man by a rookie soldier during an April 2009 mission to a Taliban compound dubbed Whiskey 108.
That allegation is a key incident described in three newspapers’ reports about Mr Roberts-Smith, which the war hero is now suing over.
The 43-year-old former soldier has denied allegations of war crimes and murders, claiming such reports in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times in 2018 unlawfully defamed him.
The newspapers, pleading a truth defence, say the 2009 tour involved Mr Roberts-Smith and his patrol commander, codenamed Person Five, making statements at various times about their need to “blood the rookie”.
Person 14 denied hearing Mr Roberts-Smith utter the phrase.
He told the court of his admiration for the decorated soldier in 2012, despite holding doubts about the citation for Mr Roberts-Smith’s brave acts in 2010 that earned him the rarely awarded VC.
The witness however didn’t detail what he doubted, conceding he wasn’t in Afghanistan at the time and that he in “no way” doubted Mr Roberts-Smith placed his life in danger.
He denied he resented the fact Mr Roberts-Smith was awarded the VC.
The witness last week alleged he saw the VC recipient walk up to an interpreter and say “tell him to shoot him (the detainee) or I will” towards the end of the mission in Khaz Uruzgan in Afghanistan in 2012.
After some discussion, one local soldier stepped forward and unloaded seven to 10 rounds into the detained man.
The war hero has denied all allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, rubbishing some of the media outlets’ claims as “ridiculous”.
The hearing continues.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Open Arms 1800 011 046