Ex-soldier lambasts ABC defamation defence

By Miklos Bolza

An ex-commando has criticised the ABC’s defence in a defamation case brought over reports an Afghani prisoner of war was unlawfully killed because they did not fit on a military helicopter.

Heston Russell, who served in the Australian Defence Force from 2003 to 2019, is suing the ABC over an article first published in November last year regarding a claimed criminal investigation into a platoon serving in Afghanistan in 2012.

Named in the article, Mr Russell says the article wrongly implied he was involved in the unlawful killing of a hogtied prisoner in Afghan’s Helmand province, that he was the subject to an active criminal investigation, and that he had callously denied the allegations.

The November piece linked to an earlier October 2020 report about claims made by a US marine referred to as “Josh” who accused Australian soldiers of the unlawful killing of the prisoner because there was not enough room on the helicopter.

The ex-commando claims these joint articles further defamed him by implying he “habitually killed people unnecessarily” while in Afghanistan and that he left “fire and bodies” in his wake.

“The story in the linked article was wrong to the ABC’s knowledge and despite knowing that shortly after publication of the November article, it stubbornly persisted in its defence of ‘journalism’ that was indefensible,” he wrote.

The ABC, which admitted that the November article breached its own accuracy standards, personally apologised to Russell and amended the piece but has not taken the reports down nor issued a public apology.

In its defence, the national broadcaster denied the article defamed Mr Russell and argued that it was published in the public interest. It has claimed that some lower level imputations were truthful, but denies that the report connected the former soldier to war crimes.

The organisation also argued several other imputations were true, including that members of Russell’s platoon were “reasonably suspected” of committing crimes in Afghanistan and were under investigation, and that his reputation could not be further harmed as a result.

In a reply filed on Friday, Mr Russell slammed the details of the ABC’s defence, saying they were “dishonest in their context, evasive and included merely to besmirch (him)”.

He said it was all part of an attempt to intimidate and put improper pressure on him to dissuade him from commencing or maintain the proceedings.

He is seeking to eliminate whole portions of the news organisation’s defence, including a 10-page annexure which details alleged criminal breaches of the rules of engagement made by him and his platoon  in Afghanistan.

Mr Russell, who is also founder of the Australian Values Party, denies involvement in any criminal conduct.

A report by the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force released in November 2020 “did not find credible evidence of war crimes” by the 2nd Commando Regiment of which he was a part, he wrote.

The ABC is facing claims for damages and aggravated damages with Mr Russell claiming his reputation has been “gravely injured” as a result of the publications.

Part of this alleged aggravation includes an article by the ABC published in December last year which claimed Mr Russell lied about selling nude photographs on OnlyFans to raise funds for veterans charity Swiss 8.

Investigative journalists Joshua Robertson and Mark Willacy have also been named in the lawsuit.

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  • Rodger October 21, 2022  

    Good luck with your case against the the pricks at the ABC

  • Alan Foyle October 21, 2022  

    I am so sick and tired of the ABC and the BS they produce and send out to the public. Why don’t we react to this BS? I print out the ABC news(?) items, cut them into 5″ x 5″ pieces and stick them on a nail in my toilet. About the only use I can find for them.

  • Greg October 21, 2022  

    Russell is suing the ABC for defamation so the ABC has defended its actions. Now Russell is disagreeing with the ABC defence. This is normal “argy-bargy” in the Court. Both parties have time to argue their case. Let’s see what the Judge and jury decide.

  • Colin Carruthers October 22, 2022  

    About time they got pulled into line for the lies that they print to get a headline

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