It’s a sad day when soldiers have to stand trial in civilian courts for stuff that happened on the battlefield. However not only are we there, but one soldier (Al Blackman) went to prison convicted of murder. This has subsequently been dropped to manslaughter through diminished responsibility but the facts remain that he was dragged through the courts and locked up after his return from an extremely difficult tour. Earlier this year it was also announced that veterans of Northern Ireland operations were also to be investigated to see if they had anything to answer for.

It would appear that in a world where political madness has gotten out of hand, the people who keep us safe are the ones being brought to book for carrying out the commands of the same people who now hunt them down. It is even at the point where recruitment and retention are reportedly being affected. What the people who are advocating this stuff forget, is that it was the government’s vote in by the majorities who signed off on the troops going to battle. It was the spin doctors who persuaded the people to vote for those who were advised by the same people to go to war. If soldiers must stand trial, then so must those who gave the orders. The ones pulling the strings from the comfort of plush offices well away from the coal face are the ones who are as culpable as anyone should it be decided that something was questionable.

Soldiers face tough decisions wherever they operate. One wrong move and they don’t come home, it’s not an easy task. The pressure of the battlefield is ridiculous and if you have never been there, you can never have any understanding. Split second decisions with life and death consequences are performed as a regular occurrence by brave people who have the weight of battle on their backs. Long hard tours with little rest, unrelenting life changing circumstances and the constant sword of the enemy in your face have an effect on the way you behave. How can any suit in London or anywhere else possibly understand any of this without experiencing it. No judge, barrister, politician or jury member can even begin to imagine such pressure without having spent any time in similar circumstance. Yet some are crying and pointing fingers at the very people who went out to try to defend them.

When I was in the Regiment, we underwent a small amount of legal training. We had army legal teams briefing us on how the law works in relation to our employment. At the time I thought that it was a bit over the top, but now I bet Al Blackman wished he had been given some advice before what happened to him. And with the NI vets now being hauled over a barrel, I bet they wished they had more insight. In the case of Al, I think that there was a lot of questions I would have wanted answered before I gave a statement.

The fact that there was no autopsy on the insurgent left me wondering if Al Blackman actually killed him or not. Video evidence and his own testimony were used to convict him but the Afghan had been hit several times by 30 cal rounds. It cannot be disputed that Blackman shot the guy but it still cannot be proven “beyond reasonable doubt ” that the bullet from his gun was responsible for the death. I would also have wanted to challenge the experience of the jury. What qualified them to pass judgement on something they knew nothing about? This was a military affair and I believe it should have been dealt with by the military. People who knew something of the pressures he was under would have understood how his mindset was at the time.

What I have learned over the years is that it is better to keep quiet and wait for legal advice before you incriminate yourself. Although they say anything you fail to say in your defence right away could be used against you if later you rely on it. The most important thing for me is that you don’t say anything straight away which completely hangs you out to dry. The prosecution or questioning officers in any case will be trying their best to slip you up so that they can gain a conviction. If you are unsure of what you should be saying it is important that you seek advice.

If you are still serving and you are not happy with the advice you are being given, then halt proceedings until you have spoken with someone you are happy with and can trust. It is better to go back to a cell and wait a while than to say the wrong thing and cut your own throat yourself. A decent brief will have your back, he /she will know what is the best way to approach things. I strongly believe that Blackman could have had his charge lowered to attempted murder if he had not given a statement admitting to killing the terrorist. After all Blackman is no doctor he was not qualified to say if the man was dead of alive. Time after time we sat back and watched terrorists from the province who were as guilty as a puppy next to a pile of poo quite literally get away with murder.

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Do not underestimate a decent legal team. It also has to be said at this point that military lawyers are not known for being the best. In fact far from it, any lawyer worth his salts is out there in the civilian courts earning a fortune. So unless it is a solely military affair, you need to fight fire with fire and have a brief to at least match the one who is up against you. If you can’t afford one, you may be able to get legal aid so explore all options.

The bottom line is that now we live in a world where everyone is held responsible all the time and governments will appease anyone to gain a vote, you have to mind your back. Ultimately unless it is gross misconduct and a soldier is operating well outside of the law, what happens on the battlefield should stay there. Making videos of incidents where there has been extreme fighting and awful happenings is only going to give cause for alarm to people who don’t understand. I am not advocating that soldiers operate outside of the restrictions placed upon them by the Geneva convention. I am saying make sure that what you do is not later available for misinterpretation.

 

Featured image courtesy of The Telegraph.