Marine 'A' And The Meaning Of 'Life'

The Dolphin's Brain By The Dolphin's Brain, 10th Nov 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>News>Crime

Life produces coincidences. This week, when we are urged to buy a poppy to remember the fallen, Marine 'A' is found guilty of murdering an injured Afghan insurgent in Helmand province. Should we buy poppies at all? Does Marine 'A' deserve leniency?


One could be forgiven, as a British citizen, if one suffered from a bit of confusion this weekend. The predominant image, as November 11th approaches, is the poppy, the flower that bloomed across the battlefields of the First World War. One cannot avoid its presence on the streets of every city as a frenzy of guilt-inducing donation-hunting sweeps the country on the back of dead service personnel from across the years.

At the same time, the media is full of the story of Marine ‘A’, convicted of the murder of an injured Taliban insurgent by putting a bullet in his chest as he lay defenceless on the battlefield floor; the very epitome of a war crime.

What is the average Brit supposed to make of all this?

** Image via Wikimedia Commons: Attribution: Photo: PO(Phot) Wayne Bradbury/MOD

The Poppy of Guilt

My father served in the army in the Second World War and spent time in Europe following the invasion in 1944. His military experience left him with petit-mal epilepsy and a profound feeling of disappointment with the British establishment in general and the government machine in particular. He never bought a poppy in his life and neither have I.

It is a sad fact of life that states need armies. I would much prefer that this were not the case, but it will be a long time before the human race develops sufficiently for that to happen. Sadly, the state’s approach to those that serve is appalling. The pay is the minimum that enables recruitment to continue and the after-care leaves much to be desired. Governments have a history of denying responsibility and seeking to avoid providing all but the minimum of welfare for ex-servicemen.

If a state is willing to engage citizens in the armed services then it is the state’s responsibility to make the best possible provision for them when they leave the service or are otherwise cast aside. Instead, having inculcated a mind-set that, inevitably, leaves many with psychological problems and other difficulties reintegrating into society, the state leaves the continuing welfare of ex-service personnel to charities, and then uses guilt to ensure that the public funds them. Buy a poppy if you wish, but perhaps rather than assuaging our collective guilt by allowing ourselves to be manipulated we should, instead, be calling for proper state funding of welfare provision for our hard-pressed service men and women.

** Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: User Silversmith

Warfare Has Rules

If an example were required of what military training does to individuals, Marine ‘A’ is a prime one. For those of you who have been asleep for the past few days, Marine ‘A’ has just been convicted of murdering a Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan.

At first blush one might wonder why any British soldier should be prosecuted at all for killing what, presumably, we would term an enemy. Surely, that is what our soldiers in Afghanistan are supposed to do? Well, of course, had the insurgent been killed in the course of a specific piece of military action there would not have been a trial at all. The problem was that this was an execution.

The brief facts are that the patrol of marines had been sent out to investigate the outcome of a helicopter attack on a group of insurgents and the injured Taliban fighter was found lying on the ground. At that point he should have been treated as a prisoner, given first aid and taken into custody. That’s what, in essence, the Geneva Convention requires.

What actually happened was that the insurgent was dragged under some trees out of sight of a watching helicopter and shot, following discussions between the marines, in the chest. The whole incident was recorded on a helmet-cam but only came to light by accident some time later. The video recording has not been released, for fear of the consequences, although it was played during the court-martial. An audio version has been made available.

One report suggests that the helmet-cam itself was against regulations, which, if true, begs the question as to the purpose of making the recording in the first place. Did the marines involved have some specific reason for wanting to keep a record of their activities for their own personal use?

Perhaps a more important question is, having carried out this execution, why keep such an incriminating video at all? Was it for personal gratification? If so, what does that say about the mentality of the individuals concerned? Did they feel so invulnerable that it did not even cross their minds that they needed to be concerned about the footage?

** Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons licence


The audio is shocking. The suggestion that this killing took place in the midst of a battle or in circumstances where the marines acted on the spur of the moment is totally blown out of the water by the nonchalance exhibited by the members of the patrol. The Daily Mail Online report carries a detailed transcript of the audio played during the trial. The marines can be heard discussing where to shoot the insurgent, concluding that a head-shot would be too ‘obvious’ and the transcript makes it clear that they decided to fake the administration of first-aid.

Following the conviction of Marine ‘A’ members of the military have been quick to promote the idea of clemency. Retired Major General Julian Thompson led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands war. He told the BBC, as reported by the Telegraph online

“I understand that he’s quite an experienced guy. People are talking about him being battle hardened and therefore there is no excuse. Well actually it’s the other way round, the more times you do tours in that filthy war, the more pressure there is on you.”

He was not the only military man to suggest leniency. The same online report relates Colonel Mike Dewar’s views, which include the following.

“I think you have to understand this is a completely different environment to a cold-blooded murder in normal circumstances. This was murder - have no doubt about it, and I make no excuses - but I think society does have to make some exceptions for soldiers in these extraordinary circumstances.”

Should Life Mean Life?

Perhaps it is understandable for the military to seek to protect their own, but such views, based on what has been disclosed so far, are misguided. Someone has to maintain the rules of war and the fact that the enemy might not is no excuse for our armed forces to flagrantly breach the Geneva Convention, for that way lies madness.

A murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, even in the military. So these calls for clemency relate to the minimum term of imprisonment that should be attached as a tariff, which would be the period of time that should expire before parole can be considered.

Those seeking a minimal tariff are likely to be the same as those who expend considerable time and energy complaining that 'life should mean life' in general murder cases, without regard to the need for a touch of humanitarianism. It is ironic that in a clear case of a nonchalant, cold-bloodied execution, the average Daily Mail reader is quick to claim that the prosecution is the result of the 'pc brigade'. Read the comment section of the Mail Online report referred to above to see what I mean. Read my earlier blog on this very issue.

This nation is partially responsible for setting up the rules that govern behaviour in times of war. If we cannot abide by them, how can we lecture others about them? If I cannot convince you by reason alone then read the alternative military view to those claims for leniency - such as the words of General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces, as reported by the Daily Record.

"This was a heinous crime. Judicial process has found this individual guilty. It would be quite wrong for the armed forces to adopt some special pleading, some sort of exemption.

"If we try to put ourselves beyond the law or expect special provision from the law, then we start to erode the position where we have a moral ascendancy over those who are our enemies and that is the wrong thing to do."

This has to be right. The sentencing should reflect the entirety of the circumstances. Of course, service personnel who are posted to Afghanistan and similar places where they risk their lives are in incredibly difficult and stressful situations and this is a relevant consideration. But it is not the only or even the determining one.

The marine involved in this case carried out an execution. He did so calmly and following a discussion on the best way to do it. He knew, at the time, that his actions were in breach of the Geneva Convention. He and his colleagues lied about the circumstances and tried to cover up the whole sorry incident. These, too, are factors that have to be properly considered. The relevant issue is not clemency, leniency or anything similar but proportionality. We have to uphold the highest of humanitarian standards and be seen to do so, even in the face of the worst provocation. Otherwise, we are no better than those we legitimately criticise.

All text and images © The Dolphin’s Brain 2013 except where indicated otherwise


3 Commando Brigade, Armistice Day, Battlefield Execution, Colonel Mike Dewar, Court-Martial, Falklands, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Geneva Convention, Insurgent, Life Imprisonment, Major General Julian Thompson, Marine A, Minimum Term, Murder, November 11Th, Poppy, Remembrance Day, Royal Marines, Taliban, Tariff, War

Meet the author

author avatar The Dolphin's Brain
I am a mixed bag of lawyer, vegan, environmentalist and sports nut and my writing is likely to be passionate, of-the-moment articles on a wide variety of topics. I also write the occasional poem!

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
11th Nov 2013 (#)

A very thought provoking article.

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author avatar The Dolphin's Brain
11th Nov 2013 (#)


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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
12th Nov 2013 (#)

Nice post!

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