Former Australian special forces officer Heston Russell has launched legal action against the ABC and two of its journalists over reports alleging he was involved in war crimes in Afghanistan.
Russell filed the lawsuit against the national broadcaster and journalists Mark Willacy and Josh Robertson.
Willacy was awarded Australian journalism's highest honour, a Gold Walkley in 2020, for his work on alleged war crimes by Australian special forces troops.
Court statements show Russell's legal team pointing to an article published in November which alleged he was suspected of committing war crimes by the Australian Department of Defence as while on deployment in Afghanistan.
The article ran under the headline 'US marine says Australian special forces made ‘deliberate decision to break the rules of war’.
The Epoch Times reported:
The article cites a former U.S. Marines helicopter crew chief who said Russell was responsible for killing a hogtied prisoner in Helmand Province in July 2012 because there was no room for him on the aircraft.
The article was linked to an earlier piece in October that featured allegations from the U.S. Marines chief—a door gunner providing aerial cover for Australian soldiers.
“By reason of the publication and republication of the November Article and Linked Article, Russell has been gravely injured in his character, his personal reputation, and his professional reputation as a former member of the armed forces and has suffered and will continue to suffer substantial hurt, distress and embarrassment,” according to the statement of claim (pdf).
In response, the public broadcaster issued a statement to The Epoch Times saying, “The ABC will defend its journalism on this important issue of public interest.”
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A subsequent article by Roberson published in 2021 claimed there was an active criminal investigation into the ‘November’ platoon of the Australian Army in Afghanistan in 2012. The story also identified Russell as the then commander of the platoon.
Russell, who has come out as gay, has been a popular target of the mainstream media and has made waves in political circles with the Australian Values Party.