General's leniency call on killing

Herald Series: A distinguished Royal Marines general has called for leniency towards a fellow commando who executed an injured Taleban insurgent in Afghanistan A distinguished Royal Marines general has called for leniency towards a fellow commando who executed an injured Taleban insurgent in Afghanistan

A distinguished Royal Marines general has called for leniency towards a fellow commando who executed an injured Taleban insurgent in Afghanistan.

Major-General Julian Thompson refused to condemn the marine, who was yesterday convicted of murdering the seriously wounded prisoner in Helmand Province two years ago.

Maj Gen Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, told The Times that a five-year prison term would be more suitable than life imprisonment.

But Bill Dunham, Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, called the incident "truly shocking and appalling".

The serviceman, a sergeant known as Marine A, was found guilty of murder following a two-week court martial and faces a mandatory life term.

Two others, known only as Marines B and C, were cleared of the same charge.

Maj Gen Thompson said the shorter prison term was more appropriate for a crime committed under the unique pressures of war.

He said that "obviously it was wrong and everyone in the Royal Marines is quite clear about that".

But he added: "The Royal Marines are a family and it feels as though a member of the family has transgressed.

"I am sad for the man who did it, in that he probably had a moment of stupidity. I feel for him as I would my own son who might do something stupid."

He said it that accepting an enemy's surrender on the battlefield was "a very, very dangerous time", and told the Daily Mail: "I have no sympathy for the man who was killed but Marine A did the wrong thing by shooting him.

"But I'm not going to stand around bad-mouthing him. I won't condemn him. It is like a member of the family who has broke the law - you don't reject them, but you support them."

Marine A was convicted after footage emerged of him shooting the insurgent at close range in the centre of his chest.

As the man convulsed on the ground, Marine A told him: "There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. 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 the trial, the court heard the marines were on patrol in a "kinetic" area of Afghanistan on September 15, 2011 when they discovered the insurgent lying seriously injured in a field following an attack by an Apache helicopter.

Superiors were informed the man had died from wounds sustained in the gunship attack, in which 139 30mm anti-tank rounds were fired at him.

But a year later, footage of the murder - taken from a camera mounted on the helmet of Marine B - was discovered on a laptop by military police investigating unrelated matters.

The recording revealed a conversation between the marines before the insurgent was shot.

Marine A was overheard asking "Anyone want to give first aid to this idiot?" before Marine B replies loudly "No".

Marine C, standing over the insurgent pointing a pistol at his head, is asked Marine A if he should shoot the man in the head, a request which is refused as "that would be f****** obvious".

They marines pretend to give him first aid, he is kicked in the torso by servicemen and soon after shot by Marine A.

During the trial, David Perry QC, prosecuting, told the court martial: "It was not a killing in the heat and exercise of any armed conflict. The prosecution case is that it amounted to an execution, a field execution.

Marine A told the court martial he thought the insurgent was already dead when he shot him, and said he did so out of anger, calling it a "stupid, lack of self-control, (a) momentary lapse in my judgment".

Marine B admitted members of the patrol lied during interviews to protect their comrade.

"We all protected him by telling lies," Marine B said. "In my opinion, he had shot an alive, injured insurgent."

Marine A was remanded in custody to be sentenced on December 6. Marines B and C were freed and returned to normal duties.

After the verdict, Brigadier Dunham said: "It is a matter of profound regret in this isolated incident that one marine failed to apply his training and discharge his responsibilities.

"What we have heard over the last two weeks is not consistent with the ethos, values and standards of the Royal Marines.

"It was a truly shocking and appalling aberration. It should not have happened and it should never happen again."

He added: "It is now for the Royal Marines to consider any impact from this case on the training given to our people as we seek to uphold the very highest standards that we constantly strive to instill and perpetuate."

Sir Mike Jackson, a former head of the Army, told The Times: "The fact that due process of law has been carried out I hope demonstrates very clearly that nobody is above the law."

Military commentator Colonel Mike Dewar said he was "horrified" by Marine A's actions, but echoed calls for clemency.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I think we do need to understand there are fine margins on the battlefield.

"These soldiers have had their officer killed - their platoon commander, a very fine young man - they had seen their friends brutalised, - lost legs - they had been under the pressures of battle for weeks and months.

"I think you have to understand this is a completely different environment to a cold-blooded murder in normal circumstances.

"This was murder - have no doubt about it, and I make no excuses - but I think society does have to make some exceptions for soldiers in these extraordinary circumstances."

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