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The public inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan is said to be partly secret

A public inquiry into allegations of war crimes by British forces in Afghanistan will be held in part in secret, the chairman said.

Sir Charles Haddon-Cave ruled that some evidence, witness identities and testimonies would be restricted to closed sessions where the media and public would not be allowed to attend.

This comes after the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Royal Military Police (RMP), who are accused of failing to investigate the allegations, requested sweeping restrictions, citing national security and privacy.

The reasons for the Chair's conclusions are set out in a decision, which is itself private.

In his ruling, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said there were “important reasons of national security and other reasons why many hearings must be held entirely in camera.” [behind closed doors].” Sky News has asked the inquiry to explain what “other reasons” means.

The chairman said he examined the evidence and concluded that “for the reasons set out in my concluded judgment, there is a strong and compelling argument that there is a real risk that serious harm to national security will be caused.” ‘ if the Department of Defense's request for secrecy were not granted.

The order withheld the disclosure of information about methods, tactics and equipment used by British and foreign partners, as well as details on the identities of witnesses from the Ministry of Defense and the RMP. It bans public access to “risk information”, although the Chair himself is seeking clarity on what that means.

The allegations of extrajudicial killings are part of a BBC and The Times investigation into the allegations Rogue SAS units executed innocent civilians during a campaign of night raids to capture Taliban fighters.

According to the evidence presented for the investigation, between 2010 and 2013, up to 80 people were killed in suspicious circumstances by three out of four SAS squadrons.

The documents detailed the squadrons' high kill rate, with one soldier shooting dead 35 people in a single six-month deployment.

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Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Afghanistan, reads an opening statement during the official opening of the inquiry at the International Dispute Resolution Center in London.  Picture date: Wednesday March 22, 2023.
Sir Charles Haddon-Cave is leading the inquiry

“Blanket” restrictions are not in the interest of open justice – the victims' families

Victims' families had argued that “blanket” restrictions were not in the interest of an open justice system. Public hearings could be painful and humiliating, they argued, but “damage to reputation is not a blanket justification for anonymity.”

In an unusual move, the Chair has also denied the families access to special counsel charged with reviewing material heard in closed sessions and representing the interests of the expelled party.

Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day Solicitors, who represents the Afghan families, told Sky News: “We are carefully reviewing this ruling and its implications for the conduct of the investigation.”

“For our clients who are alleging their loved ones were murdered by British special forces in Afghanistan, it is of the utmost importance that the truth comes to light and that they are able to fully participate in the investigation.”

Sky News and other media companies are challenging the bid

Sky News is among a number of media outlets that have filed challenges to the request for restrictive orders from the Department of Defense and the RMP.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “The independent legal inquiry into Afghanistan will investigate alleged unlawful activities by UK forces during premeditated detention operations between mid-2010 and mid-2013.”

“It is inappropriate for the Ministry of Defense to comment on cases falling within the scope of the statutory inquiry and it is for the statutory inquiry team, headed by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, to determine which allegations will be investigated.”

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