Blackman case raises moral questions that are pertinent to NI

Morning View
Morning View

Five judges yesterday substituted the murder conviction against Sergeant Alexander Blackman with a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The case relates to Sergeant Blackman killing an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan in 2011.

There is no question that what he did – shooting the man – was at the moment it happened deliberate and illegal and wrong.The subsequent legal battle has focused on the context of his overall state of mind and the context in which the soldiers found themselves during such a stressful deployment.

It is welcome that Sergeant Blackman’s sentence has been cut but it is also appropriate that he faced trial and conviction.

The case raises moral questions that are of the utmost importance to Northern Ireland, now that elderly soldiers face trial for Troubles killings in the 1970s.

Those cases are quite different to the one involving Sergeant Blackman for many different reasons. But the ultimate moral debate is a similar one: how does society respond to those military volunteers who risk life and limb to protect their country, but who overstep the mark?

The answer of course depends on the exact nature of the circumstances and on the immediate and general context of the environment in which the transgression took place. To take the point to extremes, who in Stalingrad had time to investigate members of their own forces for illegal killings? Northern Ireland was never even remotely close to that but then the number of illegal killings by the state was small. The soldiers themselves were badly trained and the state was finding its feet as it dealt with the sudden chaos of the Troubles.

It is a scandal of massive proportions that such trials are happening in the absence of trials of terrorist leaders. This is not to criticise the prosecutors, but rather the process. The impending trials of soldiers have changed everything about legacy, and the possibility of agreement and goodwill, but it is taking time for everyone to realise this fundamental fact.