So, in Sergeant Alexander Blackman’s ill-fated, video’d patrol, what was going on?
Sadly all we know about now, after much investigation and even more nonsense in the media and blogosphere, are the defensive posturings of the various factions that this has affected.
None of it is helpful.
The Court Martial’s official legal line that murder is murder wherever it takes place, fails to protect our soldiers when they’re doing their duty; and the opposing cries for leniency give ammunition to Islamic extremists and others who claim that our soldiers do this sort of thing all the time. And there’s nothing in between these two crass opposites to find some workable middle ground as part of the process of trying to understand what happened – which it seems nobody has done.
We urgently need to find some clear moral position on this. And as seems common in these sorts of military legal judgements, the judiciary seem unable to provide the enlightened philosophical perspective required.
Not having this clearly defined moral position, unlike Sergeant Blackman’s crime, really does threaten our ability to fight asymmetric wars.
The bottom line in these cases is usually for judges to play safe – in this one insisting “murder is murder”. They justify this in terms of safeguarding the Armed Forces’ ability to carry out future operations – stressing the assumption that Blackman’s action smears the reputation of all other soldiers, making it harder and more dangerous for them to work in Afghanistan.
There are veterans and others, who go so far as to say that Sergeant A’s only crime was allowing it to be filmed. Personally I’d urge veterans holding this point of view to think about it a little bit longer…
The Royal Marine’s hierarchy continues to respond as it has done all along, by condemning the crime while urging leniency. This isn’t easy for them, as many, possibly most soldiers with Afghanistan experience – on the whole privately – condemn Sergeant Blackman’s having shot a live casualty. British troops just do not do this sort of thing.
There is to be an enquiry. The RM Commanding Officer will be on the line – if he hasn’t already been slipped the Black Spot. But whether this will uncover any endemic attitude problems in the Commando, or further crimes, will depend on many factors, some of them political with a small “p”.
Asymmetric warfare is all about politics, and it’s politics that’s making such a mess of all this. The Royal Marines did not need to call for leniency, in the same way that the Court Martial did not need to make an example of Sergeant Blackman. All that was achieved was to whip things up.
It was obviously ridiculous revealing Sergeant Blackman’s surname in the interests of “judicial transparency”. All they needed to do was go through the proper judicial process, leaving out all the grandstanding. Instead they’ve thrown Sergeant Blackman to the media wolves – and to years of vengeance-avoidance in solitary at Chelmsford.
And after all this, we still don’t know why a very experienced, senior Royal Marine sergeant behaved in such an immature, fucked-up way. These guys simply do not do this sort of thing.
He never took to the stand – his right. And nobody else attempted to explain. All involved were saving their own skins, from an investigation that started out as a fishing trip into something else, and prosecution two years after the event.
Apart from undeservedly besmirching the illustrious Corps of Royal Marines, what good did all that achieve? Did it clear the air in Helmand? Did it lessen the resolve of hardline Islamists? Will it help our troops do a better job – and particularly will it discourage similar crimes?
No – and in fact the opposite on all counts. This is yet another serious own goal, which makes Tommy Atkins wonder which side he’s on, and encourages terrorists to believe that western democracies are too flakey with liberal confusion to support their own people.
Amid all this, the only people actually suffering are Alexander Blackman and his family. (We don’t even know who the dead man was…)
Unless we can understand why such well-trained, highly trusted people go off the rails, it’s going to happen again.
I expect the assumption behind closed judicial and Establishment doors is that Sergeant A will be quietly paroled in a few years time. So let’s just leave it there shall we…?
Of course it won’t be like that for Alexander Blackman or his family, if he survives that long. People like him are their own strongest critics. In the years to come, the Islamists are not his greatest threat.