By Daniel Margrain
It’s credit to the Daily Mail for leading with their report about the leaked dossier concerning Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marine serving life for murder. The dossier contains crucial evidence withheld from Alexander Blackman’s court martial into the killing of a mortally wounded Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan.
Military chiefs solely blamed the seargent for the killing. However, the report into the incident says that Blackman’s over-stretched unit was being pushed to be too aggressive, his senior officer was not prepared for the demands of the war zone and that there were signs that Blackman’s unit was cracking up. All these things, the leaked report says, were missed by commander’s.
If not for the investigative work of the Daily Mail who unearthed these details, none of the MOD’s censoring of the admission of command failings in Helmand province would have come to light. What the Mail revealed, in other words, is the fact that the MOD conducted a report into their own actions and put a black line through anything that didn’t make them look good.
It’s report said that the supervision of the commanding officer where Blackman and his men were based was insufficient to identify a number of warning signs that could have indicated that they were showing evidence of moral regression, psychological strain and fatigue. I think you and I would show evidence of moral regression if somebody was shooting at us while we were at work.
The Mail says that this shows that officers were partly responsible for the extreme state that Blackman was in when he pulled the trigger. The report is now going to form a major plank of his battle for justice which was debated in Parliament two days ago. The Mail’s discovery of the full executive summary of the report was followed by minsters’ caving in to demands from Blackman’s lawyers to have confidential access to all its 50 pages. Who is the MOD protecting?
It’s not for the benefit of the country that this report was blacked out. It’s surely for the benefit of pen-pushers in the MOD. “Blackman and his troops were at breaking point”, says the Mail after a “tour from hell in Hellmand province that had seen comrades tortured and killed.” But the Mail investigation discovered that Blackman’s court martial was blocked from hearing the truth about these mitigating circumstances. Had this not been the case, he might of faced a manslaughter charge instead of murder.
The executive summary of the Navy’s report into the shooting that was leaked to the Mail is marked “official-sensitive”. It lays bare how commanders were blind to the psychological strain and fatigue endured by Blackman and his men. The fact that the damning conclusion is blotted out with censors’ black ink illustrates how the UK government refuse to acknowledge that there are any systemic problems within the corridors of power. On the contrary, they have shifted criticism towards how the leak got into the hands of the media in the first place.
Meanwhile, in response to a question from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas about the number of airstrikes undertaken ostensibly against ISIL by the British over the past year. Fallon said the estimated number of ISIL fighters killed as a result of UK strikes from September 2014 to 31 August 2015 is around 330. “This figure is highly approximate, ”he said, not least given the absence of UK ground troops in a position to observe the effects of strike activity.” He added that he believed that no civilians had been injured or killed by such strikes.
This announcement follows the extrajudicial murder of two British citizens in Syria justified on the highly implausible grounds that the alleged terrorists presented an imminent threat to the population in Britain thousands of miles away. It’s hence an absurdity that the government acted in self-defense. What Fallon’s announcement and the conviction of Blackman for murder highlight is a major contradiction.
Michael Fallon effectively admits that the British government doesn’t have the faintest idea how many people have been killed by British airstrikes in the year up to 31 August 2015. If he doesn’t know how many have been killed, it follows that he doesn’t know who has been killed and in what circumstances. Therefore he is unable to conclude, as he did, that it’s his belief that “no civilians had been injured or killed by such strikes”.
Logically, it’s only possible to claim you are under imminent threat from terrorists if you are able to identify the nature of the said threat and the only way to do that is to be able to identify those who are allegedly threatening you. How then, can the government claim self defense under such vague circumstances? Dropping bombs from a great height in order to supposedly ‘target’ terrorists can never be precise despite the propaganda claims to the contrary. Killing in this way is necessarily indiscriminate.
How can it be justified that officers’ who were partly responsible for the extreme state of mind of one of their underlings and a foreign secretary who oversees them all, get a free pass for murder (in terms of the latter, mass murder), while the guy at the bottom who pulled the trigger as a result of the actions of the said officers that led to his conviction, gets life imprisonment?
It’s reasonable to assume that there are certain circumstances in which somebody on the battlefield who is showing evidence of moral regression, psychological strain and fatigue and whose life would almost always be under imminent threat could be justified in killing an enemy combatant. But it’s impossible to envisage the mitigating circumstances by which it could be justified for others higher up the chain of command who oversee or give orders to somebody else to press a button on a computer screen in order to release bombs from a great height that would, by their very nature, kill large amounts of innocent people indiscriminately within the vicinity of the intended “target”.
Cameron defended the imprisonment of Blackman prior to an intended visit to see the Afghan president, So it would appear that Blackman is the political fall guy in this sorry saga whilst his friend, Fallon, gets off the hook. Blackman was prosecuted so why not Fallon?