AOAV: all our reportsIndependent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan

Judge rules partial confidential hearings in UK Special Forces war crimes inquiry

The investigation into potential war crimes committed by British Special Forces troops in Afghanistan will undergo select proceedings in confidentiality, as per the decision of the presiding judge, Sir Charles Haddon-Cave.

He decreed that certain testimonies, pieces of evidence, and the identities of witnesses will be restricted to closed-door sessions, out of the public and media’s view.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Royal Military Police (RMP) had previously called for comprehensive limitations, pointing to concerns over national security and individual privacy. These bodies have faced criticism for not thoroughly investigating the claims.

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave’s rationale for these private sessions is documented in a confidential ruling. He asserted, based on his examination of the evidence, that there was a pronounced risk of significant national security breaches if the MoD’s plea for secrecy wasn’t heeded.

This order ensures that details about the strategies, equipment, and identity of both UK and allied military operatives, including MoD and RMP witnesses, remain undisclosed. There remains ambiguity surrounding terms like “risk of information,” and even Lord Justice Haddon-Cave has sought clearer definitions.

At the heart of these allegations are claims, as uncovered by AOAV, the BBC and The Times, that renegade SAS units systematically executed civilians during nocturnal operations intended to detain Taliban militants.

Evidence suggests that between 2010 and 2013, suspicious killings of nearly 80 individuals occurred at the hands of select SAS squadrons.

The families of the victims have contended that overarching limitations are detrimental to the principle of open justice. They maintain that potential harm to reputation should not automatically warrant anonymity. Moreover, in a deviation from the norm, these families have been barred from accessing special advocates, individuals who typically review confidential material and uphold the interests of the parties not present.

Tessa Gregory, representing the Afghan families, expressed their dedication to revealing the truth and ensuring their complete involvement in the inquiry. This move by the chair to enforce restrictions has been contested not only by the families but also by several media entities and by AOAV.

An MoD spokesperson said: “The independent statutory inquiry relating to Afghanistan will investigate alleged unlawful activity by British Armed Forces during deliberate detention operations between mid-2010 to mid-2013.

“It is not appropriate for the MoD to comment on cases which are within the scope of the statutory inquiry and it is up to the statutory inquiry team, led by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, to determine which allegations are investigated.”