Marine A: Right, get him closer in so PGSS can’t see what we’re doing to him… Marine A: Where is the CAT, Ugly call sign? [Referring to the helicopter that is watching them pretending to apply a field dressing to an injured Afghan insurgent.] Marine B: It’s gone that way? Marine A: Yeah Marine B: Went south, mate? (Gunshot) M: What was that? Marine A: There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us. Marine B: I know. M: Exactly. Marine A: Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere fellas. Marine B: Yeah, roger, mate. Marine A: I’ve just broke the Geneva convention.
After a campaign by former and current members of the military, the Daily Mail and his family, Marine A, Sergeant Alexander Blackman, has had his conviction for shooting a wounded member of the Taliban in 2011 quashed and he will now be tried for manslaughter. If his defence team successfully argue that he has served his sentence, as he was imprisoned in 2013, Alexander is very likely to be freed.
The sight of the Daily Mail raising £900,000 to fund the court appeal and MPs and former heads of the armed forces taking up the case, will rightly stick in the throat of all those who have been unable to hold the British army accountable for their actions in conflicts around the world. The court has determined that Blackman was suffering from combat stress and that the atmosphere in the military in Afghanistan during the invasion put immense pressure on the army’s lower ranks.
This is no doubt true. It is all too possible that when you train young men to be killing machines that they do not always differentiate between the definitions of what is lawful and unlawful. Such conditions no doubt contributed to many atrocities in Vietnam, Iraq, Northern Ireland and numerous other war zones. Should we feel sorry for the Taliban insurgent? I don’t think so. But the principle that if war happens, minimum rules must be followed, and that if these are broken there are consequences, is extremely important.
Marine A is not a hero. Shooting someone who was no further threat to him or his comrades is not a heroic act. He knew he had broken the Geneva Convention. The agreement of those with him, to keep his secret, shows that this was probably not an isolated incident. Alexander had previously served in both Northern Ireland and Iraq. He was not a newly recruited, inexperienced soldier.
It should be noted that Alexander was only caught because one of his comrades had filmed it on an unofficial helmet camera, and had the footage on a laptop which he sent for repair. Meanwhile the army has never had to account for numerous bombings of civilians, destruction of medical facilities or improper detention of Afghan civilians.