UK govt attempting to cover up for soldiers accused of war crimes – media
British Special Forces linked to the extrajudicial killings of more than 80 people in Afghanistan must have their identities remain secret, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has argued, sources have told The Times newspaper.
The British government opened an investigation last year to probe allegations by families of Afghan detainees of over 30 incidents involving the executions of at least 80 prisoners, between 2010 and 2013. It has also confirmed for the first time that many of the claims are centered around a single “rogue” Special Air Service (SAS) unit, according to the BBC, whose initial investigation triggered the inquiry.
Both outlets also detailed that the Ministry of Defence attempted to prevent the publication of the names of SAS and Special Boat Service (SBS) soldiers who were allegedly involved, and asked that evidence be given to the inquiry privately.
In opening remarks delivered on the first day of preliminary hearings into the allegations on Wednesday, inquiry chairman Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said that the public was entitled to hear “as much as possible” but that this must be balanced against national security concerns.
This position was echoed by Brian Altman KC, legal counsel representing the MoD, who explained that identifying soldiers could be hazardous to the ongoing work of UK troops and could potentially place them in “serious risk.” He added that the MoD was “clearly expert” in identifying “national security risks.”
However, the firm representing family members of the deceased Afghans argued that some special forces members had frequently and openly spoken of the operations they were involved in. Richard Hermey KC of Leigh Day Solicitors presented the inquiry with a 57-page document detailing instances of soldiers talking about covert missions, including on YouTube and on social media.
Evidence was also submitted of claims that special forces commanders allegedly conspired to delete computer files that allegedly contained evidence that troops had illegally killed Afghan detainees.
Hermer added in his comments that the inquiry’s mission was in “ascertaining the truth, whatever that truth may turn out to be.” He also noted that a 2017 investigation by the Royal Military police, which recommended that no prosecutions be instigated, was evidence of a “wide-ranging, multilayered and years-long cover-up.”
In its own statement, the MoD said that it was “not appropriate” to comment on cases that are “within the scope of the statutory inquiry.”
Last month, Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated living soldier, was found by a federal court judge to have been complicit in the deaths of unarmed Afghan civilians while serving in the country.