T Nation

Fallujah

Is NBC guilty of sedition for airing the shooting of an enemy combatant in a mosque?

No.

And they seem to be handling it pretty well, actually…

November 17, 2004
NBC HELD OFF

The Chicago Tribune reports that even though the footage of the Marine shooting the Iraqi was a pool report (meaning NBC was obligated to share the footage) they held it back two days to ensure that it would be provided with adequate context.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0411170279nov17,1,2899652.story
More evidence, it seems to me, that NBC has decided that, if the shooting wasn’t exactly justified, the situation was so complicated and confusing they want to present the story in a way that is as sympathetic as possible to the Marine.

Note, by the way, and I believe they should be given enormous credit for this, that given two options (technologically) for how to distribute the raw feed to other outlets, they chose the process that was slower but more secure.

(Also note that the Trib joins the Post in identifying Sites as a freelancer. NBC is still working pretty hard to mask their relationship with him.)

It’s bullshit! Nobody leave an enemy behind them unless they are under guard. To do so invites disaster.

Bottom line, if you are a terrorist, and surrender before ths shooting starts you will be treated fairly. If you surrender after a pitched battle you have forfieted your chance for mercy. That is just the way it is since the beginning of mechanized warfare.

Dam you know how many Iraqi pieces of Armor we blasted that were not completely disabled when we were driving those A-holes back to Iraq. You never leave an enemy that is not dead or completely destroyed behind you. Your dead if you do. Anchor Shots save lives.

hedo:

Following on your take, here’s an email from a Marine in Falluja that was reproduced on the Powerline weblog:

http://powerlineblog.com/archives/008650.php

Later on, I intend to link to several sources talking about the shooting of the wounded terrorist in Fallujah. For now, I want to pass on this email from a Marine in the 11th MEU:

"This is one story of many that people normally don't hear, and one that everyone does.

This is one most don't hear:
A young Marine and his cover man cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with Ak-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood. The Marine and his cover man slowly walk toward the injured man, scanning to make sure no enemies come from behind. In a split second, the pressure in the room greatly exceeds that of the outside, and the concussion seems to be felt before the blast is heard. Marines outside rush to the room, and look in horror as the dust gradually settles. The result is a room filled with the barely recognizable remains of the deceased, caused by an insurgent setting off several pounds of explosives.

The Marines' remains are gathered by teary eyed comrades, brothers in arms, and shipped home in a box. The families can only mourn over a casket and a picture of their loved one, a life cut short by someone who hid behind a white flag.

But no one hears these stories, except those who have lived to carry remains of a friend, and the families who loved the dead. No one hears this, so no one cares.

This is the story everyone hears:

A young Marine and his fire team cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with AK-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insugent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded. Suddenly, he pulls from under his bloody clothes a grenade, without the pin. The explosion rocks the room, killing one Marine, wounding the others. The young Marine catches shrapnel in the face.

The next day, same Marine, same type of situation, a different story. The young Marine and his cover man enter a room with two wounded insurgents. One lies on the floor in puddle of blood, another against the wall. A reporter and his camera survey the wreckage inside, and in the background can be heard the voice of a Marine, "He's moving, he's moving!"

The pop of a rifle is heard, and the insurgent against the wall is now dead. Minutes, hours later, the scene is aired on national television, and the Marine is being held for commiting a war crime. Unlawful killing.

And now, another Marine has the possibility of being burned at the stake for protecting the life of his brethren. His family now wrings their hands in grief, tears streaming down their face. Brother, should I have been in your boots, i too would have done the same.

For those of you who don't know, we Marines, Band of Brothers, Jarheads, Leathernecks, etc., do not fight because we think it is right, or think
it is wrong. We are here for the man to our left, and the man to our right. We choose to give our lives so that the man or woman next to us can go home and see their husbands, wives, children, friends and families.

For those of you who sit on your couches in front of your television, and choose to condemn this man's actions, I have but one thing to say to you. Get out of your recliner, lace up my boots, pick up a rifle, leave your family behind and join me. See what I've seen, walk where I have walked. To those of you who support us, my sincerest gratitude. You keep us alive.

I am a Marine currently doing his second tour in Iraq. These are my opinions and mine alone. They do not represent those of the Marine Corps or of the US military, or any other."

One of my favorite weblogs, the Belmont Club, has a couple of very good posts on this general topic that I want to reproduce. The first, and longest, has charts and lots of indenting and whatnot, so I will simply provide a link – good to read if you are thinking the Geneva Convention protocols should be applied here:

http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/11/in-heat-of-battle-usa-today-reports.html

This second post is shorter, but builds on the first, so you should definitely read it the link above first.

http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/11/in-heat-of-battle-2-one-of-situational.html

One of the situational dangers of the battlefield was illustrated by the death of a California Marine. The Mercury News reports:

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/10202599.htm

[Begin Mercury News excerpt] Marine Lance Cpl. Jeramy Ailes, 22, of Gilroy was killed Monday in Al-Fallujah by small arms fire. "They had finished mopping up in Fallujah and they went back to double-check on some insurgents. From what we gathered, somebody playing possum jumped up and shot him,'' said his father, Joel Ailes, who learned of his death Monday evening. "It's extremely hard."

... His first time in Iraq, Jeramy Ailes gave $10 to each child he came across because he knew it would feed their families for 30 days. This time, he asked his family to mail as many soccer balls as they could. His family sent 300 balls, and Jeramy Ailes' platoon handed them out to children.

Joel Ailes warmly remembered the last conversation he had with his son last month, in which Jeramy Ailes recounted how he had come across a large man walking with a 12-year-old girl carrying a huge bale of straw on her back. His son, who spoke and read Arabic, exchanged words with the man. And, for the next seven miles, his son carried the girl on his back and the man carried the bales of straw. "That was my son," Joel Ailes said. [End Mercury News excerpt]

That was his son.

I’d have done the same damn thing. This is a different kind of war…one where white flags are just a method of getting closer to the enemy to kill him. Those bastards had their chance of getting out of dodge and giving up long ago. Any combatants that remained behind signed their own death warrants. Our message is clear: Surrender of die. If you choose to stay and fight, then you will die. Plain and simple. I have absolutely no pity for that Iraqi and I hope that this happens more in the future. We need to make ourselves clear to these insurgents and terrorists. Take from that what you will. War is ugly, and to defeat a brutal enemy requires the application of brutal tactics. RLTW

rangertab75

Good piece on this in Slate:

http://slate.com/Default.aspx?id=2109904&

[Follow the link above for the links internal to the story]

What the Marine Did
The shooting of an unarmed Iraqi was a tragedy. But was it a war crime?
By Owen West and Phillip Carter
Updated Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004, at 10:28 AM PT

A Marine shot an unarmed insurgent in a Fallujah mosque on Saturday. We know this because we saw it. The digital video footage of the shooting?recorded by NBC reporter Kevin Sites, who was embedded with the Marines?is running nearly continuously on cable news channels worldwide. We heard it, too. A Marine says: “He’s fucking faking he’s dead. He’s faking he’s fucking dead.” The Marine comes into view with his rifle shouldered. There is a rifle shot. An Iraqi leaning against a wall slumps, leaving a blood stain behind. According to CNN, another Marine says, “Well, he’s dead now.”

This case would not exist without Mr. Sites. That a young soldier deferred to instinct over the rulebook in combat is unsurprising. What was surprising was the near-instant transmission of a battlefield video around the world, allowing us to witness the actions of one American rifleman. Judging by the swift condemnation from all over, the world is drawing its own conclusion about what happened in the bloody mosque. But to judge the Marine fairly takes more perspective and context. The video is clear enough, but truly understanding requires navigating an underlying landscape littered with legal ambiguity and moral craters.

When a unit seizes terrain, its enemy military occupants generally become prisoners, as long as they don’t continue fighting. The Third Geneva Convention makes it a war crime to kill or injure a prisoner or to deny medical care to a prisoner for wounds suffered in combat, among other things. If prosecutors charge the Marine with murder, they will argue that the Marines took these Iraqi men as prisoners the moment they secured the building. Moving or not, the wounded Iraqi was a prisoner, and therefore it was a crime to shoot him, even in the crazy kill-or-be-killed environment of Fallujah.

The practice of taking battlefield prisoners dates back millennia, but the rules for treating them humanely are more recent. Ancient militaries treated prisoners well when they wanted to enslave them, not because there was any norm for doing so. It wasn’t until the emergence of the chivalric code in the Middle Ages that rules of conduct came about. Still, even through the 20th century, examples abounded of prisoner mistreatment, especially at the precise moment of surrender?the moment when the battle is supposed to stop instantly and quarter is to be given. Popular histories of World War II are replete with examples of soldiers who killed their enemy after some overture of surrender was made or as retribution for atrocities by the other side. In Vietnam, Sen. John Kerry earned his Silver Star in part because he chased down and shot a fleeing Viet Cong fighter who had fired on his boat only minutes before.

International law treats such breaches mildly, with the understanding that it’s difficult to expect soldiers to fight fiercely, then instantly behave amicably at the first signal of surrender. And so, the defense will argue that the Marines did not really secure the building and that these Iraqis were not prisoners yet: They were still combatants and still lawful targets; thus there’s no crime. It’s not clear how a military jury will judge this Marine when his day in court comes.

The twin essences of war are chaos and killing, so the very idea of placing inflexible constraints on the act of killing is at odds with the fundamental nature of warfare. Managing this cognitive dissonance while trying to stay alive takes tremendous skill. Professional militaries, like the U.S. Marine Corps, do this well because of their discipline and training. But the very existential nature of combat tilts the moral plane under these young riflemen’s boots. In a place where you are fighting for your very survival, like the streets of Fallujah, any action that keeps you alive is a good one. And any misstep could get you or your buddies killed.

In this unit’s case, one early lesson in Fallujah was to avoid Iraqis altogether, dead or alive. Iraqis wearing National Guard uniforms had ambushed them, killing one of their own. Another Marine had been killed when an explosive detonated under an insurgent corpse. Several insurgents had continued desperate fights notwithstanding gruesome wounds. Others tried to exploit the civil-military moral gap, acting as soldiers at 500 meters and as civilians when the Marines closed in. The Iraqis in the mosque may have been immobile, but to the Marines, they posed a threat.

Further, the Marines were fighting in an enemy city with little uncontested territory. There were no “friendly lines” behind which they could rest. The Marine in question had been wounded already. He was no doubt exhausted by five days of continuous fighting by the time he risked his life and burst into the mosque on Saturday. A well-rested man would have faced a dilemma inside, filled with shades of gray. A sleep-deprived man weary from days of combat saw only a binary choice: shoot or don’t shoot, life or death.

Sleep requirements for pilots are rigorously enforced because performance is directly correlated to rest. After a sleepless 24 hours, a human being is no more coordinated or thoughtful than someone with a 0.1 percent blood-alcohol level, above the legal driving limit in all 50 states. Every subsequent sleepless day takes an exponential toll on the body, degrading performance roughly 25 percent a day until a state of chronic sleep deprivation takes hold, usually by the fifth day. Aviation units ground their tired pilots because they pose a danger to themselves and others. Yet there is no safeguard for the infantrymen and other ground troops who are doing 95 percent of the dying in Iraq. Whether you’re a grunt fighting in Fallujah or a truck driver bringing supplies up from Kuwait, the military expects you to persevere, often with tragic consequences.

The literature on combat stress also suggests that prolonged periods of combat, upwards of 60 days, can lead to significantly reduced performance. Judgment and physical coordination are so retarded that some soldiers function only on the most basic level?survival.

So context is crucial when judging actions under fire. The very job of a rifleman is to close with and destroy his enemy?in essence, to kill the bad guy before he can kill you. But what separates the Marines from the rabble is their professional discipline?what a Harvard political scientist called the “management of violence” in describing the U.S. military. And so, this incident stands out for two reasons. First, it shows a breach of discipline, albeit under very stressful circumstances. But it also shows the extent to which the U.S. military will throw the book at one of its own. Already, the entire 1st Marine Division staff is involved with the case, and the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday that “[I]t’s being investigated, and justice will be done.”

On the same day as this story, the tragic news broke that CARE International worker Margaret Hassan had been executed by her captors in Iraq. Already, there have been cries of moral equivalence. One Iraqi told the Los Angeles Times: “It goes to show that [Marines] are not any better than the so-called terrorists.” Al Jazeera fanned these flames of anti-American sentiment by broadcasting the shooting incident in full while censoring Hassan’s execution snuff tape. (U.S. networks refused to air actual footage of both killings.) There is a simplistic appeal to such arguments because both events involve the killing of a human being and, more specifically, the apparent execution of a noncombatant in the context of war.

Yet it is the differences between these two killings that reveal the most important truths about the Marine shooting in Fallujah. Hassan was, in every sense of the word, a noncombatant. She worked for more than 20 years to help Iraqis obtain basic necessities: food, running water, medical care, electricity, and education. The Iraqi insurgents kidnapped her and murdered her in order to terrorize the Iraqi population and the aid workers trying to help them.

By contrast, the Marines entered a building in Fallujah and found several men who, until moments before, had been enemy insurgents engaged in mortal combat. A hidden grenade would have changed everything, and the Marine would have been lauded. As it turned out, the Iraqi was entitled to mercy, but Hassan was truly innocent. There is no legitimate moral equivalence between a soldier asking for quarter and a noncombatant like Hassan.

There is another key difference that reveals a great moral divide between the Marines and insurgents they fought this week in Fallujah. The insurgents choose the killing of innocents as their modus operandi and glorify these killings with videos distributed via the Internet and Al Jazeera. They recognize no civilized norms of conduct, let alone the rules of warfare. The Marines, on the other hand, distinguish themselves by killing innocents so rarely and only by exception or mistake. Collateral damage is part of warfare, and civilians will die no matter how many control measures are in place. Yet the U.S. military devotes a staggering amount of resources to ensuring that civilian deaths do not happen, from sophisticated command systems that control precision bombs to staffs of lawyers at every level of command to vet targeting decisions. And when such breaches do occur, as they apparently did on Saturday, U.S. military commanders act swiftly to punish the offender, lest one incident of indiscipline blossom into many. (Indeed, one Army captain currently faces charges for killing a wounded Iraqi after a firefight and pursuit through the streets of Baghdad.)

War may be hell, but no honorable warrior likes to spread the hell unnecessarily. Killing Hassan, regardless of any attenuated argument the insurgent apologists may make, was both unlawful and amoral?and beneath what any warrior would do. Killing the insurgent in a split second because it was instinctual, on the other hand, was a tragedy, not an atrocity.

Phillip Carter is a former Army officer who writes on legal and military affairs. Owen West, a trader for Goldman, Sachs, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Marines.

W/r/t the article above, I want to make a legal note that it is not at all clear that the people in the room should be considered “prisoners” – in fact, it would seem rather a stretch under the conditions that have prevailed in Falluja.

My 2Cents:

1st - I would have done the same.
2nd - They are not entitled to the Geneva Convention, they are terrorists
3rd ? They should have never allowed the media to be embedded with any military unit.

Give the man a medal not a prison sentence.

Me Solomon Grundy

From ABC News Online -
Marines shoot insurgent who was ‘playing dead’
The US military says marines in Fallujah have shot and killed an insurgent who engaged them as he was faking being dead, a week after footage of a marine killing an apparently unarmed and wounded Iraqi caused a stir in the region.

“Marines from the 1st Marine Division shot and killed an insurgent who while faking dead opened fire on the marines who were conducting a security and clearing patrol through the streets,” a military statement said.

The point-blank shooting on November 13 of a wounded Iraqi was caught on tape and beamed around the world.

It raised questions about the degree of military restraint and fanned Arab resentment.

The marine was withdrawn from combat and an investigation launched.

Military sources had said that the rules of engagement were looser during the operation launched in Fallujah, for fear that rebels would be disguised, fake death or wear suicide explosives belts.

The US military and Iraqi government troops are still carrying house-to-house searches in the rebel bastion but two weeks after it was launched, the largest post-Saddam military operation in Iraq is all but over.

According to US military figures, more than 1,200 insurgents have been killed in the intense fighting, as well as 51 US troops and eight Iraqi personnel.

  • AFP

Me Solomon Grundy

Bottom line: If the terrorists (I refuse to use the label “insurgents,” and particularly am appalled at the application of “guerillas”) are not fighting according to the protocols of the Geneva Convention, then they deserve none of its protections.

Pursuant to my post immediately above:

http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/04_11_22_corner-archive.asp#046428

MORE FALLUJAH [Rich Lowry]
E-mail, from a professor at military-related institution:

?Rich,

Re. your NRO post on Fallujah. I just received an astounding PowerPoint (what else) presentation from one of my former students who currently commands a brigade in Iraq. The insurgents used 60 of the Mosques as fighting positions and weapons caches during the battle - that’s 3 of every 5 Mosques in the city. 653 IEDs were found and detonated by coalition forces - 11 IED “factories” were also found, not to mention the slaughter houses and just run-of-the-mill weapons stockpiles.

Where’s the media in all this? Or, how about a better question: Where is our information offensive??
Posted at 02:43 PM

And this:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200411/s1248394.htm

Marines shoot insurgent who was ‘playing dead’

The US military says Marines in Fallujah have shot and killed an insurgent who engaged them as he was faking being dead, a week after footage of a marine killing an apparently unarmed and wounded Iraqi caused a stir in the region.

“Marines from the 1st Marine Division shot and killed an insurgent who while faking dead opened fire on the marines who were conducting a security and clearing patrol through the streets,” a military statement said.

The point-blank shooting on November 13 of a wounded Iraqi was caught on tape and beamed around the world.

It raised questions about the degree of military restraint and fanned Arab resentment.

The marine was withdrawn from combat and an investigation launched.

Military sources had said that the rules of engagement were looser during the operation launched in Fallujah, for fear that rebels would be disguised, fake death or wear suicide explosives belts.

The US military and Iraqi government troops are still carrying house-to-house searches in the rebel bastion but two weeks after it was launched, the largest post-Saddam military operation in Iraq is all but over.

According to US military figures, more than 1,200 insurgents have been killed in the intense fighting, as well as 51 US troops and eight Iraqi personnel.

Pursuant to the above post, here is a link to a pdf of the report for what was found in Falluja, and facts documenting the terrorists were violating Geneva protocols while fighting:

http://www2.nationalreview.com/document/document_20041129_fallujah.pdf

I hope that insurgent knew what was about to happen to him. I hope he knew, and he was scared. If it was me in that Marine’s shoes, I would have slung my weapon and pulled out my nice DULL blade and showed him what happens when you fuck with us. Afterwards of course, I would have made that bastard reporter give me the tape. But that’s just me. RLTW

rangertab75

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:

Rich,

Re. your NRO post on Fallujah. I just received an astounding PowerPoint (what else) presentation from one of my former students who currently commands a brigade in Iraq. [/quote]

What a coincidence - I just finished reviewing that same presentation from IMEF. The EOD company I command right now was there, but at the beginning of this year it was not quite as bad as it is now. Glad to see the information is getting out, and not being held in its usual vacuum.

I think our senior leadership will do the right thing for that young Marine. Any other time or place, it would have been, without question, a violation of the laws of warfare. But given the new enemy TTPs, I can see nothing wrong with his actions.