The incident occurred in Afghanistan last year, when 3 Commando Brigade was based in Helmand. According to the MoD statement, the incident followed an "engagement with an insurgent" and no civilians were involved. It is thought it is the first time UK servicemen were arrested on such charges during the conflict, although cases like this have happened before, when British soldiers unwarrantedly opened fire or stabbed Afghans believed to be insurgents. The latest incident of the kind occurred in April, when a British soldier killed an Afghan digging near a military installation – the soldier thought the Afghan was trying to place a bomb. Later, an internal investigation found the soldier not guilty.
Now, the "arrests demonstrate the Department and the Armed Forces' determination to ensure UK personnel act in accordance with their rules of engagement and our standards," the BBC quotes the MoD spokesman as saying.
Indeed, the story sounds grotesque even against the most grotesque background of the whole NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan, which not only has not achieved any of the initially proclaimed objectives (apart from murdering Osama bi Laden), but only aggravated the problems it was meant to solve – like terrorism, spread of radical Islam, drug trafficking, etc.
Really, what are the marines charged with? Killing an Afghan, supposedly an insurgent.
But what were they sent to Afghanistan for? For killing insurgents.
So, what is their fault? Their fault is that they did not kill the Afghan according to the armed forces' rules of engagement.
The rules themselves, states the BBC story, are very rarely made public, because the armed forces do not want insurgents to know more than they already do about the circumstances under which UK service personnel are permitted to fire at them or respond with force.
As is reported by the Daily Telegraph, investigators began a probe when the "code of silence" among Marines was broken by a witness to the alleged crime.
Director general of the Royal United Services Institute Professor Michael Clarke told the BBC that the incident may turn politically embarrassing for the UK armed forces, because all previous incidents of the kind were individual cases, and this one involves seven marines from a very highly trained unit who are generally regarded as an elite force having a "very good record".
Indeed, the "very good record" probably means that they do kill Afghans but in full accordance with the rules of engagement. The rules, however secret, definitely say nothing of the core underlying issue – whether it is the British military's business to be present in Afghanistan and kill local people – be it civilians or "insurgents", i.e. the same civilians who do not simply hate the intruders as do all the others, but take action against them.
If the arrest and consequent trial (or, at least an internal investigation) involved this core issue, then the matter would be even more embarrassing, because in that case the whole UK contingent (as well as that of all other countries involved in the aggression against Afghanistan) should be brought to trial by an International Tribunal. But this is not the case, and therefore, as Professor Clarke points out, "MoD wants to keep control of this rather than have the story become lurid." This should be definitely interpreted in a sense that the MoD is trying to hush up the story.
Amidst the story of seven Marines arrested and the MoD trying to "keep control of the story", one question remains unanswered – the fate of the witness to the crime briefly mentioned by the Telegraph, the one who broke the "code of silence" among Marines. Judging from previous experience of the UK's elder brother, the whistle-blowers (like Bradley Manning, for example) usually await a much more severe punishment than the criminals whose activity they disclose.
So, there is good reason to believe that the seven marines will finally be acquitted as well as the whole US, UK, NATO and Co's military conducting all kinds of atrocities in Afghanistan. But the fate of the anonymous marine who reported the crime seems much more regrettable.