War crime tribunals must take stress of combat into account, say generals

War crime tribunals must take stress of combat into account, say generals
The stress of the battlefield must be taken into consideration when dealing with crimes carried out by British troops deployed overseas, a group of retired generals has urged.

Citing the case of Sgt Alex Blackman, the marine jailed in 2013 for executing a wounded insurgent in Afghanistan, the former senior officers complained that crimes of the battlefield could not be judged as if they had occurred in Britain.

The generals included a former head of the Royal Navy and a former chief of the armed forces as a whole.

Former army general and World War II veteran Lord Bramall told the Times that although Blackman “should have been punished, he doesn’t deserve a life sentence for murder.

Blackman, who was given 10 years for the killing, did in fact have two years lopped off his sentence on appeal for reasons relating to his state of mind at the time. He has another appeal due in 2017.

I don’t think people understand the conditions of a battlefield, particularly a very bloody battlefield,” Lord Bramall said.

I don’t think [the case] should be considered exactly the same as if the incident happened in west London. The stresses of a battlefield are different to normal circumstances.

Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, told the newspaper that the judges had failed to provide those who decided the verdict with the option of manslaughter, leaving them no choice but to convict Blackman of murder.

There is a danger of sitting in a nice warm courtroom for days and days with no one trying to kill you, [or] having tried to kill you the day before,” West said.

“They make judgments as if [the soldiers] are standing on the streets of the UK. That’s a very dangerous thing.”

Neither retired officer commented on the fact that mitigation had been given in the first appeal nor that Blackman was convicted by a court martial panel of military officers led by a judge – Justice Jeff Blackett – who is himself a retired military officer.