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SAS accused of concealing evidence in Afghan civilian killings – Declassified joins other media in covering the inquiry into UK Special Forces

In a revealing article by Richard Norton-Taylor for Declassified, details about the Special Air Service (SAS) of the British Army allegedly destroying evidence that could have been crucial in investigating the suspicious killing of unarmed Afghans have been noted. This information came to light during hearings of an inquiry set up following claims that SAS soldiers unlawfully killed more than 50 Afghans between 2010 and 2013, and which AOAV has been following closely.

The evidence, which AOAV reported on at the time, discloses that the SAS deleted data from its computers, seemingly breaking promises made to the Royal Military Police (RMP). This act, according to Richard Hermer KC, counsel for the Afghan victims, could be seen as a deliberate attempt to obstruct justice in a multiple homicide investigation. Oliver Glasgow KC, counsel for the Inquiry, acknowledged the gravity of this allegation, suggesting it was part of a cover-up to prevent the RMP from uncovering evidence of extra-judicial killings.

The Declassified article also presents to a wider audience the extent of the SAS’s alleged misconduct. Unidentified SAS soldiers, giving evidence with distorted voices, claimed ignorance of the relevance of the data to the allegations, despite being instructed to investigate its deletion. A senior RMP officer, Declassified notes, accused the SAS of disregarding their requests and being evasive in providing crucial data.

Furthermore, the sensitivity of the data dispute led to the involvement of General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, then director of Britain’s special forces and later head of the Army. The inquiry has revealed that Operation Northmoor, the investigation into the alleged war crimes, was handled internally by the SAS instead of independently, causing frustration among the military police.

The inquiry has also heard of instances where the SAS’s actions led to civilian casualties, including an incident where two Afghans were killed while asleep, injuring two children. Emails from 2011 written by special forces members expressed disbelief and skepticism about the official accounts of SAS night raids that resulted in Afghan casualties. As AOAV has noted, BBC Panorama disclosed that a senior British general, General Gwyn Jenkins, was warned about SAS soldiers executing handcuffed detainees but chose to classify the evidence instead of forwarding it to the military police.

Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day law firm representing Afghan victims, emphasized the need for answers regarding the deletion of data by UK special forces during Operation Northmoor. She pointed out the peculiar situation where the special forces were left to conduct an internal investigation once it was apparent that data was missing.

The Norton-Taylor article also comments on the broader implications of these revelations. It argues that the incident has shattered the image of Britain’s special forces as a uniquely professional and law-abiding unit. It highlights the extreme secrecy surrounding these forces, more stringent than that of the UK’s security and intelligence agencies. While parliament is denied information about their activities, defense correspondents are selectively fed information about their operations.

The case of Ben Griffin is noted. A former SAS soldier who revealed the handover of detainees to US and indigenous security authorities, resulting in their transportation to Guantanamo Bay, Griffin was subsequently silenced by a high court order obtained by the Ministry of Defence.

Lastly, the article points out the increasing collaboration between Britain’s special forces, MI6, and GCHQ, noting that their activities are not scrutinised by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. This lack of oversight raises concerns about the accountability of these elite units and the potential erosion of parliamentary oversight of intelligence and security matters.

Few news outlets have covered the inquiry in depth – with BBC Panorama, the Guardian and Declassified notable exceptions. Such reporting is valued and important, but a lack of public interest in the inquiry means that scandalous revelations and the weight of public opinion on the inquiry’s outcomes are of concern. The SAS hold such a special place in the British cultural hierarchy that to hold it to account requires a persistent light to be shone on its failings. Declassified is part of that light-bringing.