A terrible dilemma for any soldier in battle

Article published in The Mail on Sunday, 16 October 2016. © Richard Kemp

In action in the western desert at the height of the 2003 Iraq War, Sergeant Colin Maclachlan and his SAS comrades were fighting under the internationally agreed laws of war. Those laws make clear that killing wounded enemy soldiers is always illegal.

According to the first Geneva Convention of 1949 they must be ‘respected and protected in all circumstances’, and ‘any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited’.

So much for the law – what about military reality? Sgt Maclachlan’s SAS patrol had been hammering Iraqi vehicles with machine gun fire and missiles packed with enough explosive to destroy the heaviest battle tank.

As you would expect, some of the survivors were horrifically wounded, one with three limbs blown off. According to the book, you treat the wounded and evacuate them to an aid post or hospital. But there was neither anywhere near.

The SAS could not spare a vehicle to drive them across the desert and nor would the battle situation have allowed it. Calling in a helicopter would have compromised their mission.

Those who could be treated with field dressings and tourniquets to stem their bleeding would have to be made as comfortable as possible and left to their own fortunes or taken prisoner.

So far so legal. But what about the three who were bleeding to death in agony, begging to be put out of their misery?

Amidst the violence and horror of the battlefield, British soldiers have confronted that dilemma down the centuries. And not just with the enemy.

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