Tuesday, 19 November 2013


I've just been reading about the Royal Marine charged with murdering a wounded Taliban fighter. I think the important word to remember here is 'mitigation', as in there were 'mitigating' circumstances. No one, I'm sure, is going to excuse this act. But before we don the black cap and pronounce sentence, we ought to ask ourselves: "do I understand what it was like? How would I have felt if I had been in his shoes?"
This brought me back to when I was serving in Northern Ireland during the troubles. In 1990 I was on foot patrol on the Falls Road when I was hit square in the chest with a large rock. It had been thrown with some force and really knocked the wind out of me. After I got my senses back I looked at it lying on the pavement at my feet, it was about the size of a rugby ball. It had struck the bullet-proof chest plate under my smock but still winded me and knocked me violently backwards. That experience coupled with months of frustration and the realization of the damage it would have done had it hit me in the face had the effect of enraging me. In a fury I looked behind a high wall and saw three men walking away drinking bottles of wine and laughing at me. My first and immediate impulse was to shoot all three of them dead. I was close to doing it. I had the means. They were the enemy. I hated them. At that moment of time there was nothing I wanted more. I fingered the trigger and began to raise my weapon. I then realised if I shot them that I would be jailed for murder. Common sense prevailed: I lowered my weapon and turned away. That realisation was the only thing which stopped me.
But boy, at that moment, I would have shot these guys with pleasure.
I can empathise with him. If I had seen bits of my friends hanging from trees I know how I would have felt. It's human nature.
At the end of the day, the truth is this: in ordinary civilian court mitigation is always taken into account, often to great effect. In this particular situation, knowing what we know about P.T.S.D, its effects and the nature of the job he was doing, we have a DUTY of leniency. Unless we have tasted something of what he experienced, we have no right to condemn - because we simply do not understand. If mitigation is accepted in ordinary criminal cases, then in this case it ought to be doubly so.

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