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Speaking of War Crimes
by Steven A. Hass
November 18, 2004
First Published in Newzmaniac

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Kevin Sites is a freelance journalist on assignment with NBC News in Iraq, and he is currently acting as the imbedded journalist covering the fighting in Fallujah. His video report, which was released this week and shows a U.S. Marine killing a wounded and unarmed Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque, has started a global wildfire.

Not surprisingly, those who are sympathetic to George W. Bush's war in Iraq have chosen to sidestep the issue at hand, and instead are screaming for Sites' head on a sacrificial platter. Unfortunately, deflecting the attention onto Sites does not erase what his camera recorded: a war crime, by any interpretation of the established laws of war. Sites did what the mainstream American media won't do, and simply recorded the uncensored story at hand (as competent journalists do). Judging by their reaction, Bush sympathizers don't appreciate "no spin" that has no spin.

Earlier that day in Fallujah, a Marine unit had captured the mosque and the group of wounded Iraqi militia inside the mosque. These Marines had finished treating the wounds of the Iraqis, and then left them to be collected by another Marine group, presumably for transfer to a prisoner collection area. When the second group of Marines arrived, the video shows them walking around the wounded Iraqis, who were lying on the floor of the mosque. A Marine is heard saying that one of the wounded Iraqis was pretending to be dead. In response, a fellow Marine is seen aiming his rifle point-blank at the Iraqi, shooting him in the head, and casually remarking, "Well, he's dead now."

No yelling, no screaming, no fighting, no chaos inside the mosque. The wounded Iraqis were lying on the floor, obviously unarmed. Bush sympathizers, in trying to justify what is shown on the video, speak of previous (and verifiable) incidents when Iraqi militia had boobytrapped their dead comrades, or incidents when wounded Iraqis had laid in wait for any American soldier to get close enough to be shot. These incidents have, in fact, happened. But the Bush sympathizers typically lose sight of what their argument's alternative says. By their argument, fearing such an incident in this specific case would be saying that the U.S. Marines, when leaving prisoners for another group to collect, are not intelligent enough to absolutely ensure that all weapons of any type have been taken from the wounded Iraqis. This argument has the first group of Marines treating the wounded Iraqis, and then just walking away, saying, "Gee, I sure hope they don't have any weapons".

With a generous portion of latitude, let's assume that this second group of Marines just happened upon the mosque and its group of wounded Iraqis, rather than having been sent there to collect the prisoners. If that were the case, these Marines have no business being in combat (or they have a death wish). As shown on the video, they are not storming the mosque in a battle, there are no shots fired, they are not attacking the mosque in any semblance of guerilla warfare tactics. They simply walk into the mosque. Obviously, they were sent there, and equally obvious by their lack of tactics is that they knew what to expect inside the mosque (and it wasn't a firefight).

Another argument being used in an attempt to justify the killing of this Iraqi prisoner is that a war is stressful, and this Marine may have been under extreme stress at the time. I would like to take this opportunity to personally congratulate this Marine on his exemplary command of combat stress, as the video shows what appears to be an extremely calm and composed person shooting this Iraqi. There is not even a hint of stress in the entire incident, nor in the situation as a whole. But combat stress is different from the stress of everyday civilian life, right? It would be easy right now to accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about, and to say that I have no idea what combat stress is like. Unfortunately, I do know. I wish I didn't.

The predictable backlash from Bush sympathizers is aimed at Kevin Sites, rather than the Marine who did the killing. They say that Sites is "aiding the enemy". They say he is no better than "the terrorists". Pray tell, how in the world does a journalist aid the enemy by reporting the uncensored news? Are we supposed to believe that "the enemy" had no idea that American troops were capable of this type of incident? I guess we're supposed to believe that Iraqis in Fallujah haven't heard yet about the torture at Abu Ghraib. Does uncensored news really aid the enemy? Only if the enemy is a large group of Americans who have become accustomed to whitewashed spin-cycle "news"; a healthy dose of uncensored news is the very aid that they need.

Don't bother calling me unpatriotic or un-American. When I checked last, the American military was to be exemplified by their adherence to the laws of war, regardless of the enemy's lack thereof. I've been in combat -- have you? I know the Rules of Engagement -- do you? I know what the Geneva Convention says -- do you? I don't want the next video to be of Iraqi militia killing unarmed and wounded American prisoners, excusing it away by citing "combat stress" you? The more this incident is justified, the more permission is given for the same treatment of wounded American prisoners. I hope you can justify that.

Steven A. Hass edits Newzmaniac, where this article first appeared. He can be reached at:

Related Article: Killing on Tape and the Broader War Criminality by Paul Street

Other Articles by Steven Hass


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