This edition of our NCO/WO Professional Military Education (PME) takes a look into the investigation of the actions of Alexander Blackman in Afghanistan in 2011. These actions led to his subsequent court-martial, conviction for murder, and the Supreme Court’s quashing of the charge and substitution with manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

Start by reading Tom McDermott, DSO MAs Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society Occasional paper in this article.

Want More?

Take a read through this short article written when Blackman was released from prison.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think it is valid to use the argument of ‘diminished responsibility’ for convicted war criminals to have their sentences reduced or cases quashed?
  2. Does the argument of ‘diminished responsibility’ lead us down a path whereby extremists and radicals are not legally accountable for their actions? Would ‘diminished responsibility’ excuse past dictators and those who worked for them for the crimes they committed?
  3. Does the military have a responsibility to stand down soldiers who are showing diminished responsibility before they commit war crimes? Should Blackman have been stood down prior to this occurring?
  4. Do we as a military require too much of our people? Do you think it is possible to undergo the immense stress and trauma that Blackman did and still make ethical decisions?
  5. How can we develop instinctive obedience while avoiding impulsive behaviour such as that displayed by Blackman in this incident?
  6. How much of an impact does training and in-barracks decision making have on creating an ethical decision making culture?
  7. How should we support our people to reduce instances like this, and ensure they can adjust back into society after deployments and traumatic events? How can we support our people to re-integrate back into society when they leave the military?
  8. The article introduces a thought that it is difficult to find a ‘jury of peers’ in a case such as this. It implies that although a military jury would understand the perils of the battlefield, they may in fact have bias very different to a civilian jury when it comes to what is acceptable. Do you think that cases like this should be heard by a military or civilian court?
  9. Isolation and stress were cited as contributing factors to cause Blackman’s adjustment disorder. Does our doctrine and tactics (how we conduct warfare) need to take into consideration longevity and sustainability of our people? Or should we be willing to lose people to mental health injuries?
  10. How do we increase ‘combat fitness’ to reduce the impact that these stressors have on our people?
  11. The article suggests that Blackman was ill-prepared to take over command of the troop when his troop commander was killed. Succession planning is part of the realities of war, but what can we do to ensure each rank is adequately prepared to successfully command at the next rank?
  12. How much of an impact do you think the masculine group culture of the troop had on this incident occurring? How can we avoid this in the Australian Army while maintaining our warfighting characteristics?
  13. How do we stop incidents like this occurring again in the future?
  14. Do you consider Blackman’s actions dishonourable?

Other Activities

If you enjoyed this activity, why not try the other PMEs available on The Cove?

Want more material? For JNCOs to conduct with their soldiers, here is a link to our Quick Military Education resources. For Junior Officers here is a link to our Junior Officer PME sessions.

Concluding Comments

If you have suggestions for improvements – additional readings or reference material, alternative discussion points, new delivery methods – or just wish to provide feedback, please contact The Cove Team via

Here are the Facilitator Notes for this PME.