U.S. Navy finds soldier shot wounded Iraqi at Fallujah in self defense

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Friday, May 6, 2005

US Marine Corps Seal

In the case of a Marine who fired upon an unarmed and wounded Iraqi in a mosque in November 2004, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, headed by Major General Richard Natonski, ruled that the soldier acted in self-defense, and within the law of armed conflict. In a statement released by the Marine Corps: "He has determined that the actions of the Marine in question were consistent with the established rules of engagement, the law of armed conflict and the Marine's inherent right of self-defense." He will now not face a court martial.

In a videotape of the event, the Camp Pendleton U.S. marine raises his weapon and fires into the body of a Iraqi lying up against a wall in a mosque. When the Marine approached the wounded man, the marine is heard on the videotape saying, "He's f****** faking he's dead; he's faking he's f****** dead." Then he fired his rifle point-blank at the man's head, at which point a companion said, "Well, he's dead now."

The shootings occurred inside a mosque during a U.S. offensive that led to house-to-house fighting in southern Falluja last November. A television journalist embedded with the Marines recorded the killing on videotape.

The man killed was one of several Iraqi insurgents who had been wounded in fighting and then disarmed by marines, who then moved on leaving the wounded men in the mosque. The next day a second line of marines moved through the area, who fought with more insurgents. Due to the time that had passed since the first wave of marines, the second line assumed that any buildings could have been re-occupied by insurgents. The corporal found wounded men in the mosque when they searched it. At that moment marines from the first line of attack were approaching the mosque, among them the journalist, who had also been there the first time. As they approached, they heard three shots. When they entered the journalist taped what he saw, the same people who were left there, disarmed. Some were still alive and one marine thought a man lying on the ground was a threat because one of his arms was not clearly visible, so he could be hiding a weapon. However, instead of keeping him covered so another could search him he shot him, while the journalist was taping it. When the marine saw this and heard that these men had already been disarmed before he shouted that he didn't know that.

In sworn testimony, the corporal said he thought the people in the mosque were a threat. Investigators who considered a videotape of the shooting agreed. A known tactic of anti-Iraqi forces (AIF) is to feign injury or death, and the marine could reasonably claim they were still a threat.

The Marines said in a press release:

"The evidence supports the conclusion that the shooting of all three AIF by the corporal during the assault on the mosque was consistent with the ROE (rules of engagement). The evidence indicates that based on the actions of those AIF, the corporal reasonably believed that they posed a hostile threat to him and his fellow Marines and justifiably fired in self-defense. The enhanced videotape of the shooting supports the corporal's claim that the wounded AIF was concealing his left arm behind his head. While it is not clear whether the AIF in the videotape made any overtly threatening gestures, it is clear that the Marines of 3/1, to include the corporal, were aware that feigning death was a common enemy TTP (tactics, techniques & procedures). Accordingly, it was reasonable to believe that the corporal fired on the AIF after reasonably believing that the individual was committing a hostile act by exhibiting a known enemy TTP (feigning death and subsequently moving his concealed arm). Based on all the evidence in the case, and the rules of engagement that were in effect at the time, it is clear that the corporal could have reasonably believed that the AIF shown in the videotape posed a hostile threat justifying his use of deadly force."

Kevin Sites, the NBC TV journalist who taped the event as "pool" footage, was embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment when it neutralized Fallujah. The incident in the mosque raised considerable controversy over whether embedded journalists should maintain a neutral point of view. The unedited footage was aired extensively by Al Jazeera over the months following the incident.

Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi of the Arab Media Watch said the footage would support the idea in the Middle East that the prime concern of US forces is not the welfare of Iraqis.

In the USA, however, the shooting itself was not shown because NBC considered it too shocking. Now that Sites is no longer embedded he wants to bring the whole story out in the open.

Despite the fact that Sites introduced the footage with a long explanation of how the soldiers were under a lot of stress, which could easily cloud their judgement, he received thousands of hate-mails per day and even death-threats

Sites later responded to the criticism in an open letter to the regiment in his weblog.


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