Discussion

"I just broke the Geneva Convention": "Marine A" and a British war crime sentence

While on patrol in Afghanistan in 2011, a British Royal Marine, who was with two other marines, found an enemy injured (lawfully) by a British Apache Helicopter. This enemy was not a threat. Marine A took his weapons, moved the wounded enemy so he could not be seen by a blimp-based video monitoring system and ordered those attempting to provide first aid to the wounded enemy, as required by the Geneva Conventions. When he was sure that the helicopter was out of range, Marine A calmly shot the wounded enemy in the chest with a 9mm weapon. This was recorded by one of their head-mounted cameras

 

This case was prosecuted in a court martial - a trial under military law before a civilian judge, and a military jury. Marine A's argument that the wounded insurgent was already dead was rejected, and he was found guilty. The two other marines were acquitted.  Marine A was later named as Sergeant Alexander Blackman.

 

Today, Blackman has sentenced to life with a minimum of (a "tariff", in English legal terminology) ten years in prison - sentencing remarks can be read here. Due to the way UK law works, with an offence that wopuld be an offence under ordinary civilian criminal law, a life sentence was mandatory - just as it would be for a civilian convicted of murder. While a life sentence can literally mean life long imprisonment in England and Wales, that is not the norm. Life without parole sentences are rarely, if ever, issued, and was not a realistic prospect in this case. Well respected legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg predicted that Blackman would get a twenty year tariff. A person who is released on licence for a life sentence can be recalled to prison at any time.  It would have been the same under the International Criminal Court Act, which mandates a life sentence for an offence which would amount to murder. 

 

Using the guidance in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act (Schedule 21), the court-martial considered that the "normal" firearms starting point of a 30 year tariff should not apply, so the default 15 year was used. Factoring in the personal mitigating factors, such as the stress he was under due to operations and the effect of the deahts and life changing injuries suffered by his felow marines.

 

The Attorney-General could apply for the Courts Martial Appeal Court to increase the minimum term as "unduly lenient" under section 273 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (ignore the "propsective", accortding to another part of the website it came in to force in 2009 - legislation.gov.uk really needs more vigilant updating). Then again, there would have to be the desire to do so, and the CMAC would need to agree that the sentence was disproportionately low. As a sidepoint, he will serve any sentence in a civilian prison: the UK military prison system doesn't handle long sentences.

Ten years does not seem very much for a war crime particularly when it clearly was premeditated rather than a crime of passion. On the other hand at least it has come to court and someone has been sentenced for it, so often these kind of cases are ignored even in western militaries.

It does seem a bit low. For common or garden civilian murders the legislation does have a quite clear set of starting points and a checklist. The problem is this check list applies for military cases. I'm unsure how the tariff would have been affected if this was charged under the International Criminal Court Act. It will be interesting to see if the Attorney-General goes for an appeal for it being unduly lenient. It's certainly lenient, and there's a case for it being unduly so.

 

Fully agreed on the positives coming to court: it's in the UK's interest to show a clear respect for the Geneva Conventions, especially against militants who can use bad treatment of detainees as a recruiting tool.

Will Tolcher wrote:

Marine A took his weapons, moved the wounded enemy so he could not be seen by a blimp-based video monitoring system and ordered those attempting to provide first aid to the wounded enemy, as required by the Geneva Conventions. When he was sure that the helicopter was out of range, Marine A calmly shot the wounded enemy in the chest with a 9mm weapon. This was recorded by one of their head-mounted cameras

Why bother taking the enemy out of sight of the blimp if you are going to keep cameras on?

If he had turned the cameras off too what would the chances be of the conviction ever having happened? Would the crime even have come to light?

Interesting question. I'm not an expert on this military technology. I don't know why they kept the cameras on, but they certainly acknoweldged it was a mistake (hence the comments after the shooting about the footage not going anywhere). I'd doubt that this crime would have come to light without the footage.

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