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Photo: GettyImages
Alexander Wayne Blackman
Photo: GettyImages
Ben-Dror Yemini
The interesting case of the British soldier that opened fire
Op-ed: In 2011, Sergeant Alexander Blackman shot a terrorist who was lying on the ground wounded and helpless, and the British reaction to what happened is quite interesting.

This is the story of a soldier who killed in cold blood a terrorist who was lying on the ground wounded and helpless. This did not happen in Israel of 2016, but rather in Afghanistan in 2011, in the notorious Helmand Province. The soldier was Alexander Wayne Blackman, a sergeant in the British Royal Marines. His unit got into a firefight which also involved an Apache helicopter, hitting a Taliban militant whose name remains unknown. 

 

 

Some soldiers kicked the wounded terrorist. Blackman ordered two soldiers from his unit to not give him first aid. Suddenly, Blackman drew his weapon and shot the terrorist in the chest, sending the wounded terrorist to the next world with a quote from Shakespeare: "There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***." It wasn't just another murder, this murder was poetic. He also added, "I just broke the Geneva Convention." 

 

None of the members in his unit report this. There were no British "B'Tselem" cameras in the area. The whole event was supposed to remain unknown, but fate decreed otherwise. The helmet camera of one of the team members documented every detail of the incident. The video fell into the hands of the civilian police by accident. An indictment for murder was filed against Blackman and some of his comrades in arms. In December 2013, he was convicted, as the judge criticized the public pressure and determined that it was "murder in cold blood."

 

Alexander Wayne Blackman (Photo: GettyImages)
Alexander Wayne Blackman (Photo: GettyImages)

 

Blackman was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of ten years. An appeal was filed, and while the conviction remained, in May 2014 his sentence was reduced to a minimum of eight years.

 

There was no argument over the facts. The video revealed the full picture, including that Blackman was aware that he was violating the provisions of the Geneva Convention. In fact, he was the first British soldier convicted for murder on the battlefield since World War II. There were other war crimes indictments, but the British legal system somehow always knew how to find extenuating circumstances. Blackman's story ended differently.

 

The conviction intensified the protests. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, ordered soldiers not to attend demonstrations in solidarity with Blackman, because these were "political" demonstrations. Fallon's order was ignored as thousands rallied, including 700 members of the Marines, both on active duty and in the reserves. Many of the demonstrators were in uniform. 804,000 GBP were collected in a short time by readers of the Daily Mail, to help pay the convicted soldier's legal fees.

 

There was a heated argument in military circles. Senior commanders have made it clear that the soldier's actions were a "serious violation." Others protested the very decision to put him to trial. Colonel Oliver Lee, commander of a commando unit, harshly criticized the judicial process, and the fact no chance was given to present the difficult circumstances that led to the incident. He resigned from the military in protest. Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, claimed Blackman was "thrown to the wolves by cowards."

 

A 2013 poll showed that 39 percent opposed the harsh punishment given to Blackman, while 37 percent supported it. Another survey pointed to the fact that 90 percent favored limiting the amount of time that former soldiers can be put to trial. A survey among readers of the Guardian (an avowed leftist newspaper), found that 50 percent opposed the punishment given to Blackman.

  

Even Prince Harry expressed dissatisfaction with the conviction. The Daily Telegraph, not exactly a right-wing newspaper, published an editorial supporting the request for clemency. The BBC aired a lengthy program that introduced the dilemmas, the difficulties, and a wide range of opinions on the incident. Most of the media sided with Blackman, accompanied by the familiar arguments: Pressure, the heat of battle, handling months of impossible conditions while facing suicide bombers and snipers.

 

Protests in solidarity with Blackman (Photo: EPA)
Protests in solidarity with Blackman (Photo: EPA)

 

A formal petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures in support of Blackman. Even elected officials stepped into action. On September 16, 2015, the British Parliament held a discussion on the case. MPs expressed resentment over the legal proceedings and the sentencing. Members of different political parties repeatedly claimed that there wasn't enough consideration given to the circumstances, presenting Blackman as a victim of these circumstances. The MPs protested that the report describing the background behind the incident has not been made public. There were no recriminations; rather there was mostly empathy for the convicted.

 

Last December, an additional appeal was filed. Again hundreds of reserve commando soldiers marched in support of the appeal, many of them in uniform. The Daily Mail published another editorial that claimed that this "battle for justice continues to stand out as one of the most striking legal campaigns of recent times." Even the Guardian, another British newspaper, empathized with Blackman's supporters and called him a hero, although it justified the conviction. 

 

The story is not over. Even the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made it clear that further discussion was necessary. As time passes, public pressure to cancel the conviction only grows.

 

All of this happened in Britain. What a world of difference between us and them. The leading newspapers didn't cry out "fascism." Prince Harry, as well as the politicians and soldiers who expressed their solidarity with Blackman, weren't deemed "fascists," and the word "murderer" wasn't spoke in Parliament.

 

The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to some serious phenomena, and clearly there were some unusual incidents. But the British elite dubbed these soldiers as "heroes." The show of solidarity with the soldier, from all walks of British society and from all political parties, hasn't signaled the "end of democracy."

 

In Israel, videos from B'Tselem are shown over and over again, to enhance the effect of propaganda. In Britain, it is a different story. The video got to the police by accident, and was the decisive evidence that led to the conviction. The video didn't get public exposure, although every word spoken in it is known. How did this come to be? Because the Judge Advocate General, Jeff Blackett, determined that the video may a powerful propaganda tool to the Taliban and other extremists. We know what the enlightened Falangists would say if someone were to make a similar argument in Israel.  

 

The British case is not presented here to justify the unusual incident. Israel should be proud of the ethical norms that its commanders enforce. The response of Chief of Staff Gabi Eisenkot should be saluted. It is similar to the reaction of Nick Houghton, Chief of the Defense Staff of the British Armed Forces. He received scathing criticism by some of his predecessors and from the lords who served as judges. This incident is described here because we sometimes have to observe others to understand that we are a lot more normal than the way our media often depicts us. The incident is shown here in the context of these people, and there are too many of them, that stigmatize Israel. That's enough, guys. We're fed up with the exploitation of every unusual incident to make incredibly vile generalizations. We're tired of the endless celebration of self-made demonization. 

 

Self-loathing in Israel has reached an alarming level. Hooligans from the right have Ya'alon in their sights, while the hooligans on the left, who hold a lot of sway in the media and in academia, have the head of the State of Israel in their sights. This is not criticism. This is not freedom of expression. This is not democracy. Make no mistake. The British story proves that Israel is sane, but its discourse is dominated by hooligans on the left and right. And that is indeed troubling.

 

 

 

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