Afghan civilian death trial refused key evidence

Danish officer charged with breaking NATO’s rules of engagement, but British military will not allow the use of vital video surveillance

December 3rd, 2012 2:45 pm| by admin

A case against a Danish Army officer, charged with the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, has suffered a setback following the British military's refusal to allow vital video evidence to be shown at his trial.

The officer was responsible for ordering an attack against an Afghan compound near a Danish military base that killed one civilian and injured two others.

The military prosecutors, Auditørkorpset, accuse the officer of gross misconduct, and he could be sentenced to three years in jail for failing to abide by NATO’s secret rules of engagement (ROE).

The Danish military base in question, Bridzar in Afghanistan, is reliant on British surveillance. According to the officer’s lawyer, Torben Koch, the officer used the surveillance to observe four men in a nearby compound who he thought were acting suspiciously and possibly in the process of burying a roadside bomb.

The officer then requested two British Apache helicopters to fire a hellfire missile at the men, which killed one and injured two. When it transpired that the men were civilians, NATO compensated the men’s families.

After the attack, Danish military police, who were present in the room when the officer ordered the attack, made a copy of the surveillance and sent it to the Auditørkorpset in Denmark.

After showing it to military experts, they found that the attack broke NATO’s ROE, which led to them bringing charges against the officer.

The case is shrouded in many levels of secrecy, however. The names of the accused officer as well as the military experts are secret, and so too are the ROE that the officer allegedly broke by ordering the attack.

The ROE, according to Politiken newspaper, are secret in order to prevent giving the Taleban an advantage. However, the underlying principle is to avoid civilian deaths, and therefore attacks should only be ordered when it is certain only militants are being targeted.

Experts who have seen the footage spoke to Politiken and confirmed that the men posed no immediate risk to NATO troops, and that the object the men were burying bore no resemblance to a bomb.

With the British unwilling to permit the surveillance video as evidence, some experts worry that the transparency of the military is being sacrificed in order to not harm Denmark’s relationship with the UK.

“If the Brits give permission [to use the footage], it would create a precedent that they should hand over material that may in the future incriminate their own soldiers,” NATO expert Sten Rynning from Syddansk University told Politiken, adding that it was unlikely that Britain would allow this to happen.

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