“I don’t think I’m a murderer,” says former Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman. “I don’t think I was a murderer. I am not a murderer.
But if what Blackman did in a field in Afghanistan nearly 11 years ago doesn’t make him a murderer, what is? On September 15, 2011, after a firefight, Blackman and two other J Company marines walked across the field to the injured body of a Taliban fighter who had previously attacked a military checkpoint. The insurgent had been hit by some of the 139 anti-tank bullets fired from an Apache helicopter but was still alive.
According to the Geneva conventions, Sgt Blackman should have treated the enemy as one of his own and called for a helicopter to transport the man to hospital. Such an action must require a heroic moral compass on the battlefield: difficult indeed to save the life of someone who 30 minutes earlier was desperate to take yours.
Instead, the front-facing camera footage shown in this riveting, if overly focused, documentary reveals what happened next. Blackman shot the wounded man at close range. He is heard saying, “Turn off that deadly coil, asshole. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us. After killing the man, he said to his men, “I just broke [sic] the Geneva Convention.
Soon after, the cover-up began. Some Marines saw the camera footage before being ordered to delete it. But the Royal Military Police, who investigated the murder, managed to piece it together forensically. As a result, he was charged with murder in 2012.
Blackman told investigators the man was dead when he fired the bullets. That’s what he meant when he said he had violated the Geneva Conventions: Desecrating a corpse is also prohibited. Recovered footage showed otherwise and in 2013 the man then known as Marine A became the first member of the British Armed Forces in recent history to be convicted of battlefield murder. While in prison in Lincoln, he said, he feared attacks from Islamist-sympathetic inmates.
Much of War and Justice: The Case of Marine A (Channel 4) investigates why he ended up there. When Blackman shot the insurgent, psychiatrist Neil Greenberg tells us, he was suffering from adjustment disorder, a condition which the professor says affected a quarter of British forces who served in Afghanistan, and which manifests itself in anxiety, depression, distressing emotions and disturbing behavior.
It is unbelievable that this proportion is so low. Given that the daily risk for soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan was being shot in the brain or losing their legs by stepping on an improvised explosive device – not to mention the growing sense of the utter futility of their mission highlighted here by Blackman and his fellow Marines – the figure could have been 100% and is not surprising. Perhaps the Afghan veterans who did not suffer from adjustment disorders are the ones we should be concerned about. Blackman, who told the Guardian two years ago that he did not know what mental state he was in at the time of the murder, also had his own demons: he was mourning the recent death of his father, a fellow soldier.
Greenberg’s testimony was used in Marine A’s successful 2017 appeal to have her conviction reduced to manslaughter due to diminished liability. He now lives on license in Taunton with his wife, Claire, who campaigned against his murder conviction.
Claire says she was never a fan of war. Fair enough, but it would have been interesting if her husband’s opinions were sounded out. Did he think the oxymoron “war on terror” was worth fighting while he was in Afghanistan? And now?
If not a murderer, then what is Blackman? A killer no doubt, but possibly also a casualty of a war that resulted in nothing worthwhile but which left 457 British servicemen dead while, according to Brown University estimates, around 240,000 Afghans, including 70,000 civilians, died. But let’s not exaggerate his victimization: he is hugged by strangers in the street; the man killed, in this program at least, doesn’t even have a name.
This documentary, while compelling, is negligent in not considering the real victim. “Nobody seems to be worried about him,” said Jeff Blackett, the judge who presided over Blackman’s first trial. “He was a man who could have been spared but who was killed.” It is not known what happened to his body. A stronger program would have tried to find his family and comrades and asked them what they thought of how he died. We don’t even know for sure that the Taliban fighter was mortally wounded: there remains a possibility that Blackman pulled the trigger to put him out of his misery, although his Shakespearean words after pulling the trigger indicate that the marine didn’t. was hardly motivated by compassion. .
And yet, in a week in which the MoD has offered an independent review of its handling of allegations that the SAS executed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan following BBC Panorama revelations that a SAS unit was implicated in 54 suspicious murders during a six-month tour. in 2010-2011, how valuable to have this program and to reflect on what we are doing by sending women and men to fight. The extent to which the “War on Terror” has been waged by psychologically damaged killers in uniform remains unclear. The extent to which this war has been a tragic loss of life, less.