Monday, February 09, 2009

Civilian Casualty Monitoring Work in Afghanistan: MOD Targets Human Rights Worker

In an apparent attempt to hinder the civilian casualty monitoring work of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Afghanistan, the British Ministry of Defence have tried to smear one of their researchers, Rachel Reid. [Channel 4, Scotsman, Mail Online]

Reid writes that the MoD "whispered into the ear of the Sun" about about the two meetings she had with a Col McNally at the Nato military HQ in Kabul, and with a nudge and a wink insinuated that they were involved in a "close" relationship. With Col McNally now also under arrest for possible breach of the official secrets act just what is the MOD up and why?

It appears that a recent report from HRW which is severly critical of the US military investigation into the killing of civilians during a 2008 airstrike on Azizabad may be the reason. In a letter to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Jan 15th 2009 they claim the military investigation was deeply flawed, provide detailed analysis of its findings and conclude that weaknesses in the report summary "call into question the depth of the Defense Department’s commitment to institute reforms that would reduce civilian casualties."

The increasing civilian casualty burden in the Afghan war and increasingly pessimistic reports on the chances of a US/NATO victory seem to be making both the US and UK governments more and more keen to control the availability of information. Getting to know what is really happening is clearly not going to be getting any easier. It may well be a coincidence, but interestingly the MOD had recently blocked public access to British military casualty information from Afghanistan. While data sheets detailing casualties in Iraq were still still freely downloadable the comparable information for Afghanistan was password protected for some days. Public access to the information now appears to have been restored.