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AOAV: all our reportsIndependent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan

Veterans Minister withholds suspects’ names in SAS war crimes inquiry

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer has ignited controversy by withholding the names of individuals he suspects to be involved in extrajudicial killings by UK special forces in Afghanistan, despite his acknowledgment of these severe allegations during a public inquiry. Mercer, who has a background with a Special Boat Service (SBS) task force and attempted selection for the UK’s elite units, expressed his inability to disprove the war crime allegations levied against the Special Air Service (SAS).

During his testimony, Mercer revealed his intensive search for evidence to counter the claims of illegal killings, highlighting his deep-seated respect for the units under scrutiny and his personal connections to members who served in Afghanistan. Despite his efforts, he admitted to encountering only implausible explanations from special forces commanders, further intensifying his suspicions.

The inquiry, prompted by investigations including a BBC Panorama report, seeks to determine the truth behind claims that British special forces were responsible for the unlawful deaths of civilians and unarmed individuals during night raids between 2010 and 2013. Mercer’s role as Veterans Minister placed him in a unique position to investigate these allegations, which he undertook with a stated reluctance to believe the worst about a unit he holds in high esteem.

His revelations included receiving direct accounts from current special forces members, including a disturbing admission about the practice of carrying “drop weapons” to fabricate threats posed by victims. However, Mercer’s steadfast refusal to name those who had confided in him about potential war crimes, or to confirm the significance of their evidence, drew criticism and prompted an intervention from the inquiry’s chair, Sir Charles Haddon-Cave.

This stance not only underscores the complexities of addressing allegations of misconduct within military ranks but also raises questions about the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to hold perpetrators accountable. The inquiry continues to delve into whether the previous Royal Military Police investigation, Operation Northmoor, was sufficiently thorough in its examination of these grave accusations.

As the inquiry progresses, Mercer’s testimony sheds light on the entrenched challenges of confronting allegations of extrajudicial killings within the military, highlighting both the personal and institutional dilemmas faced by those in positions of authority. The Veterans Minister’s refusal to reveal names, while protecting sources, places a spotlight on the broader issue of transparency and accountability within the UK’s armed forces and raises question as to whether this Minister knows people who committed war crimes and yet shields them from prosecution.

Dr. Iain Overton of AOAV said of the Tory minister’s reluctance to name people linked to potential extra-judicial killings: “The refusal to name those suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killings not only undermines the pursuit of justice but also casts a long shadow over the principles of accountability and transparency that should underpin military operations. It’s crucial that we hold those responsible to account to maintain the integrity of our armed forces and the rule of law, and even more so that Conservative party ministers are shown to lead the way on such accountability.”