Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Marine A, who killed unarmed Taliban fighter, set to be freed in two weeks

Alexander Blackman’s conviction for murdering wounded Afghan insurgent was reduced to manslaughter earlier this month

The former Royal Marine Alexander Blackman is expected to be freed from prison in around two weeks after senior judges sentenced him to seven years for the manslaughter of an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.
Claire Blackman outside the the Royal Courts of Justice in London after learning of her husband’s reduced sentence.

After a long campaign that led to Blackman’s murder conviction being quashed and replaced with manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, a new sentence was set by the court martial appeal court on Tuesday.

It means the 42-year-old no longer faces life in jail but has been given a determinate sentence, and because of time already served should be out next month, three and a half years after he was first sent to a civilian prison.

The sentence was greeted with relief and joy by supporters of Blackman, who was initially known by his codename Marine A, but any hopes of his being allowed back into the marines were dashed.

Though the five judges said his outstanding service before the killing and his poor mental state at the time meant that dismissal with disgrace was not appropriate, they maintained that the severity of his crime meant he should remain dismissed.

Blackman’s wife, Claire, who was in court, beamed as the sentence was delivered. There were cheers and applause from the public gallery. Blackman, who appeared via videolink from prison in Wiltshire, did not react initially but smiled after the judges left the courtroom.

Supporters with champagne and bagpipes celebrated on the steps of the high court, while Claire Blackman said: “We are overjoyed at the judges’ decision to significantly reduce Al’s sentence, such that he can be released imminently. This is the moment that we have all been fighting hard for. It is hard to believe that this day is finally here.”

She thanked Daily Mail readers, who contributed £800,000 to a legal fund for her husband, as well as her legal team and marines who had supported him.
 Alexander Blackman, who shot an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.

His conviction was quashed by the court martial appeal court earlier this month after it heard he was suffering from a mental condition called adjustment disorder that substantially impaired his ability to make rational judgments. The sentencing remarks on Tuesday, however, make it clear that the judges did not absolve him of all responsibility.

“This was a deliberate killing of a wounded man,” they said. “Although the appellant’s responsibility is diminished … he still retained a substantial responsibility for the deliberate killing.”
Aggravating factors included “the effect of the appellant’s actions on the reputation and safety of HM armed forces”.

The judges continued: “There can be no doubt that the way in which the appellant acted, knowingly in contravention of the Geneva conventions … has had a material adverse effect on the views many hold about the conduct of HM armed forces.

“The appellant’s actions can be used by the insurgency and others as evidence that the killing … was in breach of the values proclaimed for which the international security force and HM armed forces had been sent to Afghanistan.”

The judges also flagged up the “vulnerability of the insurgent”, the decision by Blackman to make sure the killing was not witnessed by a British helicopter that had been circling and the attempt to cover up what had happened.

Mitigating factors included Blackman’s outstanding record, his mental state and a perceived lack of leadership by his superiors.

In mitigation last week, Goldberg argued that Blackman was “truly the last casualty of a failed war” and should be shown “exceptional mercy”.

He added: “We have turned the page on that chapter as a nation. What good will it do to keep him – the last casualty – in prison?

Goldberg described the 2011 killing, which took place when Blackman was serving in Helmand province with 42 Commando, as a “single blot on an otherwise exemplary career”.

Goldberg asked the court to reflect on the question of why the incident in a “godforsaken field in Helmand” had captured the public imagination.

He explained: “It is that the vast majority of right-thinking ordinary men and women in this country recognise that our way of life and our values and even perhaps our civilisation is today under threat as rarely before by dark forces, and that it is the courage and sacrifice of men like Marine A [his anonymised codename during his original court martial] without whom we would all be at the mercy of the new barbarians.”

Goldberg also argued that Blackman’s new sentence should come alongside his reinstatement in the armed forces.

Blackman’s original court martial heard how a patrol led by Blackman in 2011 was tasked with assessing a Taliban fighter who had been badly injured by Apache helicopter fire in Helmand. The marines disarmed him and dragged him to the edge of a field, where he was sworn at and mocked.

Once the Apache had gone and the marines had made sure they were out of sight of a British observation balloon, Blackman leaned in and shot the unarmed insurgent in the chest.

As the man’s body twitched, Blackman told him: “There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.” Moments later, he told colleagues: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere fellas. I’ve just broken the Geneva convention.”

Footage of the incident, which was captured by a head camera worn by one of Blackman’s team, was discovered by chance a year later by military investigators.


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