Ben Roberts-Smith: Who’s Really Responsible?


Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for an action in Afghanistan. Most Australians are happy to accept that he is a hero who deserves our respect. However there have always been some who did not feel that way about him. Both within the military and the media. He was accused of bullying behaviour towards other soldiers and more seriously of mistreating prisoners, at least one of whom it is alleged was killed upon his orders.

In fact the Australian SAS (Special Air Service) has been accused of mistreating prisoners and even of ‘blooding’ soldiers. Blooding is where a less experienced soldier is ordered to kill a prisoner to prove that he is capable of killing and that he is loyal. It has been alleged that 39 Afghans were murdered in 23 separate incidents. Now accusations are not proof and far too often in these stories accusations have been treated that way. But these are serious accusations and they tend to get laid at the feet of just one man.

I do think that the SAS was given too much leeway in Afghanistan. That the supervision and oversight that should have existed, existed in theory but not in practice. That they were stretched and overused, that they were burdened with too much responsibility. Responsibility that lay elsewhere. Wars of insurgency are political wars that require that military force be used to support political solutions. It appears that the SAS was instead used as if it were fighting bandits.

Why is it that it seems that the more junior, the more responsible someone is held to be?

Why were the SAS given so little oversight?

Why weren’t these problems picked up while they were going on?

Why was the debriefing of soldiers so poor?

The question that I have most of all, is where was the senior leadership?

Why aren’t Generals and politicians being asked these questions?

I have heard it said that a soldier gets in more trouble for losing his rifle than a general does for losing a war and it’s all true. No-one’s responsible unless the system wants you to be responsible and then it doesn’t matter if you’re responsible or not.

Originally published at Upon Hope. You can find Mark’s Subscribestar here.