Editorial- island.lk

March 20, 2017 at 4:23 pm

The cost of killing savage killers

Last week’s reduction of the murder conviction of Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman, currently in jail for shooting an injured Taliban terrorist in Afghanistan in 2011, to manslaughter is of interest to all countries faced with accountability issues. Five judges of the Court Martial Appeal Court in London overturned the original judgment against Blackman on grounds of ‘diminished responsibility’. They held that Blackman had suffered from ‘quite exceptional stressors’.

Blackman’s predicament typifies that of all military personnel, engaged in battling savage terrorists the world over. Royal Marines were fighting an elusive enemy in a hostile terrain, sown with mines, against numerous odds when the alleged incident occurred. War is not a game of football. Not even football matches are free from clashes though no one risks his life therein. Blackman’s colleagues have said they did not call for help to remove the injured enemy because they knew the Taliban terrorists would target the vehicles carrying medics et al. Battlefield excesses must, no doubt, be avoided, but those who champion human rights from the refuge of five-star hotels may not understand how the mind of a soldier, trapped in a slay-or-be-slain situation, works.


It is only natural that the British public leapt to Blackman’s defence and celebrated the reduction of his conviction. They also raised funds for his appeal. They know, as the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared in 2009, soldiers like Blackman were fighting in Afghanistan to ‘keep Britain’s streets safe’. The British media, too, handled the issue in such a way that the scales were tilted in favour of the incarcerated Royal Marine. They told the world his side of the story and revealed the circumstances which had led to the incident. Leading the campaign from the front, The Daily Mail took up cudgels for Blackman; it has boasted that it was instrumental in having his conviction downgraded to manslaughter on the basis of expert opinion that he suffered from combat stress. If only the western media acted likewise in handling allegations against the armed forces of other countries as well!


In this country, too, anti-LTTE groups, a few months ago, collected funds to help a soldier who was ordered by courts to pay compensation to the family of a Tiger he had shot dead while the victim was escaping from their custody. The government has drawn heavy flak for cosponsoring a UNHRC resolution which calls for a hybrid war crimes probe. What the situation will be like in the event of a war crime investigation getting underway is not difficult to imagine.


One may argue that Britain has set an example by trying one of her elite commandos for a war crime. While this argument holds water to a considerable extent the fact remains that the overturning of Blackman’s conviction points to a serious lapse on the part of a lower court and shows that the British judges hearing war crimes cases are far from infallible. Initially, many thought it was an open and shut case with Blackman being found guilty as charged. Those who are calling for the participation of Commonwealth judges including those from Britain in the war crimes tribunal to be set up here ought to realise that their foreign gods, too, have feet of clay.


Meanwhile, a question that has gone unasked is why the US, which is leading a global human rights campaign hasn’t acted like the UK where the execution of Osama bin Laden is concerned. Blackman was suffering from combat stress. The US commandos who raided bin Laden’s hideout in 2011 were free from such problems, but they killed the unarmed terrorist leader while the then US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and all defence big guns were watching the operation live at the White House. Since Obama could communicate with the troops in action and was in control of the situation as the Commander-in-Chief, shouldn’t he also be held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of an unarmed terrorist?