Splat. Nasty little noise seemingly of no consequence. But the sound and sight of Marine A using a 9mm pistol to kill a gravely wounded Afghan prisoner (captured in a cornfield in Helmand province on 15thSeptember 2011), were recorded for posterity on a junior soldier’s head cam. Subsequently found on the soldier’s laptop by military police investigating another matter, this evidence led a British court martial to convict Marine Sergeant A of murder. He is due to be sentenced on 6th December.
Stills from the film (the court released audio and selected images, withholding the full footage on grounds that terrorists might use it for recruitment purposes) show green vegetation and earth the colour purple. Contrary to expectations of sand, more sand and sandy haired soldiers in desert fatigues.
A mounting frenzy of violence led by Marine A – forget about that, too.
According to the audio, less Hell than Purgatory: the dead weight of the wounded prisoner; tiresome procedures – ‘biometric enrolment’ – for entering him into the DNA database, whether he lives or dies; routine swearing – each man informing the others how much he hates the hateful job of clearing up after these stupid people. As one of the company is heard to say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’
After the ‘splat’ of 9mm gunfire, Marine A declares: ‘There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt.’ At the court martial he apologised for this grandiose afterthought, as if quoting from Hamlet (‘mortal coil’ is the line following ‘to be or not to be’) were as culpable as the killing.
But at the very moment of death, perhaps even Marine A recognised the need to rise to the occasion. Having killed ‘the cunt’ himself, he all but stood to attention; before returning to the vernacular (‘it’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us’), not forgetting to cover his back (‘obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I’ve just broke the Geneva Convention’).
Not forgetting the terrible contrast between the men in charge of the gas chambers and the high culture they somehow continued to love, nonetheless his line from Hamlet places Marine A in new terrain. More Hell than Heaven, perhaps; but at least not Purgatory.