Occasional Paper Series No: 6 - ‘We Need to Talk About Marine A’

The story of ‘Marine A’ is a complex one. Blackman’s case is a microcosm of the human and societal impact of fifteen years of persistent war - a tragic theatre of lessons that reaches in ‘breadth, width and depth’ from the hidden ethical risks of Counter Insurgency (COIN) tactics, through the psychological influence of constant combat, and as far as strategy and the relationship between a society and its military.

In 2011, Alexander Blackman was a 37 year-old elite Royal Marine commando with thirteen years’ experience. He was combat hardened, having served in Iraq three times, and Afghanistan. The Supreme Court would later describe his service prior to the incident as ‘exemplary’. With over a decade under his belt, Blackman landed in Helmand Province facing a challenging tour in a highly contested and kinetic area. Five and a half months later, Blackman was filmed deliberately killing a wounded Afghan insurgent by firing his pistol into the man’s chest; he and others were subsequently charged with murder.

In November 2013 Blackman (known at the trial as ‘Marine A’) was convicted of murder; the others were acquitted. A psychiatric defence was not pursued by Blackman’s legal team, but basic psychiatric analysis was submitted as part of mitigation for sentencing; successfully influencing the leniency of the Court. Blackman was sentenced to life with a minimum term of ten years, and dishonourable discharge from the Royal Marines. A 2014 appeal to the Supreme Court, based on the extreme stress that Blackman was under at the time of the killing, reduced this minimum term to eight years.

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Lieutenant Colonel Tom McDermott DSO MA
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