A public inquiry on the extra-judicial killing of 80 civilians in Afghanistan by members of the British military begins hearings in the UK.
The hearings will begin in public on Monday, but large sections of the inquiry will be conducted behind closed doors on national security grounds.
After years of legal challenges and investigative journalism, the independent inquiry was ordered by Britain’s defense ministry just last December. It focuses on allegations that members of three different Special Air Service (SAS) units carried out dozens of extra-judicial killings in Afghanistan between mid-2010 and mid-2013.
Judicial review proceedings were brought by the Saifullah and Noorzai families in 2019 and 2020. They argued that their family members were killed as a result of a policy of extrajudicial killings that were subsequently covered up by the SAS and by the British government.
The day after four members of Saifullah’s family were killed during a night raid on February 16, 2011, an SAS sergeant major had described the episode as “the latest massacre!” in an email revealed during the judicial review, suggesting the episode was not an isolated incident.
Tessa Gregory from Leigh Day, a law firm which is representing families of 29 people who were killed, said “Our clients hope that the opening of this inquiry marks the end of ‘the wall of silence’ and obstruction that has confronted them over the last decade.”
“The bereaved families look to the inquiry to fearlessly uncover the truth of the deaths of their loved ones and to ensure that those responsible are held to account.”
The chair Charles Haddon-Cave has said the allegations were “extremely serious.”
He noted that the inquiry would examine whether there was unlawful activity by British military personnel and whether any extra-judicial killings were covered up.
“In 2012, our house was raided by foreigners and my brother and sister-in-law were killed and their two children severely injured whilst they were sleeping in their bed,” Mansour Aziz said in a statement released by Leigh Day.
“We want to know the truth and why it was our house that was raided. We are asking for the court to listen to these children and bring justice.”
The inquiry is expected to run for several months. However, the judge or its legal staff, according to the inquiry officials, had no plans to try to visit Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power following the US chaotic withdrawal from the country in August 2021.
Iain Overton, the executive director for Action on Armed Violence, who has been involved in investigating the allegations, said efforts should be made to visit the country or at least the judge should “find more engaged ways of verifying these claims.”
“The inquiry failing to go to Afghanistan is like a homicide unit not visiting the murder scene,” Overton said.
British forces were among the largest contingents of the US-led NATO military alliance forces that invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to purportedly root out the ruling Taliban government and terrorism across war-ravaged Afghanistan.
However, after 20 years of their military occupation of the country -- marked by many reports of war crimes against Afghan civilians and militants by the US-led forces -- terror acts remained prevalent across the country and the Taliban rule was re-established in Kabul.
Meanwhile, Afghan families demand a transparent and impartial investigation into atrocities and wrongdoings committed by the British SAS troops and other Western forces during the military occupation of Afghanistan.
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