A serving chaplain has indicated his support for a British soldier convicted of murdering a badly wounded Taliban fighter.
In a TV interview to be broadcast tonight (Wednesday), Dave Devenney, who served with the Royal Marines and is now a civilian chaplain, says he too would have killed an injured insurgent because of the risk he still posed.
“As a senior NCO tasked with the care of my team I would in all probability, for the safety of my guys, have shot into his body until I was convinced he was no longer a threat."
Devenney is interviewed for a BBC1 documentary, Marine A: Criminal or Casualty of War?, which is being broadcast on the eve of an appeal by former Marine Alexander Blackman into his conviction of murder in Afghanistan in September 2011.
Blackman was jailed for life, with a ten-year minimum sentence, for the fatal shooting of a Taliban fighter who’d already been badly wounded in an Apache helicopter attack. The incident was filmed on a fellow soldier’s helmet cam and Blackman was heard to say “shuffle off this mortal coil you c***” after firing a single bullet into the man's chest.
Blackman’s appeal against both conviction and sentence will be heard on Thursday at London’s Court Martial Appeal Court.
Tomorrow night’s film is a thought-provoking examination of whether the theoretical rules of combat can ever be applied absolutely in the heat of battle.
Devenney, ordained by the Church of Scotland after serving in the Falklands, says: “There have been instances of captured soldiers being skinned alive and dismembered and their body parts left out to warn off other members of patrols. That’s quite a tough situation to find yourself in. I can understand that there is almost a temptation to feel that all the bets are off. We are playing to a certain set of rules, but these guys aren’t and they would kill us like dogs as soon as they catch us.”
Documentary maker Chris Terrill, who has filmed alongside marines in Afghanistan on many occasions, then asks him: “Can you say, hand on heart, that you might not have done exactly the same as Blackman”?
Devenney replies: “No I couldn’t say hand on heart that I wouldn’t have done the same thing. I think in that situation, hypothetically, if there was a mortally wounded Afghan fighter lying there I would have patrolled towards him and probably from a safe distance I would have fired some shots into him. These guys will often just be lying on a grenade or as you approach pull a grenade and you have lost the guys in your section.”
One of Blackman’s colleagues who was serving alongside him on the fateful day is also interviewed in the documentary.
Rob Driscoll, who’s since left the marines, says: “We had been dehumanised so much because of the barbaric nature of the Taliban. These guys wouldn’t shoot you and give you a noble burial. They would hang you up in a tree, crucify you, cut off your tesicles and put them in your mouth. That’s the nature of the people we were dealing with. How do you deal with an enemy like that?
“You can’t train anyone to be relentlessly attacked and do nothing, which we did do for a long time. I know there were moments out there when I did see the red mist, I lost the plot, when I was not fully sane.”
But the documentary also marshalls opinions from those who believe both verdict and sentence were correct.
Human rights lawyer Phil Shiner is one of them. He says: “He’s murdered somebody and murder is murder whether it’s on the streets of London or in Afghanistan. People who confuse the debate with fog-of-war type arguments – he’s on active duty he somehow deserves some extra element of discretion – that’s nonsense. It was a murder, he was found guilty of murder and he deserves the sentence he received.”
Marine A: Criminal or Casualty of War? is on BBC1 on Wednesday 9 April at 10:35pm