New Zealand SAS soldiers. (File photo)
A man pictured wearing Ku Klux Klan attire, holding a noose and burning a cross at a party while serving in Australia’s SAS in Afghanistan was a former New Zealand SAS soldier, a court heard.
The photos drew worldwide attention when it emerged Australian soldiers had used a dead man’s prosthetic leg as a drinking vessel at such parties.
The ex-soldier, codenamed Person 35, appeared in Australian Federal Court in Sydney today in a libel case brought by former Australian SAS Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith.
Roberts-Smith is a Victoria Cross recipient and his country’s most decorated living soldier. He is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over a series of articles claiming he committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
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Roberts-Smith denies the allegations. His lawyers have argued that the accusations leveled against him by some of his former comrades are motivated by jealousy and malice. The newspapers plead for the defense of the truth.
The 35 person was a member of a 2004 NZSAS patrol which was attacked in Afghanistan by insurgents – an event which led to New Zealand serviceman Willie Apiata being awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions including carrying a comrade seriously injured in a safe place.
The 35 person later joined the Australian SAS and served with Roberts-Smith in Afghanistan in 2009. He told the court that he joined the Australian SAS because there were more prospects for deployment and because the salary and training were better. He now works in New Zealand, but was granted the removal of his name by the Australian court on national security grounds.
The court heard that Roberts-Smiths’ employer, billionaire Kerry Stokes, owner of Australia’s Channel Seven Network, was paying Person 35’s legal costs in the defamation case. Person 35 is testifying for Roberts-Smith.
The court also heard that Stokes had paid 35 person’s legal fees related to an investigation by the Inspector General of the Australian Defense Force (IGADF) into war crimes allegedly committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan.
Person 35, along with other current and former Australian Special Forces soldiers, was interviewed under oath by the IGADF investigation. This investigation found evidence that 39 Afghan prisoners or civilians had been murdered by Australian special forces or on their instructions.
The Australian Federal Police are currently investigating these war crimes allegations.
Person 35 is a key witness in the defamation proceedings as he was present with Robert-Smith and other SAS soldiers during a 2009 raid on a compound known as Whiskey 108. Some of these soldiers testified that during this mission, Roberts-Smith killed an Afghan and allegedly ordered a junior SAS soldier to execute another. Robert-Smith denies issuing execution orders and says the man he shot was a legitimate armed target.
There is no evidence that Person 35 participated in any of the murders.
The person Roberts-Smith allegedly killed in the raid had a prosthetic leg. It was abducted by another SAS soldier and brought back to the Australian SAS base at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province and used as a drinking instrument at parties.
It was on one such party that the 35 person allegedly wore Ku Klux Klan attire and was photographed holding a noose and burning a cross. He was identified by another person in court last week as the man wearing the Ku Klux Klan costume.
The Ku Klux Klan is a white supremacist terrorist group formed in America over 150 years ago. Its members were known to wear white robes and hoods, burn crosses, and lynch victims.
Former Defense Minister Dr Wayne Mapp said the alleged actions of the 35 person would be a betrayal of the values taught in the New Zealand Defense Force. He said recent media reports had highlighted differences between New Zealand and Australian special forces in terms of their treatment of indigenous people.
These reports, from the ABC’s Four Corners program, revealed that NZSAS soldiers and a New Zealand military lawyer in East Timor had complained about the conduct of their Australian counterparts, including the desecration of bodies following of an exchange of fire and ill-treatment of prisoners.
An NZSAS officer quoted by Four Corners described the Australian SAS in East Timor as “cowboys”.
Mapp said: “It would be very disappointing if a former New Zealand SAS soldier who joined the Australian SAS did not meet the same high standards that have always been maintained by our special forces”.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that former Defense Minister Dr Wayne Mapp called the alleged actions of the Australian SAS a betrayal of the values taught in the New Zealand Defense Force. Mapp was referring to the alleged actions of Person 35. (Edited April 26, 2022, 10:29 p.m.).