Amnesty International has called for an inquiry after former members of a secret British army unit said soldiers killed unarmed civilians in the IRA heartland of west Belfast.
The Military Reaction Force (MRF) carried out drive-by shootings ofnationalists manning barricades to keep out loyalists 40 years ago, althoughthere was no independent evidence that any were paramilitaries, a BBC Panorama documentary has claimed.
The elite soldiers believed military regulations prohibiting firing unlesstheir lives were in danger did not apply to them.
Amnesty Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan said the revelations “underline our call for the UK government to establish a new over-arching mechanism to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Northern Ireland, whether carried out by paramilitary groups or the securityforces”.
He added: “Victims and bereaved family members have a right to truth and justice.
“Such a process must focus not just on those who pulled the trigger, but also those in positions of authority who pulled the strings.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the revelations emphasised the need for a truth recovery process. “The BBC programme shines a light on one aspect of Britain’s dirty war in Ireland,” he said .
“The existence of the MRF and its activities have been known for many years but [the] programme contains new information and provides afresh insight into the use by the British government of counter-gangs and secret military units.”
The former soldiers claimed the unit had saved many lives. One said: “We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group.
“We were there in a position to go after IRA and kill them when we found them.”
Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin has faced criticism after floating the possibility of ending prosecutions for Troubles-related killings.
More than 3,000 deaths are being investigated by detectives from the Historical Enquiries Team as part of the peace process.
The MRF had around 40 hand-picked men from across the British army who addressed each other by first name and dispensed with ranks and identification tags.
They operated at the height of the Troubles early in the 1970s.
Another ex-member said it was part of his mission to draw out the IRA andminimise its activities. “If they needed shooting they’d be shot,” he said.
The army has a series of rules known as the Yellow Card, which guides when a soldier can open fire lawfully. Generally, lethal force was only lawful when the lives of members of the security forces or others were in immediate danger.
Another soldier said: “If you had a player who was a well-known shooter whocarried out quite a lot of assassinations... it would have been very simple, hehad to be taken out.”
According to the BBC programme, broadcast last night, seven former members of the force believed the Yellow Card did not apply to them and one described it as a “fuzzy red line”, meaning they acted as they saw fit.
Some said they would shoot unarmed targets.
The MRF’s records have been destroyed but the soldiers denied they were part of a death or assassination squad.
Among those they killed, in May 1972, was Patrick McVeigh, a father of six. His daughter Patricia said: “We want the truth. We don’t want to stop until we get the truth.”
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