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The right decision in a difficult issue of identity

Until yesterday, the British soldier convicted of murdering a Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan in 2011 was known only as Marine A.

Today, for the first time, he will appear in court under his own name - Sergeant Alexander Blackman - to be sentenced for his crime.

The naming of the soldier, following a ruling by the High Court in London, came after weeks of arguments about whether it was right to maintain his anonymity. The 39-year-old was convicted of a terrible crime - shooting a wounded Afghan insurgent - and anyone who has seen the footage of the event, captured on a camera worn by one of his colleagues, will know of the brutal nature of what happened. Certainly, Blackman himself knew what he was doing. "I've just broken the Geneva Convention," he said.

In any other circumstances, the identity of a man caught on camera killing another man in this way would be public knowledge, and rightly so in a justice system that operates openly and publicly in almost every case.

However, from the beginning of Blackman's case, the court ruled he should not be named because of the risk of him being targeted by terrorists. Blackman's lawyer argued there was a long-standing threat to military personnel from terrorists and the risk would be increased by naming him. In recent days, the trial of the men accused of murdered soldier Lee Rigby has surely added to the power of this argument.

However, in considering the argument, the balance the High Court had to strike was the risk to Blackman and his family - and every effort will have to be made to protect them - with the fact those who commit murder must accept the consequences of the crime and one of those consequences is being named in open court.

As was pointed out in Blackman's defence, he was, until the incident in 2011, a soldier with an excellent record. He was seen as a safe pair of hands; he was respected by comrades and had shown valour in Northern Ireland and Iraq. Not only that, he had been credited with building good relations with local people in Afghanistan.

There can also be no doubt about the kind of pressures and stress he and other soldiers were under. Like many other soldiers there, Blackman had seen friends killed and had had very little rest when he came face to face with the insurgent in 2011.

Some have argued these factors should mean leniency for Blackman but General Sir Nick Houghton, the head of the Armed Forces, is closer to the truth when he says leniency would erode the moral ascendancy which British forces must seek. As Sir Nick has said, murder is murder and any citizen found guilty of it - whether a soldier or a civilian - must be punished, and be seen to be punished, for the crime.

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