US Troops will not attend inquests into british 'Friendly Fire' deaths

Apologies if this has been done before, or if this is the wrong forum. I tried searching GD and GQ, but couldn’t find anything.

From this article here , I note that:

I’m a little puzzled as to the reasoning behind this decision. Can someone advise why the US are against people giving evidence in enquiries in such circumstances?

It seems like something that pisses off family and colleagues of the dead more than the accidental killings themselves.

Not sure the families find it more upsetting than the actual deaths, but it certainly seems like something that will upset them further. The whole reason we have such inquests is so the circumstances behind such things can be revealed. That seems like an essential step for the relatives of the dead. Quite why having the people involved testify at the inquest is an unreasonable request is something I don’t follow.

I’m not all that surprised. The U.S. seems to demand standards from us on things like these that they won’t hold themselves to. Extradition would be the other big thing I can think of.

To be fair, I can think of ok reasoning; obviously they don’t want personnel who are essentially on the front lines moved about, which could hurt the unit. I don’t really consider that to be good enough reason by itself, though.

They’re afraid of someone might actually tell the truth?

I am not defending this policy.
I do think that the U.S. (and not just beginning with the current administration, although this administration has raised it to new levels) demands actions of other countries that it goes to great lengths to avoid performing, itself.

That said, is there a legitimate argument that the local coroner in some borough in Britain really has neither the jurisdiction nor the competence to be making decisions regarding a battlefield situation in a distant war? I cannot recall any occasion when a battelfied casualty has been examined by a local coroner in the U.S.

When training accidents occur in Britain, are they examined by the local coroner? Or are they handled by the Royal Army, Navy, or Air Force? Acknowledging, again, that the U.S. has represented itself as being outside several types of jurisdictions for which it might claim jurisdiction if the roles were reversed, is the examination by a local coroner of an event that occurred in a different location actually a common occurrence in Britain?

Coroners handle service deaths including those on the battlefield.


UK soldiers are also bound by the Human Rights Act - and in Iraq, by extension, these rights are applicable to Iraqi’s in their custody who can and have taken cases to the UK courts.

another linky


Again, not defending specific actions of the U.S. military or govenrment: I suspect that most Yanks could not even conceive of such a thing, which might make it difficult to persuade the brass to go along with it if they consider it an unusual action that is intended as a witch hunt.

Perhaps Gordon Brown should make that known directly to Robert Gates. (It would probably take the better part of an afternoon to get GWB to understand the situation.)

The US understands it - they just won’t play along. There was a big row recently when a coroner was refused access to gun camera and voice cockpit recordings of a ‘friendly’ fire incident by the US.

It was only provided after a UK newspaper got a hold of it and ran it on their web site.

Are there any cite-able incidents of the US making a similar request to British personnel? If so, how did they react to inquests by local state coroners in the US making such requests? Did they go along?

If so then I’d have to say the US is asking the Brits (and others) to do something we aren’t willing to do. Not exactly being either a leader or a good ally. If not…well, that would be a different kettle of fish I’d say.

Anyone know?


I’d say a big part of why this doesn’t happen is because of the enormous difference between how deaths are investigated in the UK versus the United States. Local medical examiners or coroners may investigate deaths in the U.S., but in conjunction with the police as well as other agencies. However local authorities have wholly local jurisdiction, a local coroner doesn’t get to look into the death of someone who died in Iraq just because that person happened to be an American citizen. The whole concept would not make sense in our legal system.

I think the brass (and rightfully so) fears that when you let any old yokel like many local coroners essentially have free reign to investigate the military you’ll run into people who want to go on ludicrous fishing expeditions with political motivations. Imagine if some Democrat coroner in Washington State had the authority to look into military deaths and to require whomever he wished as a witness. Some coroners are just locally elected types who could be extremely partisan. Whereas others might be professional medical experts (holding an M.D.) and be appointed in a relatively non-partisan manner.

Furthermore, the United States has always affirmed that we are the ones who are going to deal with what our soldiers do on the battlefield. If they commit a crime, the crime will be investigated and punished by us with our military court system. If they are in a FF incident, it will be investigated by us and if evidence exists that they acted inappropriately, again, that will be dealt with by US. I think this is a good policy, we should never let other countries investigate our soldiers, require our soldiers to testify in such cases, or anything else. The only time we should ever allow our soldiers to be subject to such things is if they are accused of committing a crime on the soil of the country in question (for example if a soldier killed someone in a pub in the UK, then it would okay for him to be prosecuted or investigated by the UK.)

While we do sometimes assert privileges for ourselves that we do not extend to others, this isn’t an example of it. The United States isn’t in the business of trying to hold investigations of British personnel and never has been. It’s always been the Europeans who believe in moronic concepts like “universal jurisdiction” and trying to investigate or criminally prosecute American personnel for acts committed outside their national borders. Nor does the United States have coroners issuing requests to British personnel to give them testimony (of course the whole concept of the coroners inquest is far different here, while some coroners retain the power to issue subpoenas or even impanel a jury, most do not do this and typically many coroners are medical professionals who mostly handle the scientific aspects of a death.)

I’d be very surprised if any such incident has ever happened. Medical Examiners or coroners in the United States, in my experience, do not seem to handle deaths that occur outside of their jurisdiction. Deaths on the battlefield are investigated by the military, not by some local coroner (how would we decide which one had jurisdiction?) Now, it’s a bit of a different situation when you have a member of the military who dies off-base in the United States, but that isn’t the sort of case we’re talking about.

Given the number of wars, military alliances and coalitions the US and the UK have been joint allies in in the last 60 years, I’m kinda surprised there isn’t some standard, agreed upon protocol for investigating FF incidents in which both countries involved have at least some representation. It seems like something you’d expect to have worked out before you sent your troops in to fight together, after all, it doesn’t take a genius to see that FF incidents like this are going to happen sooner or later.

I agree that letting some random county coroner investigate US troops may not be the best route, but I don’t see the problem in allowing some pre-agreed upon official of the UK gov’t to participate in the investigation on their behalf. If a UK soldier blew away some US troops, I’d expect that the US gov’t would be allowed to participate in the ensuing investigation in some shape or form.

Also from a practical stand point, the US gov’t is trying to keep the UK from pulling out of Iraq (or at least have them put it off for as long as possible) it makes sense to try and be as open as possible so that the UK public isn’t given more reason to distrust the military of their allies.

But that has absolutely no bearing on the system that we’re actually talking about. A coroner in the UK has to be a barrister or doctor with at least 5 years experience. They’re appointed as a Ministry of Justice official, and as such any political showboating would result in swift termination of their position.

It’s also worth pointing out that inquests into the deaths of UK military abroad always fall within the remit of 2 regions, as they land at either RAF Brize Norton or Lyneham. For that reason, the coroners in those districts have extensive experience of military fatality inquests.

And again, none of this has any bearing on a coroners inquest. A coroner cannot find someone guilty of a crime. They can only return the following verdicts: death by misadventure, accidental death, unlawful killing, lawful killing, suicide, natural causes, an open verdict or a narrative verdict. That’s it. They cannot find anyone guilty of a crime.

Before accusing people of moronic notions, how about you actually have a look at the facts. As stated above, the role of the inquest is not to prosecute american personnel or claim universal jurisdiction. It’s to reveal the way in which people died. If you think uncovering the truth is a moronic notion then really there’s little for us to discuss. It certainly seems like a poor basis for supposed allies to work together.

As a Brit, I’m confident the American process will take care of things. It’s war. Shit happens.

But I’m minded of the aphorism from WW2: ‘When the British fire, the Germans duck; when the Germans fire, the British duck; when the Americans fire, EVERYBODY ducks.’

In addition to Gary Kumquat’s comments…

I think it’s the case that any body landed at Brize Norton or Lyneham would be referred to the coroner, irrespective of identity or citizenship?

Just so everyone’s clear, the relevant UK legislation is the Coroners Act 1988 and in particular:

This recent Parliamentary statement by Baroness Ashton, the Under-Secretary of State, describes how the Act is being specifically applied in the case of the Iraqi dead.

Has Gordon Brown weighed in on this yet? It seems to be something that should be resolved at his level.

Paging Manuel Noriega . . .

It’s just occured to me that this was a slightly silly question…how can a corpse be a citizen of anywhere? :dubious: