I am simultaneously puzzled and irritated by the ex-serving officers and politicians, now aided and abetted by a Daily Mail campaign, collectively queuing up to demand that Sgt. Alexander Blackman of the Royal Marines, who has been convicted by court martial of the cold-blooded murder of a Talban insurgent/terrorist and sentenced to life imprisonment (serving a minimum ten years), should be shown leniency, mercy and understanding.
Not being an expert upon military law myself, I am happy to begin from the viewpoint that the military court has done its job properly, in terms of assessing the facts of the case and then applying military law as influenced by the Court of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and anything else that is deemed to be relevant.
The fact that, immediately the court martial verdict had been given, Sgt Blackman was ‘discharged with dishonour’ by the Royal Marines seems to speak volumes. After all, at the time of the shooting – we have all heard the recording – Sgt Blackman commented to his colleagues “I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention, this doesn’t go any further, okay?” (or words to that effect), so he knew that what he was doing was wrong even as he did it.
How Lord Ashcroft, who has pledged to pay towards his legal expenses, and former Tory defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth, can criticise the length of the sentence is beyond me, especially when they haven’t been privy to anything but the verdict given down.
Separately, the Mail On Sunday today publishes the results of its own survey, which shows that 39% disagree with the verdict of the military court. Apparently 60% of those holding this opinion maintain he should serve five years maximum and 30% that he should not be locked up at all.
What the newspaper admits, virtually in the small print, is that 37% of those it surveyed believe the verdict was correct.
All that said, I hold no truck at all with newspaper surveys, least of all those emanating from the Mail stable. If you trust in ‘the people’ – which no person of sound mind in authority would ever do, of course – hanging of anyone convicted of anything worse than a parking fine would be mandatory.
The fact is that what Sgt Blackman did was wrong and contrary to military law. Those who seek to suggest that in some way he had been traumatised by his wartime experiences in the field – and/or the brutality of the Taliban – and therefore should be let off, need their heads examined.
Sgt Blackman was a soldier and, in the armed forces, everything is a matter of black and white. For many who join up, this is part of the attraction of serving in the military – in a world where everything else is all over the place, at least in the services you know where you stand. Every serviceman knows what the rules and, as important, the penalties for transgressing them, are … and live by both.
If caught, of course.