Video of marine shooting insurgent suppressed to protect defendants

Judge agrees lives would be under threat from terrorists after Home Office expert calls footage ‘propaganda gift’

The Ministry of Defence considered trying to argue that part – or even the whole – of Marines A, B and C’s court martial should be held behind closed doors because it was likely to be so damaging and potentially dangerous for British personnel. In the end it decided it was right that a trial of such public interest and concern be conducted in open court.

Nonetheless there have been stringent restrictions on media reporting.

The three accused men were afforded anonymity after the judge advocate general, Jeff Blackett, agreed their lives would be under threat from terrorist groups and lone wolves if their identifies were known. They were referred to throughout simply by their code letters and Blackett sternly admonished anyone in court who accidentally used their real names.

The damning video showing the marines dragging a wounded insurgent across a field and abusing him before one of them shoots him in the chest was played repeatedly in open court. But Blackett refused to allow it to be released to the media after a Home Office expert claimed that nothing he had seen surpassed its potential to radicalise and argued its publication would put British troops and civilians in real and immediate danger.

Subsequently, Blackett ruled that a transcript, stills and audio from the video could be released, although not an image of the moment of the shooting.

All three marines had asked that their anonymity be preserved. Ahead of the court martial, Blackett studied a threat assessment to the defendants and other members of the armed forces by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), which is based at MI5’s headquarters at Thames House in London.

Most of the assessment remains classified but one detail that has emerged from it is that the men were on the “MoD contingency threat list”, which means that they, their home and their families receive extra protection.

On behalf of Marine A, who fired the shot, former intelligence officer Anthony Tucker-Jones argued that the marines and their friends, family and communities would be under particular threat from “lone wolves”.

Blackett, himself a naval officer, concluded he was satisfied there “may be a real and immediate risk” to the defendants’ lives. He said members of the armed forces “are entitled to be treated differently from civilians within this country at this moment in history”, adding: “While they must remain accountable for their actions and part of that accountability is through open justice they are also entitled to protection from terrorists who may not be concerned with due process and who may well attempt revenge attacks. Any assessment of risk must err on the side of the safety of members of the armed forces. I am not prepared to take a chance with these men’s lives.”

Ahead of the verdict the judge said he would lift the anonymity order on the marines whether they were convicted or acquitted. But the …read more