Ten years for Alexander Blackman
Are we the only people deeply uncomfortable about the minimum ten year sentence handed down today (Friday 6th December 2013) to Alexander Blackman, the British Royal Marine found guilty of murdering a Taliban fighter back in September 2011 in Helmand Province?
"You have betrayed your corps and all British service personnel who have served in Afghanistan," opined Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett during the trial.
But in the warm and secure comfort of a British court of law, or the Houses of Parliament, or the average British household, or when blithely fiddling with your classic bike in your garage, it's easy to condemn Blackman for his failure to adhere to the protocols of the Geneva Convention(s) by putting a bullet in the chest of a wounded man.
However, let's not lose sight of the fact that the Geneva Convention(s) only really makes sense, in pragmatic terms, when all combatants have signed up to the relevant articles of war.
Clearly the Taliban hasn't, which means that it's simply unrealistic to send troops into a battle zone and expect them to consistently play by MCC rules. Their job is simple; it's to suppress and kill the enemy, and wounded men have a curious habit of returning to the battlefield.
Afghanistan is a brutal place. We all know that from watching TV and reading the newspapers. But knowing it isn't the same as feeling it. And no amount of armchair soldiering is going to prepare you for the horrors of watching friend and foe alike being butchered in as many ways as you can dream up. Additionally, the constant fear of imminent death places all combatants in a totally different stress paradigm that few of us can even begin to understand, let alone sit in judgment over.
That's not to suggest that Blackman (who allowed himself to be filmed by a helmet cam) should "get off" (for want of a better way to express it) scot free. But ten years in the slammer for killing one of the enemy in what can at the very least be described as tepid blood (as opposed to cold), strikes us as nothing less than the State-sponsored sacrifice of a serving soldier on the alter of geopolitical expediency whilst trying to pretend that everyone else from 10 Downing Street to the White House is genuinely playing by other rules.
It's well understood that NATO, at various levels, is covertly operating by command guidelines and orders that bear little or no resemblance to the protocols as described in the original Geneva Convention of 1864.
And we can't see much substantive difference between quickly and cleanly dispatching a wounded member of the Afghan insurgency at ground level, and dropping a smart bomb from 10,000 feet onto a suspect village, or directing a drone strike from an air-conditioned bunker in Minnesota at a pick-up truck trundling across a desert.
The hard and unpalatable fact is that warfare is vicious and nasty. By its nature, it blurs the line between "genuine combat" and outright murder, and probably always will. You teach a dog to bite, and one day it bites when it shouldn't. So whose fault is that?
Let's get real.
We're not saying Blackman was right. We're simply saying that the punishment, given the extreme context, doesn't fit the crime. And in an effort to look whiter than white, it feels like we're painting Blackman as blacker than black.
And the moral? Simple. Switch off the camera the next time you find yourself in a similar situation—which, God willing, you never will.
See the update to this story: Alexander Blackman to walk "free"
— Sam 7
Copyright Sump Publishing 2013