Matt Frei is Leading Britain's Conversation.
16 March 2017, 12:27
Marine A Case Highlights British Constitution At Its Best, Says James
The Marine A case, where a Sergeant's murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter, highlights 'everything that's beautiful about the British constitution' says James O'Brien.
This week Marine A had his murder conviction quashed, and James O'Brien says it's a triumph of the Fourth Estate.
Sgt Alexander Blackman, formerly know as Marine A, shot dead a wounded Taliban soldier in 2011 after he had been injured by Apache helicopter gunfire.
He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life with a minimum 10-year term, but after a three and a half year court battle, his murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter this week.
Appeal Court judges ruled the “exemplary” soldier was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness when he pulled the trigger and that his conviction should be manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Press coverage of his trial and the following campaign by the Daily Mail to have his conviction quashed is a perfect example of the media holding the Establishment to account, says James.
He said: "I just don't think that we really grasped this the first time that we came to discuss these cases. The constant, the absolutely unrelenting nature of this type of military service. I can't begin to imagine what that's like.
"And it's removed all of my reservations...about the apparent contradiction between the footage of him recorded, the footage of the killing that was filmed on someone else's helmet camera, he shot the unnamed insurgent, in the chest, at point blank range, turned to his comrades, admitted that he'd broken the Geneva Convention, you would have thought in almost all circumstances that was game over for him.
"But of course mental health defies almost all circumstances, it makes the almost the story not the all. And the more you look into this, the easier it is to conclude that he couldn't possibly be of sound mind, when he did this, he just couldn't possibly be.
"Don't think you can extrapolate from that that every single act of barbarism that takes place on a war, on a battlefield, is justified, we have the Geneva Convention for a reason, but do you know what we used to do with men suffering from shell shock during the First World War?
"We would shoot them as traitors. That's how far in the space of 100 years our understanding of mental health in the military has come.
"A hundred years ago when the First World War would still have been underway, if your mind broke, if your mental health shattered, and you ran away from the from the bullets, from the guns, from the enemy, or you just sat in a huddled heap in a trench unable to function or move, and unable completely to obey orders, or even understand what the orders you were being given represented, we, the British, we would drag you away from the front, and have you shot as a traitor.
"A hundred years later, we sent this man to prison. But, there's something quite beautiful about the congregation of media and judiciary here, the Fourth Estate, very, very odd times for my profession, given that so much of it is dedicated to telling so many lies at the moment, with regard to some of the major political issues of the moment, but when the Daily Mail gets its crack troops, pardon the pun, on a case like this, on a campaign like this, it is a thing of beauty to behold.
"A thing of absolute beauty to see journalists exercising the checks and balances upon the establishment, if you will, that sometimes only journalists can do.
"And then it gets back to court and the judiciary, again weirdly, such an emblem of the strange times we're living in, because the judiciary were enemies of the people according to The Daily Mail a couple of months ago, but judges have the power and the oversight to overturn a murder conviction, after new evidence emerges.
"This is actually pretty much everything that's beautiful about the British constitution, in action. And it has delivered a quashing of a murder verdict of a man who should never have been imprisoned for murder in the first place.
"You can't be filmed boasting about breaking the Geneva Convention and killing an unarmed man without some form of punishment, you just can't be, nobody wants to live in that world, except people who subscribe to the same values as the Taliban.
"So, I look at this story, and I don't think it's about today the judges or the journalists, or even Marine A himself. I think it's about the pretty irresistible conclusion that people above him in the chain of command were prepared to throw him to the wolves in order to camouflage, and cloak, the scenario into which he had been put.
"Former comrades who speak of chaos, on the ground, among this section of the Royal Marines, among this posting, and the absolutely terrifying thought that they were prepared to use him as a sort of sacrificial lamb to cover up incompetence higher up the chain of command."