The appeal hearing of a British marine who killed a wounded Taliban fighter has heard that the military company he belonged to had abused and mistreated other Afghan nationals.
On the second and final day of Alexander Blackman’s appeal, his he and fellow marines operated in at the time of the shooting.
They were constantly in fear of being shot or captured by the Taliban or activating a roadside bomb, five court of appeal judges were told. They lived in a small roofless compound with no lock on the back gate and were rarely visited by their commanding officer, leaving Blackman feeling isolated.
But the hearing was also told of concerns about how Blackman’s unit, J Company, operated. Richard Whittam QC, for the director of service prosecutions, read an extract of a statement by a marine colonel called Oliver Lee that referred to “being required to clean up the consequences of acts of abuse and mistreatment by J Company against certain local Afghan nationals”.
No more details were given, but J Company was one of three 42 Commando rifle companies operating in the area under the command of a major.
Whittam said Lee believed there was a lack of leadership and discipline in J Company, and reminded the court that before the then Sgt Blackman shot the wounded fighter in the chest another marine had suggested shooting him in the head. Whittam asked if that suggestion gave some insight into the marines’ attitude to the local population.
Blackman remains in prison, having being convicted of murdering the unnamed Taliban fighter by a court martial in 2013. Following a campaign led by his wife, Claire, championed by the Daily Mail, the case was referred back to the appeal court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Three psychiatrists have told the court that at the time of the shooting Blackman was suffering from a mental illness called adjustment disorder. He had reached the point where he didn’t – or couldn’t – care, the court heard. He was burned out and his moral compass affected. It is open to the judges hearing the case to quash the murder conviction and substitute it with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Whittam conceded Blackman had the illness, but said it was up to the court to decide whether he had acted as he had because of it. He has pointed out that in a video of the incident, captured on another marine’s head-cam, Blackman appears calm, rational and in control.
Blackman’s legal team have a “macho” man who refused to show weakness and who did not realise he had a mental illness.
It hardly needs a psychiatrist to point out that the conditions at CP Omar … were ripe for mental illness or breakdown
Jonathan Goldberg QC, for Blackman, said on Wednesday conditions were hellish. The area was littered with bombs – improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “Official statistics show that there was an explosion by IED, whether controlled or hostile, every 16 hours on average throughout the six months of the tour.” He said the most common injuries were to the lower limbs and genitalia.
Goldberg said “vile atrocities” were committed by the Taliban against the soldiers. He said he would not go into the details in open court because they were so disturbing.
The barrister also referred to Col Lee’s report, pointing out that he described the leadership and oversight of Blackman’s commanders as “shockingly bad, and directly causal to Sgt Blackman’s conduct”.
In the six months Blackman was in charge at a command post code-named Omar, he was visited by his commanding officer only twice at most. A high-flying young Marine Corps officer, Lee resigned over how he felt Blackman had been treated.
Goldberg added: “It hardly needs a psychiatrist to point out that the conditions under which Blackman was serving at CP Omar were ripe for mental illness or breakdown.”
The court, packed with supporters of Blackman, including many veterans, was admonished at one point by the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, after breaking into applause over a quip by Goldberg. Thomas threatened to clear the court if it happened again. Blackman, who is serving eight years in prison, watched proceedings via video link.
The court has watched the video of the moment the Taliban fighter is shot. Blackman could be heard saying: “Shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.” He then turned to comrades and said: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.”
The judges will give their decision at a later date.