A Royal Marine jailed for murder showed “poor leadership” and “moral disengagement” when he killed an incapacitated Taliban insurgent in by shooting him in the chest, according to a Royal Navy review.
Sgt Alexander Blackman is serving an eight-year sentence for killing the captive militant, who had already been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, with a single close-range shot from a 9mm pistol.
Amid outrage at the conviction, , saying that the killing was manslaughter, not murder.
On Wednesday, the navy released a (pdf) in Helmand province, acknowledging concerns over an “overly aggressive” approach in Blackman’s unit, 42 Commando.
The report said: “Sgt Blackman allowed professional standards to slip to an unacceptable low level at CP [command post] Omar. His poor leadership was a significant contributory factor in the way the insurgent was treated by other members of the patrol.
“Sgt Blackman’s rank was a significant contributory factor in preventing others within the patrol from questioning his orders or challenging his actions. Group conformity and the patrol’s positive past experiences of Sgt Blackman may also have contributed.
“Moral disengagement on the part of Sgt Blackman and the members of his multiple was a significant contributory factor in the handling and shooting of the insurgent.
“The difficulty experienced by Sgt Blackman in changing from a mindset which required him to kill an enemy to one which accepted having to administer first aid to an enemy in order to try and save his life, was a contributory factor in his treatment of the insurgent.”
The report recommended that the case should in future be used as a case study for marine training. “Specifically, it needs to make clear that loyalty to an ‘oppo’ [friend in military slang] is best expressed by challenging him before he makes a mistake rather than trying to cover up for him afterwards,” it said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mark Lancaster, minister for defence personnel, told MPs he would make the full, unredacted navy report available on a confidential basis to Blackman’s new defence team.
In a Westminster Hall debate on the case, requested by the Conservative MP Richard Drax, Lancaster said: “I remain convinced that transparency is the key in this case and I am keen to provide it.
“Therefore, if Sgt Blackman’s defence team wish this report to be considered by the criminal case review commission the MoD would provide them a confidential copy. I hope this release quashes the claims that the MoD is attempting some kind of cover-up or conspiracy in the case. This is simply not the case.”
Welcoming the move, Drax, who had earlier described Blackman’s conviction as a “miscarriage of justice”, said it was a “frank response, which was not expected”.
Lancaster spoke after repeated calls from Drax and fellow MPs to make the report public, as well as strong criticism from some of the actions of the chain of command during Blackman’s last tour of Afghanistan. Johnny Mercer, the Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View, who served as a captain in the British army in Afghanistan, accused officers of “epic failures” in the way they handled the conflict.
He said a focus on “courageous restraint” had been admirable, but said: “We must never take the collective faults of a system based on a policy generated by the demands placed upon our men and hang them around one individual’s neck.”
But despite the outpouring of support for Blackman, Adam Holloway, Conservative MP for Gravesham and a veteran of the Gulf War, called on members to reaffirm the high standards expected of British soldiers. He said: “Aside from the points about this case, would the honourable and gallant members agree that it remains extremely important that our soldiers behave with the highest possible standards and do not abuse or execute prisoners of war.”
The moment Blackman shot the injured Afghan prisoner was captured on another marine’s helmet-mounted camera, as was his remark: “There you are. 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.”
During his trial at the military court centre in Bulford, Wiltshire, two years ago, during which he was known only as Marine A, he denied murder, and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.
Blackman, of Taunton, Somerset, . He was also dismissed with disgrace from the Royal Marines after serving with distinction for 15 years, including tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
His subsequent conviction challenge was , although his minimum term was cut to eight years after it was found that he was suffering a combat stress disorder at the time of the incident.
But last week, supporters claimed key evidence in Blackman’s favour was suppressed at his court martial. A senior officer, Col Oliver Lee, quit after his offer to give mitigating evidence on Blackman’s behalf was rejected, .
The newspaper said it had seen documents that show Lee accused fellow officers of withholding details of operational failings leading up to the incident.
On the same day, author Frederick Forsyth, who has become a key figure in the campaign, told Radio 4’s Today programme that, in his view, the court martial “stank from top to bottom”.
V-Adm Sir Philip Jones, fleet commander of the , said it was “not appropriate” to release the internal review into Blackman’s actions in full because it contained “information considered sensitive from an operational, security and personal perspective”.
“However, in recognition of the heightened sensitivity and public interest in this matter, a suitably redacted version of the review’s executive summary and recommendations has been made available to the public,” he said.
“What happened on 15 September 2011 was not consistent with the ethos, values and standards of the Royal Marines. As a key part of its support to, and command of, the Royal Marines, the Naval Service is determined to ensure that the sequence of events that led to the shooting is fully understood and that all possible lessons are learned.
“The Royal Marines deservedly have a worldwide reputation as one of the elite fighting forces. Our commandos go through one of the toughest training programmes in order to deploy to some of the harshest environments in the world. I am proud of its reputation and achievements.”