SAS members must be named in Afghanistan war crimes inquiry

Lynx helicopter Afghan war crimes SAS
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SAS soldiers implicated in war crimes should be named, a lawyer for alleged victims has said. In the opening session of an inquiry into the deaths during the Afghan war, the lawyers argued that blanket anonymity should not be given to members of the secretive unit.

One SAS soldier is said to have personally killed 35 Afghans. Legal representatives for the families claim soldiers carried out around 80 extrajudicial killings at the height of the war between 2010 and 2013.

Secret war crimes

Ministry of Defence (MoD) lawyers argued that identifying SAS soldiers would put them at risk. Further, they claimed that the MOD itself was expert enough at national security matters to say so. The inquiry is being led by lord Justice Haddon-Cave.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace made a rare move by acknowledging that the SAS were present in Afghanistan. Parliamentary convention is to never comment on special forces activity.

Allegations of a cover-up by the military have also circulated in the press. The NGO Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) said:

The inquiry also examines accusations of a systematic cover-up involving the highest echelons of the SAS and military investigators.

Referring to an earlier war crimes investigation conducted by the Royal Military Police named Operation Northmoor, AOAV said:

Read on...

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Upon being asked by Operation Northmoor investigators to examine the main computer server at the SAS headquarters in London, SAS commanders initially resisted. Subsequent orders to preserve all data were reportedly defied, with a significant quantity of data allegedly being erased before investigators could examine it.

Justice, finally?

Law firm Leigh Day is representing the families involved. When the MoD announced the inquiry in 2022, lawyer Tessa Gregory said:

Our clients have been fighting for years to find out what happened to their loved ones.
She said the military had tried to make sure the allegations never saw the light of day:

When they first issued these judicial review proceedings the Secretary of State for Defence contended that our clients’ pleas for a fresh investigation into the killings of their relatives were unarguable and sought to have their claims dismissed outright.

But ultimately, it had been the MoD’s own records which forced the statutory inquiry into existence, Gregory said:
Those documents show that members of the British army, including at the highest level, were raising serious and sustained concerns that UK Special Forces were carrying out extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan.

The MoD wants the inquiry heard in secret wherever possible. However, the BBC, Guardian, and others are currently pursuing a legal challenge in the interests of transparency. Other nations like Australia have had major trials around Afghan war crimes. However, the UK is yet to address these issues seriously.

This has an obvious deleterious effect on UK credibility. If British politicians want, for example, to point to other nations’ war crimes, they must be willing to hold themselves to the same standard.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Sgt Steve Blake, cropped 1910 x 1000, licenced under Open Government Licence.

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