Former special forces commando Heston Russell has hit back at an ABC journalist over alleged war crimes, challenging the media to define “heat of battle”.
During a fiery press conference in Canberra, Mr Russell challenged journalists over the Brereton Report.
He insisted that soldiers had a right to the presumption of innocence.
“Isn’t the lowest of the low, the most unAustralian act, the fact that we had special forces soldiers, in Australia’s name, murdering at least 39 innocents?,’’ the ABC’s political editor Andrew Probyn asked.
The former special forces officer lashed out at Mr Probyn, accusing Australia of running a trial by media.
“The lowest of the low is that you continue to stand here and accuse them of crimes … that must stand in court,’’ he said.
“I was there on the ground. I did not see these things. If any of you were on the ground, please feel free to speak up.
“So, here today we are saying that the allegations are shocking, are confronting and if proven are unAustralian. But what is unAustralian is not affording the due process.
“We want due process afforded and we want the Australian public to know what’s going on.”
As the press conference continued, Mr Russell demanded the name of Probyn.
“What’s your name?” he said, to which Probyn responded: “Andrew.”
“Andrew, what is the heat of battle?,’’ he asked.
“Well, I am quoting the report and this is also something that has been made clear by the CDF (the chief of defence force) and the minister,’’ the journalist said.
Mr Russell and Ms Lambie asked Probyn again: “So, what is the heat of battle?”
“So, when I went out on operations, we went on operations to catch an insurgent …’’ Mr Russell said.
However the journalist quickly jumped in and said: “you asked me a question, one of the alleged murders is captured on film” and added that in the footage someone was shot at point blank range.
“That doesn’t look like the heat of battle.”
Mr Russell said that members of the special forces were required to go out and prosecute targets on a list.
“The Americans and the British would drop bombs on these people, we would not afford the collateral damage. So, we sent out soldiers out there to capture and kill them and under legal authority could have done so in any circumstances.
“That situation is particular is indeed an allegation that I am going to afford the presumption of innocence.
“I was not there and it is not right for me to comment. Unless you were there, and understand the heat of battle I am not going to dive into opinions.”
Mr Russell was then asked if the rules of engagement allowed for special forces to kill anyone which he responded was not the case.
“No. So, the rules of engagement were if someone was classified on the JPEL (Joint Priorities Effect List) as being a known terrorist insurgent we had an authority from back in the headquarters to drop a bomb on them or send a team out to kill or capture them,’’ Mr Russell said.
The Brereton inquiry report has revealed there have allegedly been 39 unlawful killings of prisoners and civilians by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Chief of Defence Force has said that none of the alleged killings occurred in the heat of battle.
19 personnel have been referred for criminal investigation.
This article originally appeared on Over60.