“No witch hunts but no cover ups”

It’s been an extraordinary few days. When I agreed to be interviewed by the Sunday Times and the BBC over allegations the SAS killed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan I knew I would be getting into hot water.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have expressed admiration at my bravery or incredulity at my stupidity.

Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of being a Taliban loving apologist and, despite the glorious summer sunshine, it has not been an especially carefree few days.

I believe we forgot some important lessons from history in Afghanistan. Field Marshal Slim, one of Britain’s most successful and respected wartime military leaders, described Special Forces ops in Burma as ‘deeply embarrassing to the commanders on the ground’ because they were ‘controlled from some distant headquarters…with a complete lack of coordination among themselves and in dangerous ignorance of local tactical developments.’

It’s my view that Slim’s statement, written in 1945, could equally have been applied to Afghanistan in 2012.

David Stirling, the revered founder of the SAS, expressed concern over the legitimacy of some SAS missions in the latter stages of WW2, which he considered to be nothing less than ‘executions in cold blood’.  Contemporary accounts by former SAS soldiers of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have also alleged so-called mercy killings by special forces operatives in direct contravention of the law of armed conflict and similar to that which saw Sergeant Alexander Blackman convicted of manslaughter.

I cannot say whether or not the current allegations are true but I do believe that the lack of oversight and accountability that the SAS enjoys makes it possible. I maintain that I saw enough in Afghanistan to suggest that an investigation is warranted but I also agree with Lord Dannatt, the former Head of the Army, that there should be ‘no witch hunts but no cover-ups’ . The Ministry of Defence should not be allowed to make this go away.

On the morning of 10th March 2012, British Special Forces burst into the offices of Haji Gul, a respected businessmen in Gereshk, the District Capital of Nahr-E-Saraj and violently abducted him on suspicion that he was a Taliban financier. Bound and blindfolded he was taken to a detention centre in Camp Bastion where he was held for 30 days without charge or access to legal representation before being released without explanation or apology.

At the time I counselled against this course of action but was over-ruled on the basis that if Haji was innocent he would not object to being kidnapped and held against his will. If special forces operatives have nothing to hide it seems to me that they should not now object to an investigation into their conduct, all the while enjoying their liberty and access to justice. Even in war, soldiers are not above the law.


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