Johnny Mercer threatened with prison by Afghan inquiry chiefs

  • Post last modified:March 27, 2024
  • Reading time:5 mins read

A UK Tory minister is on a collision course with the law over his refusal to reveal the sources of allegations that British special forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Johnny Mercer has been threatened with a fine or even prison if he doesn’t comply.

Mercer, Britain’s minister for veterans, has said “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and a subsequent cover-up during the Afghan conflict. However, he has refused to divulge their identities to a public inquiry examining whether a unit executed males of “fighting age” who posed no threat in the war-torn country between 2010 and 2013.

Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan

Afghan families have accused UK special forces of conducting a “campaign of murder” against civilians, while senior officers and personnel at the Ministry of Defence “sought to prevent adequate investigation”.

As the Canary reported, one SAS soldier is said to have personally killed 35 Afghans. Legal representatives for the families claim soldiers carried out around 80 extrajudicial killings at the height of the war between 2010 and 2013.

The Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan is scrutinising two investigations conducted by the Royal Military Police, which is responsible for the policing of army personnel. No charges were brought under Operation Northmoor, which was set up in 2014 to examine allegations of executions by special forces, including those of children. Three soldiers were referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority, but none was prosecuted.

Now, the inquiry published a statement on Tuesday 26 March saying it had ordered Mercer to hand over the names next week or face a potential prison sentence.

Johnny Mercer: name names or face prison

It revealed that it had issued the MP with a Section 21 notice under Britain’s Inquiries Act 2005 on 13 March. The published order compels Johnny Mercer to provide a witness statement containing the names of the whistleblowers by 3pm on Friday 5 April.

Failure to comply without a reasonable excuse would be “a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine”, the notice says.

Signed by the probe’s chairman, Charles Haddon-Cave, it adds that the High Court in London could enforce the order through contempt of court proceedings, which “may result in imprisonment”.

The order insists the names “will be treated in confidence” and would not be disclosed to anyone who is not a member of the inquiry’s legal team without Mercer’s consent. If he is unable to fulfil the order or believes it is unreasonable, then he has until 3 April to appeal. Mercer is expected to do so.

He repeatedly refused to disclose the names when he gave evidence to the inquiry last month, during a series of testy exchanges with the inquiry’s counsel. Mercer also refused to reveal the name of a Special Boat Service (SBS) member who said he had been asked to carry a “drop weapon” – a weapon taken on an operation to place next to an unarmed individual.

“The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity and I will be doing that with these individuals,” said Mercer.

Haddon-Cave accused the minister of obstructing the inquiry, saying he had a “misguided understanding of the term integrity and an inappropriate sense of loyalty”.

Johnny Mercer: caving in to the state

Of course, Johnny Mercer originally dug into what went on in Afghanistan – but then caved in later on.

As Prospect wrote:

Mercer deserves great credit for setting out what happened [in Afghanistan] when he came to have doubts. That the explanations he received for these killings of detainees simply do not add up could not have been put in a more persuasive form than his witness statement. But ultimately his doubts led nowhere other than him telling journalists and veterans to look to the Ministry of Defence for answers—the same department that, according to him, would not even give answers to one of its own ministers.

In other words, Mercer took things so far – and then towed the government line. Now, it seems he might have to face the consequences of his protection of the state and the army personnel that serve it.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Johnny Mercer – YouTube

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