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Former Minister Johnny Mercer ordered to comply with Section 21 notice in Afghanistan Inquiry into Special Forces killings

The Afghanistan Inquiry has refused the Section 21(4) application submitted by Johnny Mercer, the UK’s former Veterans’ Minister. This ruling mandates Mercer – who lost his role as a member of parliament in the 4th July elections – to comply with the notice issued under the Inquiries Act 2005, compelling him to disclose critical information by 4 pm on Thursday, July 25th, or risk the case being referred to the High Court.

The Inquiry, chaired by Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, is investigating grave allegations of multiple murders involving UK Special Forces during operations in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013. Mercer had previously argued for the confidentiality of his informants, emphasizing the need to maintain integrity and protect those who had confided in him about potential war crimes.

In a statement, the Inquiry spokesperson highlighted Mercer’s refusal to provide information crucial to uncovering the truth about the alleged misconduct. Despite acknowledging the Inquiry’s secure measures to protect the identities of sources and witnesses, and the legal protections offered against prosecution for breaches of the Official Secrets Act or misconduct reporting failures, Mercer has remained steadfast in his refusal.

The Inquiry said: “Mr Mercer is refusing to disclose information which may be important to a public inquiry which is seeking to establish the truth about grave allegations of multiple murder involving UK Special Forces. Mr Mercer accepts the Inquiry has secure measures in place to protect the names and identities of his sources and that witnesses coming forward to the Inquiry have protection from risk of prosecution for breaches of the Official Secrets Act or for failure to report misconduct. The Chair has given Mr Mercer a further two weeks to comply with the s.21 Notice. The Chairs concluding observations were that “Integrity requires moral courage to do what is right, even when it may not be popular”.

Mercer’s resistance to disclose information has been a contentious issue, drawing criticism from various quarters.

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, remarked, “Non-disclosure of potential witnesses in a murder investigation, especially by a member of the Privy Council, undermines the very principles of justice and accountability. It is imperative that all avenues are explored to bring the truth to light, ensuring those affected can find closure and those responsible are held to account.”

This ruling follows a series of extensions granted to Mercer. During his testimony in March, Mercer faced criticism for not answering legitimate questions posed by the Inquiry. He had claimed that several officers, during his time as a backbench MP, privately expressed concerns over possible extrajudicial killings by UK Special Forces.

Mercer, who served in Afghanistan with a Special Boat Service (SBS) task force from 2008 to 2009, recounted a direct account from a serving SBS member about being instructed to carry a “drop weapon” – a non-NATO firearm to be placed on the bodies of those killed to suggest they were armed, raising serious ethical and legal concerns.

The Inquiry’s decision underscores the importance of integrity and moral courage, as highlighted in the Chair’s concluding observations. As the investigation proceeds, the detailed examination of alleged misconduct by British forces in Afghanistan continues to unfold, with Mercer’s forthcoming decision eagerly awaited.