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Regina v. Sergeant Alexander Wayne Blackman ("Marine A")

This case summary is being revised and will be updated soon

Court General Court Martial held at Military Court Centre Bulford, Great Britain (UK)
Case number 2012CM00442
Decision title Sentencing Remarks
Decision date 6 December 2013
  • Regina (the Crown)
  • Alexander Wayne Blackman (a.k.a. "Marine A")
Categories War crimes
Keywords extrajudicial killing, execution, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions
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On 15 September 2011, while on patrol in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, UK Marines Sergeant Alexander Blackman and his men were on patrol. They found a Taliban insurgent who had been seriously wounded (lawfully) by an Apache helicopter, and as such formed no longer a threat. After removing his AK47, magazines and a grenade, Blackman caused him to be moved to a place where you wanted to be out of sight of his operational headquarters at Shazad so that "PGSS can’t see what we’re doing to him". He ordered those of his men giving some first aid to stop, and when he was sure headquarters could not see him, he discharged a 9mm round into his chest from close range. He then told his patrol to remain silent about what happened, saying that he had just broken the Geneva Convention.

Taking into consideration Blackman's superior position as sergeant (under command of the patrol) and the consequences his acts could have for other British soldiers - namely possible reprisals - the Court found Blackman guilty of murder in violation of the laws of war (a war crime). He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a possibility for parole after ten years, stripped of his ranks and dismissed from service with disgrace.

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Procedural history

On 15 September 2011, the-UK Marine Sergeant Blackman and a nunmber of soldiers under his command were on patrol in Helmand, Afghanistan, as part of the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) that aims to protect the Afghan population and institutions from Taliban insurgents and to prevent al-Qaeda from regaining power. At this day there had been clashes with insurgents.

Blackman and his patrol found an unknown insurgent, who was seriously wounded after he had been shot (lawfully) by an Apache helicopter. Blackman disarmed the man, ordered his patrol to stop giving him first aid, dragged him out of sight of the PGSS ("Persistent Ground Surveillance System") and/or helicopter crew, and shot him in the chest with his pistol, as a consequence of which the man died. He told his patrol to keep the events to theirselves.

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Related developments

On 5 December 2013 the UK High Court lifted an anonymity order, meaning Blackman's name and personnel file could be made public.

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Legally relevant facts

The unnamed insurgent was seriously wounded when Blackman found him. While dragging him out of sight, Blackman was quoted to have said: "PGSS can't see what we're doing to him" (p. 1). Afterwards, he killed the man. The Defence contested this summary of facts, alleging that the insurgent was already dead when Blackman shot at him in a moment of loss of self-control, taking out his anger on a corpse.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions - as well as customary international laws of war - prohibit the targeting of combatants who are hors de combat, for example if they are wounded and therefore are not capable of fighting anymore.

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Core legal questions

  • Did Alexander Blackman unlawfully kill the unnamed Afghan insurgent?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Art. 23(c) of the Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
  • Art. 12 of the First Geneva Convention.

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Court's holding and analysis

HHJ Jeff Blackett, Judge Advocate General for the Court Martial, first and foremost emphasised the importance of the investigation and prosecution: "if the British Armed Forces are not assiduous in complying with the laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law they would become no better than the insurgents and terrorists they are fighting" (p. 1).

He then considered the facts: the insurgent was wounded and hors de combat when Blackman killed him. The situation was calm - Blackman took his time to kill the man, apparently knowing this was prohibited under the laws of war as he ordered his men to remain silent about it, and no evidence was found of the killing having taken place "in the heat of battle". Rather, the Court found Blackman's "tone and calmness as [he] commented after [he] had shot him were matter of fact and in that respect they were chilling".  Because of this, Blackman was found to be guilty of murder.

As aggravating factors were taken into account the helplessness of the insurgent at the time, the risks the act has brought upon British service personnel (providing "ammunition to the terrorists whose propaganda portrays the British presence in Afghanistan as part of a war on Islam in which civilians are arbitrarily killed", p. 4), and the fact that he was in charge of the patrol. Additionally, he was found to have abused his postion as superior by ordering his men to cover up what he had done. Nevertheless, several mitigating factors were found to apply as well: "[t]he cumulative effect of the increased kinetic activity, together with the deaths and life changing injuries to fellow marines had an obvious effect on [him]", as well as the fact that the insurgent had most probably been firing at one of the commando posts before he was hit by the helicopter. Also the recent death of his father, his previous good character and excellent record of service were taken into account.

Sergeant Blackman was convicted for the murder (as a war crime), stripped of his ranks, dismissed from service with disgrace and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after ten years.

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials