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US authorities must ensure that the re-opened investigation into the alleged killing of some 18 Afghan civilians by US Special Forces is rigorous and thorough, Amnesty International said. The Afghan victims and family members must obtain the justice and reparations they deserve.

Media reports indicate that the US military has renewed an inquiry into a Special Forces Unit believed to have been responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances between November 2012 and February 2013. The unit allegedly killed up to 18 people in Wardak province’s Nerkh and Maidan Shahr districts.

“This is a welcome but overdue move by US military authorities. It is shocking that the Afghan victims’ family members are still waiting for justice, despite overwhelming evidence that the Nerkh and Maidan Shahr killings amounted to war crimes,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Director.

“The investigators must carry out a rigorous and thorough inquiry, including interviews with former prisoners detained by the unit and family members of those who were killed. It is also crucial that family members are kept informed as the investigation progresses.”

Amnesty International documented the killings in a major 2014 report on the lack of accountability for civilian casualties caused by international military forces in Afghanistan. The organization found “abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes” in the Nerkh and Maidan Shahr case.

The report concluded that the deeply flawed US military justice system did not provide a fair opportunity for Afghan victims to obtain justice. Of 10 cases investigated in the report – involving the killing of at least 140 civilians, including at least 50 children – no one had been held criminally responsible.

“This case, albeit extremely serious, is one of many. We have seen again and again how the US military justice system fails to investigate and prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law in a prompt, fair and impartial manner,” said Richard Bennett.

Background

Last year, Amnesty International interviewed 10 eyewitnesses to the crimes at issue in the investigation, including four who were detained by the Special Forces Unit.

One former detainee, who claimed that he was held by the unit at Combat Outpost Nerkh for 45 days, described an array of torture techniques that the unit employed, including electric shocks, near-drowning, near-burial, and severe beatings.

The former prisoner claimed that he witnessed the killing of another prisoner named Sayed Muhammed. Muhammed was beaten to death by an American, he said, “a big guy with a big, bushy red beard, and green eyes.”

The former prisoner had been interviewed by a US military investigator a couple of months before Amnesty International spoke with him.

Family members of other prisoners, whose bodies were later found around Combat Outpost Nerkh, told Amnesty International about how their relatives were detained by Special Forces operatives during raids.

Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA), or “A-Team,” the unit believed responsible for the crimes was an elite unit known as ODA 3124, reportedly consisting of 12 US soldiers who worked closely with Afghan Special Forces operatives. Journalist Matthieu Aikins wrote an important exposé of the killings that was published in Rolling Stone magazine in November 2013.

The investigation into their alleged crimes is being carried out by US Army Criminal Investigation Command. Amnesty International has raised concerns about numerous flaws in the military justice process, the lack of independence of those making key prosecutorial decisions in such cases.

Prosecutorial decisions in cases involving civilian casualties should be conducted by civilians who are independent of the military chain of command. As a first step, military justice rules should be changed so that the decision to prosecute a member of the armed forces is made by an independent prosecutor outside the military chain of command.