Footage of soldiers allegedly murdering Afghan prisoner would be a propaganda gift to extremists, says Home Office official.
Releasing a video showing three British marines allegedly murdering an injured prisoner in Afghanistan would be a propaganda gift to extremists and put UK troops and civilians at real and immediate risk, the government has argued at a court martial.
Media organisations including the Guardian have asked the military court to make available the footage that shows the three marines allegedly carrying out the “execution” of a man believed to be an Afghan insurgent. The footage has been shown in open court and a transcript of it published.
But, arguing that the video clips should not be released, a senior Home Office counter-terrorism official said they would go viral within minutes, would be used by terrorism groups as propaganda and would prompt “lone actors” to attack troops or members of the public.
Paul Mott, the deputy head of the research, information and communications unit in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said it was the most potent footage of its kind he had viewed.
“I’ve seen nothing that surpasses it in terms of radicalisation potential. It’s exceptionally worrying,” said Mott. “There’s nothing I have seen that … matches its emotional power. It is a gift in propaganda terms.”
Mott said the footage would be disseminated via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. He said in its raw form it was powerful, but terrorists would add their own commentary to it and use it to claim it proves that the west is at war with Muslims.
The footage shows a prisoner being dragged out of a field in Helmand having been badly wounded by helicopter fire. The clips, captured by a head-camera worn by one of the marines, appears to show the prisoner being shot in the chest by a marine. All three marines, who have been granted anonymity by the court, deny murder.
Mott said the footage was “compelling and distressing”. He said it could be a “tipping point” for “lone actors” on the point of committing an atrocity.
He told the court in Bulford, Wiltshire, that there had already been talk about the case in extremism forums.
The expert said the government had “taken full account of the importance of open justice … especially in a case where it is the actions of the armed forces which are under scrutiny”. But he said: “Releasing it would present a real threat to life for members of the armed forces and the wider British public and for British interests overseas.”
Mott cited examples of extremists who had committed terrorist attacks having viewed propaganda videos, including that of Arid Uka, who had killed two US airmen in Germany after having watched what was purported to be footage of US soldiers raping a teenage Muslim girl. It turned out to be a scene from Brian De Palma’s anti-war movie Redacted which had been taken out of context.
Oliver Glasgow, a barrister for the government, said the material was shocking and would be used as a “call to arms”. “It will be taken up by every jihadist group out there; it will go viral within minutes.”
He also revealed that the government had considered asking that the whole trial be held behind closed doors but had decided it should be heard in open court.
Arguing that the footage should be released – with the soldiers and victim anonymised – Clare Kissen, for the Guardian, Associated Newspapers, the Telegraph Media Group, ITN, BSkyB, News Group Newspapers and Times Newspapers, argued that there was no evidence that releasing the footage would present a “real and immediate risk to life”.
She said the media wanted access to the footage “for use in the context of reporting the ongoing trial”. She added: “The trial proceedings are of clear public interest and reporting and commentary on it involves serious and important questions about the action of service personnel in conflict zones.”
Kissen made it clear that publication of the footage would be subject to media organisations’ own policies and regulatory body rules on taste and decency.
The judge advocate general, Jeff Blackett, asked Kissen if she could guarantee that British soldiers would not be killed if the video was released. She replied that she could not, but insisted no “real and immediate risk” had been proved – the test relied upon by the government.
Kissen said the court had heard no details of specific threats. Blackett will give his decision on Monday afternoon. The court martial of the marines continues.
See on www.theguardian.com