Roberts-Smith trial enters ‘Heart of Darkness’ territory

Moses read another excerpt from McKenzie’s notes: “Some guys went up to Congo, the others did not.”

Hastie confirmed that this was a direct reference to Conrad’s novel, set in central Africa, and the film Apocalypse now, based on the novel but which takes place in Vietnam, which maps the descent into the murderous tyranny of the false army colonel Kurtz.

Federal Liberal MP and former elite soldier Andrew Hastie (left) has claimed that Ben Roberts-Smith was known for bullying someone with a SAS soldier.Credit:Louise Kennerley

What did he mean by some soldiers having “gone up to the Congo”, Moses asked.

“That time in the Congo has deteriorated [Kurtz’s] moral abilities, and he now works according to his own standards, ”Hastie replied.

“I think I said some guys went up to Congo, and I think, yes, [that] could have applied to Mr Roberts-Smith, but I think only in general. “

By giving a sincere insight into his own struggle with the aftermath of wartime experiences, he described dreams he had had there “we have killed one of our own guys and covered it up”. It spoke of “moral trauma,” he said. “I took the dream as a kind of metaphor for what we had done to ourselves.”

Hastie told the court that there was a “warrior culture” more prevalent in parts of the ancient SAS at the time, and “it was liberated from the theory of just war. You know, killing became a sacrament in itself.”

Scanning

It was an extraordinary testimony, especially from a man who now has a partial political responsibility to run Australia’s military.

But when asked if he had told others that Roberts-Smith was a war criminal, Hastie denied that he did: “I said serious allegations have been made and they must be answered.”

The media has accused the Victoria Cross recipient of having committed or participated in six illegal murders in Afghanistan, but Roberts-Smith denies all crimes and insists that he only killed men legally in combat.

Moses pointed out that in 2018 an investigation was underway by the Australian Defense Forces’ Inspector General on allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan.

He told Hastie that the main reason he had engaged with the Masters and McKenzie was to “accommodate” himself with the journalists and advance his political ambitions.

Hastie pushed back and said that if anything, his commitment and support for the journalists’ work would have been detrimental to his career.

“I made an assessment call that it was the right thing to do. Not very politically appropriate, but the right thing to do.”

He added that he had felt that the Inspector General’s investigation was “under serious political pressure” and “if the government fails, Parliament can not sort it out, then the media must help … I say that the events have taken place in this way because we have not been responsible. ”

Hastie admitted that he himself had never seen any illegal behavior by Roberts-Smith.

But his suspicions had been aroused, he said, by a “mosaic” of observations he had put together after a combat mission to Siah Chow, Afghanistan, in 2012, where Roberts-Smith had been patrol chief and Hastie an officer on an acquaintance trip. trip.

Also on that mission was Person 66, a younger soldier whom Hastie had known as a happy character back in Perth, but who on that trip saw him as anxious and a changed man.

Nine’s lawyers have claimed that Roberts-Smith instructed person 66 to kill an unarmed prisoner on Siah Chow that day as part of a “bloody” rite of passage, in which a soldier chalks up his first killing.

Hastie claims not to have seen this. But he said he saw Roberts-Smith’s patrol interrogate a group of prisoners and some time later he heard a radio call saying shots had been fired. The next time he saw Roberts-Smith, he told the federal court, the elite soldier had walked past him, glanced at him and said “just a few more dead c-ts”.

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Hastie says he eventually formed the notion that person 66 was “bloody” that day.

All of this seemed to herald great drama this week when Person 66 was going to court the very next day. But it quickly became clear that Person 66’s lawyer, Jack Tracey, would strongly oppose Nine’s attempt to get the former soldier into the witness box.

Undoubtedly, Tracey claimed, the media was anxious to present the man’s evidence. But the stakes could not be higher for his client.

What Person 66 would be forced to testify about was “such a serious form of crime” that it could endanger the ex-soldier’s life and liberty, Tracey claimed.

He noted that the ex-soldier was now living with post-traumatic stress disorder and a psychiatric report had warned that “giving evidence in this procedure would endanger him, his well-being and indeed his life”.

Nine’s lawyer Nicholas Owens, SC, was candid about the media’s case: “We’re trying to force this witness to confess to the murder.”

“It is possible for me to win this case without proving the murder of Siah Chow,” Owens told the judge. “But it is equally possible that I could win this case only proves the murder of Siah Chow. It is an independent path home to victory. ”

With the stakes so high, Judge Anthony Besanko reserved his decision for several hours before deciding that the “interests of justice” would not be best served by convincing evidence from the affected soldier.

But Owens had two last questions to ask person 66, knowing that he would not get the answers. While a member of Roberts-Smith’s Patrol in 2012, did he shoot a prisoner? And did he do it on the orders of Roberts-Smith?

To both, Person 66 replied, again: “I do not want to [to give the evidence]your honor. “

Then he was gone, after uttering less than 200 words in the witness box.

Nine have three more soldier witnesses to call before Roberts-Smith’s legal team begins rolling out their witnesses from the middle of this month.

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