Marine 'believed Afghan was dead'
The Royal Marine accused of killing an injured Afghan insurgent blamed "a stupid lack of self-control and lapse in judgment" for shooting him but insisted he was already dead at the time, a court martial heard today.
The serviceman, known only as Marine A, took to the witness stand to answer allegations that he shot the Afghan national in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol.
Marine A told the court martial board in Bulford, Wiltshire: "At that point I saw no signs of life from him so I believed he had passed."
A pathologist has given evidence that moments before the fatal shot is fired, the insurgent can be seen moving his arm and his face is also twitching. However, Marine A said he did not see this.
Asked by his defence barrister Anthony Berry QC why he fired, Marine A said: "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."
Marine A confirmed that he was telling the truth about believing the insurgent to be dead.
Marine A's co-accused, Marines B and C, are alleged to have been "party to the killing" and "encouraged and assisted" him.
The men are charged with murdering an unknown captured Afghan national on or about September 15 2011. All three deny the charges.
The alleged murder had been captured on a camera mounted on the helmet of Marine B, which has been played to the court.
The footage shows the armed insurgent - who had been seriously injured in an attack by a Apache helicopter - being dragged across a field in Helmand Province.
On the footage marines can be heard swearing at the man calling him a "f***ing prick", "f***ing c***" and "b*****d"
Marine A was filmed walking forward, bending down and shooting the man in the centre of his chest with a pistol.
The Afghan was seen dying as Marine A looked on, telling him: "There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil you c***. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us."
He then turned to comrades and said "Obviously this doesn't go anywhere fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention", it is alleged by prosecutors.
Marine A was asked about the scene immediately after the shooting when the insurgent is seen to move his arm and leg and begins to convulse.
He said the man "suddenly became quite animated" after he fired the pistol.
"I questioned whether it was right in my mind, whether I had made a mistake," Marine A told the court.
Asked about the "shuffle off this mortal coil" comment that he made, Marine A said: "Foolish bravado in reaction to what I have done, something I am not proud of."
Asked to explain his comment to the other marines present about breaching the Geneva Convention, Marine A said: "The movement of a dead body is covered under that.
"Once someone is dead all you can do is take fingerprints and DNA evidence."
Mr Berry asked: "When you shot the man thinking he was dead you thought you were breaking the Geneva Convention by shooting a man who was already dead?"
Marine A replied: "Yes."
He added: "I believe on entering the command post I believe I used the term 'I f***ed up lads' and that's the last reference I made to it before I was arrested."
Asked to explain the comment, Marine A said: "I was still on the belief that he was dead when I discharged the weapon but I could have made a mistake because he was so animated when I discharged the weapon."
Marine A said humour like that captured on the video clips by fellow marines - including swearing at the expense of Afghan nationals - could be seen as "inappropriate".
"I would say at times it would be seen as inappropriate in the wider world," he said.
"But when you are facing on a daily basis other people trying to kill you, you inject humour as a coping mechanism as otherwise I would say things would be very dark."
Marine A said the start of the tour in March 2011 was quiet but things became more busy as "fighting season" began in the summer following the end of the poppy growing season.
He described newly-recruited insurgents as "10 dollar Taliban".
"You find that fighting age males would take part in the fighting season when the poppy season comes to an end and they are looking for work and are quite prepared to take 10 dollars to fight ISAF forces," Marine A explained.
Marine A said the command post was located near a local mullah's compound with whom they built up good relations. He said the troops helped with local building projects as part of the process of handing over security to the Afghan authorities.
Marine A said there were daily patrols into the local area with a rest day every two to three weeks.
"It's what the lads join the service for," he told the court martial.
"As the tour progressed they experience some of that action they have been looking for and you see a decline in the keenness for that to happen.
"Obviously as they think of going home they are less keen to go out there and get shot at on a daily basis but that's what you do."
Marine A agreed with Mr Berry's questions that there was an increase in stress and tension among the troops.
He went on to describe the effect of the death of his troop commander and a marine in an IED blast during the tour, which also saw two others suffer "life changing injuries".
"When they recovered the bodies of ***** and ****** there was believed to be body parts of those that suffered catastrophic injuries," Marine A said.
"They were not able to recover those body parts and those body parts were then displayed in trees around that area.
"It had quite a harsh affect upon them. It's not a nice thing for the lads. Close friends they have lived with have been killed and parts of their bodies are displayed as a kind of trophy for the world to see."
Marine A explained to the seven strong board that after the Apache attack he and Marine C went to examine the insurgent, leaving the rest of the patrol providing cover from a distance.
He said that he checked the insurgent for weapons and discovered the AK47, two magazines and grenade, as well as looking to see if there were any booby trap devices.
"I let Marine C know that he was safe and there was no danger of him going bang and taking us with him," he said.
Marine A told the court martial that he called over other marines to help move the man towards the tree line, where there was more cover - fearing they could be attacked at any moment.
Marine A described the handling as "robust" but said they used a "two man drag", which he said was a "recognised manoeuvre" to move someone.
Asked about the comments captured on the film of marines telling the insurgent he was a "f***ing c***" and "f***ing b*****d", Marine A said: "The lads generally used a lot of derogatory terms towards the enemy.
"At the end of the day it would be surprising if they had not used derogatory terms towards them, really."
Marine A was also asked about the video recording which shows him waiting for the PGSS (Persistent Ground Surveillance System) balloon and Apache helicopter to be out of sight before they moved the insurgent from the middle of the field.
"The handling, while robust, could have been misinterpreted and there were several occasions since I had been in the theatre that incidents of robust handling of insurgents had been investigated and I was worried (about) the lads being investigated for a robust handling," Marine A said.
Asked about his comment of "Anybody want to do first aid on this idiot?", Marine A said he was looking for a volunteer.
He added about the use of the word "idiot": "Just a derogatory term with reference to the insurgent.
"A volunteer who comes forward and gives first aid would probably do a better job than someone I told to give first aid to an enemy insurgent. If a volunteer was not forthcoming I would delegate."
Marine A said that he did not take Marine C's comment of "putting one in his head" "entirely seriously".
Asked about his comment to Marine C 14 seconds later of "No, not in his head, cause that'll be f***ing obvious", Marine A told the board: "Again keeping the situation light it would be obvious to anybody because we don't recover bodies.
"It was a throw away comment in response to Marine C."
Marine A said that he could see the insurgent had several serious chest injuries, was struggling for breath and "wouldn't last much longer".
"At that point I saw no signs of life from him, so I believed he had passed," he added.
Mr Berry then asked his client about the first set of interviews he had given the Royal Military Police following his arrest in September last year when some of the footage - not including the alleged execution - had been seized by investigators.
"I was aware of my actions on that day and ashamed of what I had done and was aware that my actions could be misinterpreted and end up where I am today," he told the court.
In the interview Marine A said that no one had shot the insurgent and said he had administered first aid.
"It was my belief at the time I discharged my pistol that he was dead and no one had killed him," he said.
"I started the triage and identified the wounds that he had - the sucking chest wound and the leg wounds.
"With the amount of damage to his lungs the use of CPR would have been a pretty wasted effort."
Under cross-examination from Marcus Tregilgas-Davey, representing Marine C, Marine A agreed with the barrister's question that the shooting was a "spur of the moment decision because of pent up emotions".
Marine A told the court that he did not tell Marine C what he was about to do.
Mr Tregilgas-Davey asked: "Nothing Marine C said encouraged you to discharge the firearm? Nothing Marine C did encouraged you to discharge the firearm? Do you agree?
Marine A replied: "Yes."
He also agreed that Marine C did not "press" him for agreement to shoot the insurgent.
David Perry QC, prosecuting, asked Marine A, who was giving evidence from behind a screen to protect his identity, whether he now agreed that the insurgent was alive when he shot him.
"It is possible, yes," Marine A replied.
"As I said, there is a strong possibility he was alive."
Mr Perry asked: "Do you accept that, when you were first interviewed in September last year, you told lies?"
"Yes," Marine A replied, to the packed courtroom.
Mr Perry accused Marine A of "leaning" towards the injured insurgent and "aiming" at his chest with his pistol.
He said: "You were able to speak on the radio, make requests back to FOB Shahzad and CP Omah and tell lies on that day.
"You never told anyone back at Shahzad or CP Omah that you discharged your weapon. That's not being truthful?"
Marine A replied: "Yes."
Marine A told the court martial that he thought the insurgent could still have been alive when he shot him but did not want to "dwell" on it.
"I was ashamed of my actions and I just wanted to forget about it," he said.
Marine A confirmed that no-one in the patrol checked the insurgent's pulse or looked to see if he was breathing.
Mr Perry told Marine A: "You had sufficient self-control to wait until you were not being observed.
"Not a fit of anger where you could not control yourself... you waited until you could not be observed.
"That was effectively Marine B saying 'The coast's clear'."
Asked about the "mortal coil" comment he made after allegeding killing the insurgent, Marine A said: "I believe it was a reference to one of Shakespeare's plays.
"I don't know where I got it from... it randomly came into my head. (It means) passing on... dying."
Mr Perry said: "This man was seriously injured, it was not a laughing matter.
"He was a detainee and he was entitled to be treated properly and he was not, was he?
"There is a man two or three metres from you with blood seeping through his clothing and if he does not receive first aid there is a real possibility he will die and you regard him as one of the enemy."
Marine A replied: "Yes."
Mr Perry said: "Marine C says 'I'll put one in his head', there's laughter and still no first aid and you say 'No, not in his head - that would be f****** obvious'.
"That's not a joke, was it?"
Marine A replied: "I didn't mean we should shoot him anywhere else. It was a throwaway comment... I was not waiting for a laugh."
Mr Perry asked Marine A about the accuracy of Marine C's journal and took him through the entry for September 15 2011, paragraph by paragraph.
Marine A said there were a "few minor inaccuracies" with what Marine A had written.
Asked to comment on Marine C's wish to "pop him", Marine A said: "I don't remember any discussion that we were going to shoot him.
"You can say he has elaborated... I think there is no evidence of him pressing the point.
"There is no evidence on the video, as the journal states, that he was pressing the point quite a lot.
"You would expect him to say on the video that he wanted to pop him. I made the statement that he has passed. What's written in this journal is someone else's opinion, which is hard for me to comment because I was not privvy to it being written."
Marine A added: "I believe it has been embellished or dramatised in certain areas."
Mr Perry asked the serviceman about his first police interviews and Marine A conceded he had not initially disclosed that he had fired his pistol.
The prosecutor asked: "That one key crucial piece of information. You had deliberately misled the officers."
Marine A replied: "Yes."
The court martial was adjourned until tomorrow.