Image via Twitter.
On the 15th of September, 2011, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Sergeant Alexander Blackman – now more commonly known as Marine A – shot an injured Taliban insurgent in the chest with a 9mm pistol, killing him. The man was dragged out of sight of a balloon-mounted surveillance camera by Blackman and two others, Corporal Christopher Watson and Marine Jack Hammond (Marines B and C, respectively). Watson and Hammond attempted to give first aid to the man, but were stopped by Blackman. Before Blackman executed him he said, "Shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us." He then acknowledged that he'd broken the laws of the Geneva Convention.
Hammond and Watson were acquitted, but in December of 2013 Blackman was convicted of murder and sentenced to life with a minimum of ten years served in prison. In 2014 this was reduced to eight, and on Wednesday the conviction was reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Those are the facts – but as we know, the facts can only take us so far in situations like this. The campaign for a reduced sentence – even freedom – for Blackman has been very strong. According to the Telegraph, his is the first battlefield murder conviction since World War II. While it's fairly obvious that Blackman's wife and family would campaign for his release, there are portions of the country that are also vehemently demanding it.
It's in these Facebook groups, on these Twitter threads, in the forums and blogs, on the marches, in the crowds of supporters outside courthouses, in the ranks of squaddies protesting the treatment of one of their own, that I find the greatest isolation from my own countrymen. A Britain that wants a freed Marine A – a soldier who killed an injured man in cold blood, with a tawdry level of theatrics, acknowledging his crime with a nudge and a wink – is not a Britain I want any part of.
The diminished responsibility that caused Blackman's sentence to be reduced is the crux of the free Marine A argument. Blackman and his team, after being pushed back by insurgents, in the blazing Afghan heat, were exhausted. Blackman would apparently risk himself over those in his charge who had children so they could get home safely. He had also not been properly trained, as he had to take time out of training due to his father's death. But this is not reflected enough in the evidence. You can see in the footage that before finding the wounded insurgent, Blackman and others are cheering on a helicopter firing at Taliban fighters, encouraging it to launch "hellfire", an air-to-surface missile. They then speak about the killing as if it's an infidelity. Blackman says, "Obviously this doesn't go anywhere, fellas," before admitting to breaking the Geneva Convention. It's met with knowing giggles from his fellow soldiers, who call him mate. Don't tell the missus, lads, I've just killed a man.
Of all the things that have happened in the past couple of years – the decisions and campaigns made by people in this country – Justice for Marine A is the one that makes me feel more powerfully distant than any other.
Upon visiting the Justice for Marine A website you're met with an image of a lonely, desolate desert, peppered with helicopters and smoke rising from an explosion. Emblazoned across it are the words "And when the dust settles and the battle is over, alone with my thoughts the real war begins." It's the image of the mentally war-torn squaddie that appeals to so many supporters. They have his face as their profile pictures, oftentimes with a Union Jack fluttering behind him. What he did, he did for us, you see. He should not be vilified for protecting our freedoms, certainly not imprisoned.
The attitudes of these people are almost always jingoistic. It's the prevailing idea that imperialist Britain can and should be allowed to do anything she so wishes, with impunity. The ignorance of the fashion in which this killing was carried out is astounding among these people. They have created a falsified scenario in their heads that Blackman did what he had to do – that he had no choice – in the name of freedom and Queen and country. The reality, as we know, is that he kicked a wounded man, called him a cunt and shot him in the chest before telling the men in his charge to keep quiet about it. It is a crime from top to bottom.
Of all the things that have happened in the past couple of years – the decisions and campaigns made by people in this country – Justice for Marine A is the one that makes me feel more powerfully distant than any other. The kind of person who defends a cold blooded killer for no other reason than his uniform is a person alien to me. I fundamentally do not understand this person. An act of cruelty and humiliation defended by the exact kind of people who see those things as positives in the theatre of war, wilfully misunderstanding the situation presented to them to satiate their own prejudices. "This government is against our troops. He should get a medal, not prison," says one Facebook user. "Keep the faith fellow brothers and sisters and get big al home" says another. Big Al, the man down the pub, your mate, all our mates – this is the image invented by campaigners. Blackman is a normal man in a sticky situation, and he did what we'd all do, or "nothing [the injured insurgent] wouldn't do to us", in his own words.
There can be no Justice for Marine A without the spectre of nationalism looming over it. A man has committed a crime and is being punished for it. He disgraced himself. Generals, such as Nick Horton, decried what he did as "heinous". It is indefensible viciousness, coldness delivered in a blokey tone, a war crime committed by one of the lads. Blackman is where his actions have put him, and the campaign for his freedom is nothing more than blinded, jingoistic fervour, entrenched in the concept of "our boys" being incapable of wrongdoing.
The great irony is, of course, that it's the sort of action that is believed to be below our armed forces, one left to the savagery of the Taliban, roundly defended by confused, middle aged middle Englanders, and soldiers who are incapable of separating their feelings of camaraderie with reality.
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