A Royal Marine convicted of murdering an injured Taliban fighter says he has been made a scapegoat, as supporters claim key evidence in his favour was suppressed at his court martial.
Sgt Alexander Blackman shot his victim in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol after the Afghan had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter.
Video of the incident recorded him turning to his comrades and telling them: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva convention.”
and handed him a life sentence with a minimum of 10 years. But now supporters say he was the victim of an establishment fix-up and that key evidence from his commanding officer was withheld.
Col Oliver Lee quit after his offer to give mitigating evidence on Blackman’s behalf was rejected, according to the . The paper says it has seen documents that show Lee accused fellow officers of withholding details of operational failings leading up to the 2011 incident near a British outpost in Helmand province.
On Friday morning, Frederick Forsyth, the author and journalist, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he believed Blackman was being made a scapegoat. He said that after sentencing Blackman, the court martial panel “put their caps on and saluted him”, adding: “Honourable men do not salute a perjurer and a murderer. They were sending a message and what they were saying was: ‘We have done what we were told to do.’ This court martial, in my view, stank from top to bottom.” Forsyth also revealed that Blackman was convicted in a majority decision of five to two.
Speaking from jail, Blackman told the Daily Mail that the killing was a “split-second mistake” and added he felt he was “not the same person” at the end of his tour of duty as he was when he started.
“I have been treated like someone who had carefully planned to kill his wife, invented an alibi and buried her body in the woods. I made a split-second mistake,” the 41-year-old said. “I had been sent to a brutal battlefield to fight for my country in an unpopular war. And yet at the end of my trial the establishment lined up to portray me as an evil scumbag because it suited them to do so at the time.”
During the trial Blackman, who was known as Marine A, denied murder, and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.
He was also dismissed with disgrace from the Royal Marines after serving with distinction for 15 years, including tours of Iraq, and Northern Ireland. His minimum term was later cut to eight years because of the combat stress disorder he was suffering at the time of the incident.
Forsyth, who has become a key member of the campaign to free Blackman, told Today he believed the conviction was a miscarriage of justice. “The evidence was not produced that this man was nearly feral with exhaustion,” Forsyth said.
“You can get a fighting man so tired, so consumed by battle fatigue that he is hardly even thinking straight. These men had been five and a half months in this battle role … these men were beyond exhausted and clearly things were going wrong in their heads.”
Nick Harvey, a former armed forces minister, told Today he was not surprised that the case against Blackman was brought, but he was shocked by the severity of the sentence. “It seemed to me that there were so many facts that could be entered into mitigation,” said Harvey, who was no longer in the cabinet when the court martial was brought.
An online petition calling for Blackman’s conviction to be quashed gained more than 100,000 signatures late last year.