Lest We Forget Victim X

There can be few more sickening and obviously provable examples of the psychotic nature of British foreign policy than the recent court martial of three Royal Marines charged with murder.

This event concerns the slaughter of a defenceless Afghan by a Royal Marine who, going on the available evidence, was at least partially encouraged by two of his colleagues. The evidence takes the form of video and audio clips of the incident which if authentic – and there’s no reason to think they’re not – is damning. The murder is bad enough, obviously, but concealed in plain sight (which is often the best place to hide things) is another piece of evidence of something that’s an even more serious event and which, to the best of my knowledge, is not being actioned or even investigated: hard incontrovertible evidence that the murder is not just another murder by another one of those frequently-occurring “anomalies” – or, in the words of deputy head of the Royal Marines Brigadier Dunham, “aberration” – but a war crime.

Immediately after the murder, the murderer, whose identity is allowed by the court to be kept secret, is heard to say:

Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.

Here we have hard incontrovertible evidence of a premeditated war crime. The fact that Marine A, as the court martial chose to label the murderer, knew that the Geneva Convention explicitly forbids such action is interesting; and the fact that he, together with his comrades, chose to casually ignore it, to treat it with contempt even, is more interesting. How did he learn about the Geneva Convention? Is it something that all Marines are taught, or did he learn it through self-study, a desire to teach himself international law? And if all Marines are routinely taught about the Geneva Convention as part of their training, how are they taught it? How do they get to learn to treat it with such blatant contempt? How is it that someone can learn about such a serious crime but feel that it’s O.K. to ignore it? And Marine A was not alone in so thinking, because just prior to the murder he has a little chat with his mates about how they’re going to kill their victim. Marine B, a university graduate, says, “Take your pick how you shoot him,” and Marine C casually offers to do the job for him, to “put one in his head if you want.”

Marine A, an experienced sergeant, was no “aberration”, and his two buddies were completely with him. These three people were not part of some uncontrolled rabble but part of a world-renowned, elite, ruthlessly efficient, highly trained and well-disciplined fighting machine. Almost certainly they were no “aberration” in the wider British army. Why did these people feel they could easily get away with committing not just a murder, but a war crime unless the incident was anything but an “aberration”? Does the remark that “obviously this doesn’t go anywhere” give us a clue? Does it suggest that the Marines’ “camaraderie”, which presumably is institutionalised as part of their training, surpasses international law? Why else would information about a war crime “obviously” not go anywhere?

We get to learn absolutely nothing about the victim. He’s simply airbrushed out of the story. We don’t even get to learn his name. One news report said the body cannot be found – so we can’t actually verify the claim that he was “already gravely injured”.   The video image appears to show a small man cowering on the ground partially wrapped in a white cloth. He seems to be unarmed and the only weapons that are visible are those held by the Marines. In other words, we have absolutely no information about the victim’s side of this outrageous incident. Who was he? What was he doing there? He just joins the millions of other unknown victims of British terror. For the purpose of this article I’ll call him “Victim X.”

The murderer and his accomplices clearly knew they were doing something wrong, as they discuss making sure they’re not being filmed by a British observation balloon – and presumably the helicopter too. And that’s another odd thing – the helicopter that supposedly wounded Victim X, what was its part in all this?  According to the BBC report:

The murder took place after a patrol base in Helmand Province came under attack from small arms fire from two insurgents… [Victim X] was seriously injured by gunfire from an Apache helicopter sent to provide air support.

Two insurgents? Two? According to the Guardian the Marines comprised an eight man patrol.  When I was in the army there would have been absolutely no chance of an eight man patrol calling for, let alone receiving, helicopter support for an attack by two insurgents using small arms fire.  We would have been expected to look after ourselves, and against just two lightly-armed attackers we would have been perfectly able to do so. So why did this patrol of eight highly trained, well-equipped elite soldiers need helicopter support to deal with two lightly armed “insurgents”? Is that really the stuff of heroes? Where did this helicopter suddenly come from?  It seems quite unlikely that two Afghan “insurgents” would have attacked eight heavily armed Marines by using small arms — especially if an Apache helicopter was within ear-shot. So what really happened there?

Another important unanswered question is how exactly did this incident come to light?

According to the BBC piece: “Royal Military Police arrested the three Marines in October 2012 after video footage was found on a serviceman’s laptop by civilian police in the UK.”

How exactly did civilian police come across the serviceman’s laptop? What was the footage doing on the laptop? Who was the serviceman in question?

According to the Independent: “The video footage was recorded by the helmet camera that, contrary to regulations, Marine B was wearing.”

So the video images used in the court martial were apparently taken by Marine B’s helmet camera. Later on, back at base, we learn he supposedly tried to delete the images – obviously not very effectively. Was Marine B the only one to have a camera? Did the other two not have them, or were they just more successful at deleting their evidence? What about the Apache helicopter, and the British observation balloon we learn about in an earlier Guardian report? Helicopters routinely record their activities – as Wikileaks can verify, and presumably an observation balloon has recording equipment, so what do their records reveal? As far as we know these questions were not asked at the court martial.

Why was Marine B wearing a camera if they’re against regulations? Did his two colleagues not notice a camera attached to his helmet – especially the murderer, who we’re told was an experienced sergeant? Are we seriously expected to believe that whilst these three professional killers are casually discussing murdering Victim X none of them, not even the wearer of the camera, is conscious of the fact that their deliberations are being recorded for posterity? The murderer later says that he “had no idea Marine B was wearing the camera – and would have ordered him to remove it if he had noticed it.”

A sergeant in the Royal Marines with many years of military experience who doesn’t notice a camera in the hat of one of his two colleagues? It must have been a very small camera; but then this is the same person who later reported that he “thought the insurgent was already dead” – an “insurgent” who, as the still photos reveal, appears to be sitting defenceless on the ground, apparently alert and with his head up.

The Verdict

On the evidence that was made available to the media Marine A should be going to prison for a very, very long time; and his two “comrades” should not have expected a very much better outcome for themselves. Although Marine A has now been found guilty of murder, the length of time he will actually serve is yet to be decided. Marines B and C get to walk away scot-free.

If real justice actually existed, the three Marines would not have been brought before a court martial comprising people who must surely have had the words “damage-limitation” pounding their brains through every minute of the proceedings.

If real justice actually existed, the murderer and his cronies would have had to appear in an Afghan court before an Afghan judge and an Afghan jury and look into the eyes of Victim X’s mother and father, brothers and sisters, wife perhaps and children. And I can’t understand why that didn’t happen. After all, haven’t we just delivered freedom and democracy to Afghanistan? Are the Afghan people not now fully ready to manage their own affairs, including judging whether or not one of their own citizens is the victim of a war crime? Isn’t that why our armed forces are preparing to leave Afghanistan, because we’ve now sorted the place out and provided the Afghans with responsible government? Surely that means the Afghans are now the most competent people to determine whether members of a foreign army have committed a war crime on one of their own citizens in their own country? Surely that would produce a more just outcome than a “trial” provided by the colleagues of the murderer, a “trial” where the murderer’s identity is allowed to remain secret and where no one even bothered to find out who Victim X actually was, let alone find out what really happened to him, on behalf of him and his family?

If real justice existed, our media would be asking all of these questions, and far more besides; and demanding answers from very high places.

If real justice actually existed, it wouldn’t just be these three Marines appearing before a court, but all of the other responsible officers too, from the officer who would have been in direct control of that particular patrol right up to the very top-ranking officer of their brigade.

If real justice existed, a public inquiry would be tasked with investigating the training of Royal Marines, looking particularly at the reason why these three highly trained, well-disciplined individuals were sure they could commit a war crime, and get away with it.

Almost certainly there was nothing exceptional about this particular war crime — except for the fact that this one happened to become public knowledge in a way that isn’t quite clear yet. But the inescapable fact is that it was a war crime, committed in cold blood, and the murderer knew exactly what he was doing. The Nuremberg Tribunal rightly indicted everyone involved in Nazi war crimes, from the lowliest Nazi murderer to the highest-ranking officers the court could get hold of to the propaganda machine that brainwashed ordinary Germans into mute acceptance of what their trusted leaders were doing in their name. If real justice existed, exactly the same thing would have happened as a consequence of this war crime.

But, of course, that hasn’t happened because real justice doesn’t exist. Although Marine A has been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, it remains to be seen just how many days behind bars he will actually serve. Even within 24 hours of the verdict The Times is screeching for clemency, quoting a general Thompson as saying that life imprisonment is “too harsh” and that a five year sentence would be “more appropriate for a crime committed in the unique pressure of war.” I wonder if Victim X’s family and friends would agree with that view. I wonder if any ordinary Afghan would. I wonder, if the situation were reversed, if a British person were murdered in similar circumstances by some foreign invader, would General Thompson still consider that five years behind bars was long enough for their killer, due to “the unique pressure of war.” Or is what we’re seeing from General Thompson good old fashioned military camaraderie?

Think about the fact that Marines B and C walk away scot-free, to return to normal military duties. What does that mean, normal military duties? Presumably it means they get to return to the companionship of like-minded comrades and to continue preaching the messianic gospel of camaraderie, of which no greater god exists — not even international law. Presumably they’ll continue to strut around in their hallowed green berets, elite “heroes” of the great British war machine, reaping the adoration of small boys and a brainwashed public.

It seems that Marine A has been sacrificed as the fall-guy. Marines B and C get to survive to prove that camaraderie is the greatest god, greater than international law. Marine A did the actual killing and deserves every minute of jail-time he’ll get; but his comrades were complicit, and the fact that they’ve been acquitted and are “free to return to military service” is proof positive, to me, of the institutionalised evil that is the British armed forces, their political enablers and the mainstream media, none of whom seem particularly outraged that what we’re talking about here is a premeditated war crime, which is the most evil by-product of the most evil abomination in existence: war.

This outrageous incident has all the feel to me of being anything but an “aberration”; it feels that it’s probably almost routine. The guilt of this appalling thing, for which the whole Royal Marines Brigade is accountable, top to bottom, together with the political establishment that sent Marine A to Afghanistan in the first place, together with a corrupt and complicit media, is being heaped on the shoulders of Marine A – in much the same way as the appalling travesty of Abu Ghraib was concentrated on Lynndie England; or how Lieutenant Calley was sacrificed for the My Lai massacre – whilst the really sinister villains, the top-ranking generals, politicians, arms-makers and media moguls close ranks and call for clemency for the war criminal they created.

So the fall-guys take one for the team, whilst the team carries on with business as usual, “free to return to military service”, free to provide the example of how to get away with murder. How could it possibly be anything else? If the enablers of British foreign policy were suddenly made accountable for their actions, it would be the death-knell of British foreign policy; and whilst elitist policy makers continue to plague our country as they’ve done for a thousand years with policies whose only purpose is to plunder foreign lands, that simply isn’t going to happen.

And as for Victim X well, who gives a damn?

John is a writer and political activist based in England. He can be contacted through his website. His main contribution comprises three free-to-use works-in-progress: The People’s Constitution, The School of Kindness, and EnMo Economics . Read other articles by John.