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Afghan execution 'truly shocking'

One of Britain's highest ranking Royal Marines has branded the cold-blooded execution of an injured Afghan insurgent as "truly shocking and appalling".

Brigadier Bill Dunham, Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, spoke out after a commando was convicted of murdering the seriously wounded prisoner in Helmand Province two years ago.

The serviceman, known only as Marine A, shot him at close range in the centre of his chest.

As the man convulsed on the ground, Marine A told 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."

A court martial board found Marine A guilty of murder following a two-week trial at the military court centre in Bulford, Wiltshire.

Two others, known only as Marines B and C, were acquitted of the same charge, contrary to Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006, by the seven-strong board.

Brigadier Dunham said: "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."

He added: "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."

During the trial, the court heard the marines were on patrol in a "kinetic" area of Afghanistan on September 15 2011 when they discovered the insurgent lying seriously injured in a field following an attack by an Apache helicopter.

Superiors were informed the man had died from wounds sustained in the gunship attack, in which 139 30mm anti-tank rounds were fired at him.

But a year later, footage of the murder - taken from a camera mounted on the helmet of Marine B - was discovered on a laptop by military police investigating unrelated matters.

The harrowing video footage was played numerous times to the court martial board in Bulford, with audio recordings also released to the public.

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 video clip showing the Afghan national being roughly manhandled across the field was found and an investigation began.

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."

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".

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".

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 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.

The issue of releasing the identities of Marines A, B and C - as well as two others named only Marines D and E who were also on the patrol - will be determined at a later date at an appeal hearing after Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett ruled they should be identified.

The judge remanded Marine A into custody until sentencing on December 6.

He told him: "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."

He released Marines B and C from the court and said "you are now free to return to your normal place of duties".

Marine B, when giving evidence during the trial, said he saw his future with the Royal Marines and hopes for a promotion.

In a statement, the Service Prosecuting Authority, which brought the case against the marines, said: "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."

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