The calculated murder of a Taliban prisoner by an experienced British marine is so shocking precisely because of the outstanding professionalism of our armed forces, who work under extreme stress and facing violence. The appalling abuse of Iraqi civilian detainees and killing of hotel worker Baha Mousa made the headlines because they were exceptional.
Not only is mishandling (let alone murdering) prisoners illegal, it is also unacceptable to us as a society. We would not want our own servicemen to be treated this way, and every British marine and soldier has the humane treatment of detainees drilled into them. This seasoned officer’s decision to kill a prisoner in cold blood was uncovered by chance – a “souvenir” video clip found on a laptop during an unrelated investigation.
This marine has placed thousands of colleagues in the services at heightened risk. The video of the murder has been impounded by the judge, for fear it will be used as propaganda by extremists. The killing also desecrates the sacrifice of the 446 British servicemen and women to have died in Afghanistan, the wounded, and the many hundreds of thousands before them who lost their lives in the service of their country.
At 11am on Sunday, before travelling to Manchester to watch my team, Arsenal, play Man Utd, I will be outside Euston station at the LNWR memorial. The obelisk commemorates the 3,719 railway workers of London and North Western who died in the Great War, and the men and women of London, Midland and Scottish who died between 1939 and 45. My own thoughts will turn to the traumatised veterans of the Falklands and Iraq I have interviewed, and to the colleague whose son was killed in Afghanistan two years ago, after being awarded the Military Cross for exceptional gallantry when saving a fellow marine.