A Royal Marine has been convicted of murder for the battlefield execution of an injured Afghan insurgent.
A court martial board found the commando, known only as Marine A, guilty of murdering the man in Helmand Province more than two years ago. Two others, known as Marines B and C, were acquitted.
The marines denied murdering the unknown captured Afghan national on or about September 15 2011, contrary to Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006.
But a seven-strong board, consisting of officers and non-commissioned officers, convicted one of the defendants following a two-week trial at the court martial centre in Bulford, Wiltshire.
Marine A shot the Afghan national in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol before quoting a phrase from Shakespeare as the man convulsed and died in front of him.
“There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us,” Marine A told the insurgent.
He then turned to comrades and said: “Obviously this doesn't go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.”
The execution was filmed by a camera mounted on the helmet of Marine B.
Marines B and C were alleged to have been “party to the killing” and “encouraged and assisted” Marine A in committing the murder but they were cleared.
The insurgent, who was armed with an old AK47, ammunition and a grenade, had been seriously injured following an attack by an Apache helicopter, which fired 139 30mm anti-tank rounds at him.
Marines A, B and C - along with other members of the patrol - were instructed to carry out a "battle damage assessment" of the area and discovered the man lying in a field.
Footage from Marine B's camera showed the Afghan national on the ground, wearing a white dish-dash covered in blood, with his eyes wide open and rolled back.
Members of the patrol could be heard calling him a "f****** prick", "f****** c***" and "bastard".
Marine A reported to superiors that the insurgent was still alive and - to avoid the watching helicopter and observation balloon - he was manhandled to the side of the field, under the cover of trees.
The commando is then overheard asking "Anyone want to give first aid to this idiot?" before Marine B replies loudly "No".
Marine C, standing over the insurgent pointing a pistol at his head, is heard asking Marine A if he should shoot the man in the head, which is refused as "that would be f****** obvious".
Footage shows the injured man, whose top had been pulled up exposing his bloodied torso, suffering kicks from the servicemen before being flipped over from his back to front.
As Marine B gives the pretence to the watching helicopter or balloon of administering first aid, he is heard to say "For f***'s sake, I cannot believe I'm doing this".
Marine C replies: "Don't - just - don't - yeah, wait a minute, just pretend to do it until he's behind them trees."
Two minutes later, Marine A shoots the insurgent at close range in the chest.
During the trial, David Perry QC, prosecuting, told the court martial: "It was not a killing in the heat and exercise of any armed conflict. The prosecution case is that it amounted to an execution, a field execution.
"An execution of a man who was entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and entitled to be treated as any British serviceman or servicewoman would be entitled to be treated in a similar situation."
The insurgent's body was left where he died and was later taken by locals, who erected a memorial in its place. No post-mortem examination was conducted.
After returning to the command post, Marine A told members of the patrol "I f***** up, lads" and nothing was said to correct the view formed by senior officers that the insurgent had died from his wounds.
But in September last year, the Royal Military Police recovered a video clip showing the Afghan national being roughly manhandled across the field and launched an investigation.
Marines A, B and C were arrested on suspicion of alleged war crimes in contravention of Section 1 of the Geneva Convention. All three insisted the insurgent died from wounds sustained in the Apache attack.
Investigators later recovered a further clip, showing Marine A shooting the man in the chest. Marine A then admitted he fired his gun out of anger but insisted the insurgent was already dead.
Marine A explained to the court martial why he fired: "Stupid, lack of self-control, momentary lapse in my judgment.
"I thought about it over the last year as we get towards these proceedings but I cannot give any other reason than to say that it was poor judgment and lack of self-control. I thought he was dead."
But Marine A admitted that after the shot - when the insurgent "suddenly became quite animated" - he began to question whether the man was dead.
He blamed "foolish bravado" for quoting Shakespeare at the dying man and said it was something "I am not proud of".
Marine B said he was administering first aid to the insurgent when "without warning" the Afghan was shot by Marine A - something he did "not encourage".
In the footage, Marine B can be overheard apparently suggesting a cover story to the killing, which was that the gun was fired as a "warning shot".
During the trial, he admitted members of the patrol lied during interviews to protect their comrade.
"We all protected him by telling lies," Marine B said. "In my opinion, he had shot an alive, injured insurgent."
Marine B said he had given the injured insurgent first aid, despite believing the man would die from his wounds anyway.
Meanwhile, Marine C told the court martial he walked away from the insurgent, judging the man was dead, before he heard a shot ring out.
"I wasn't there, you know, I wasn't any part of it. I wasn't asked if I wanted or if we should shoot. As far as I knew, when I walked off he was dead and there was a shot," he insisted.
Marine C described his offer to shoot the man in the head and the heart as "banter" and "black humour".
"It was just a spur of the moment comment, a throwaway comment to break the ice of the situation," he said.
During the trial, it was revealed that Marine C kept a journal of his six-month deployment in Afghanistan, which gave a different account of the patrol's events.
In a diary entry believed to have been written the evening after the killing, Marine C wrote he was "ready and waiting to pop him with a 9mm".
He wrote: "So there I was, pistol drawn, waiting for Marine A to get off the net so I could pop this little wanker and be done with it, when Marine A came back over, and thinned me out, to take up ARCS with the others.
"As I walked off ... Marine A popped him one himself! I felt mugged off, but job done; little f*** was dead at the end of the day."
Marine C told the court martial that parts of the journal were accurate but wrote others off as "the ramblings of a very scared and angry person".
During the trial, the three marines were hidden from public view by large screens, due to a court order protecting their identity.
Pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt told the court martial the insurgent was still alive when he was shot by Marine A.
"It depends on what organ it (the bullet) strikes but it can only have made matters worse and hastened death," Dr Hunt said.
There were gasps from relatives in the public gallery as the verdicts were returned, with some holding each other for support.
Judge Blackett told Marine A: "Marine A, this court has found you guilty of murder. The mandatory sentence prescribed by law is imprisonment for life.
"This court now has to determine the minimum term you will serve before you are eligible for release.
"To help us do that, I am going to order that a report be prepared. I am adjourning this case until a later date.
"In the meantime, I direct that you are to be taken into custody."
Addressing the other two defendants, the judge added: "Marine B and Marine C, you have been found not guilty of murder and you are now free to return to your normal place of duties.
"The issue of anonymity will be decided at a later date."
Marine A will be sentenced at Bulford on December 6.
Earlier, Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett ruled that the names of the defendants and those of Marines D and E, against whom charges of murder were discontinued, should be identified publicly.
The judge said: "The principle of open justice is immutable and must only be restricted where either the administration of justice would be seriously affected without the grant of an order for anonymity or there would be a real and immediate risk to the personnel were anonymity not granted.
"This is not a case relating to the administration of justice and I am not satisfied that those who seek a continuance of the anonymity order have demonstrated that the fear that the marines' lives will be at risk is objectively well-founded."
However, counsel for the marines said they wished to appeal over the judge's ruling.
The issue of whether the servicemen will be identified will be decided by the Court Martial Appeals Board, which is expected to hear the case before Marine A is sentenced.
In a statement released after the verdicts, the Service Prosecuting Authority, which brought the case against the marines, said: "Following a 13-day trial involving careful consideration of all the evidence made available to them, the members of the Court Martial Board have convicted the defendant known as Marine A of murder.
"The defendants known as Marines B and C were acquitted of the same offence.
"This combination of verdicts was always open to the Court Martial Board and the SPA respects the decision that has been reached.
"This was always going to be a complex trial which polarised opinions as to actions on the battlefield.
"With the conviction of Marine A, the Court Martial Board has sent an unambiguous message that there can be no excuse or justification for the unlawful actions described during this trial and that the consequence of such actions will be of the utmost seriousness.
"As articulated by the Judge Advocate General, the defendant will be sentenced at a later date to be specified.
"The issue of sentence is for the Court Martial and not for the SPA."
Brigadier Bill Dunham, Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, said the murder was "a truly shocking and appalling aberration".
In a statement released by the MoD, he said: "Today saw a Royal Marine found guilty of the murder of an unknown male. The Naval Service respects the verdict, which was reached in full accordance with UK law - to which all Service personnel are subject, and in the name of which many thousands of Royal Marines have fought the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2001.
"The Naval Service takes seriously its responsibilities to train its sailors and marines in the standards of conduct applicable to combat operations on land, at sea and in the air. It is a matter of profound regret in this isolated incident that one marine failed to apply his training and discharge his responsibilities.
"What we have heard over the last two weeks is not consistent with the ethos, values and standards of the Royal Marines. It was a truly shocking and appalling aberration. It should not have happened and it should never happen again.
"It is now for the Royal Marines to consider any impact from this case on the training given to our people as we seek to uphold the very highest standards that we constantly strive to instill and perpetuate.
"The Royal Marines deservedly have a worldwide reputation as one of the elite fighting forces. Our Commandos go through one of the toughest training programmes to deploy to some of the harshest environments in the world.
"I am as proud of our reputation and achievements as I have been at any time during my 34 years of service and there is no clearer demonstration of the Royal Marines ethos than the success and sacrifices made in Afghanistan under the most demanding physical and mental conditions."
- More about:
- Armed Conflict
- Helmand Province
- Middle East