11/22/2004: Apropos of the Fallujah mosque killing....
Juan Cole has had some excellent commentary in the past few days. This morning, he notes that, because of the killing, the US [is] Hated From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, as "significant street protests breaking out in the Middle East and Latin America. Turkey, Palestine and Libya in the region, and Chile in the New World saw thousands of angry protesters come out against the US."
Cole also gets something that the 101st Fighting Keyboarders simply won't:
I personally agree that there may have been extenuating circumstances regarding the shooting of a wounded Iraqi guerrilla in a mosque by a marine (wounded guerrillas often lure US troops close and then blow them up). But most people aren't good at seeing both sides of the story. If guerrillas had stacked four wounded American Marines up somewhere, and then a second set of guerrillas came in, and a guerrilla shot one of the unarmed, wounded Marines in the head on camera, I guarantee you no one in the American media would be talking about extenuating circumstances. This act would be seen as cowardly and perfidious, with no need for further investigation.Frankly, I will be very, very surprised if within the next 60 days or so we don't see film from Iraq of insurgents lining up and gunning down wounded Marines; when Alberto "Geneva Conventions? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Geneva Conventions" Gonzalez and his ilk (both in Justice and at the Pentagon) decided that we could dispense with providing suspected insurgents, terrorists, et all the protections of the Geneva Conventions and other protections of the rule of law and due process, that step was practically guaranteed.
While I'm on the subject of the mosque killing, Kevin Sites, the embedded journo who took that film, has blogged about the incident himself, in an emotional and perceptive piece that's well worth reading.
It's time you to have the facts from me, in my own words, about what I saw -- without imposing on that Marine -- guilt or innocence or anything in between. I want you to read my account and make up your own minds about whether you think what I did was right or wrong. All the other armchair analysts don't mean a damn to me.Go read the whole thing; it's well worth the investment of time.
"These were the same wounded from yesterday," I say to the lieutenant. He takes a look around and goes outside the mosque with his radio operator to call in the situation to Battalion Forward HQ.
I see an old man in a red kaffiyeh lying against the back wall. Another is face down next to him, his hand on the old man's lap -- as if he were trying to take cover. I squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them. Then I notice that the blood coming from the old man's nose is bubbling. A sign he is still breathing. So is the man next to him.
While I continue to tape, a Marine walks up to the other two bodies about fifteen feet away, but also lying against the same back wall.
Then I hear him say this about one of the men:
"He's fucking faking he's dead -- he's faking he's fucking dead."
Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.
However, the Marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he's going to cover him while another Marine searches for weapons.
Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down.
"Well he's dead now," says another Marine in the background.
I am still rolling. I feel the deep pit of my stomach. The Marine then abruptly turns away and strides away, right past the fifth wounded insurgent lying next to a column. He is very much alive and peering from his blanket. He is moving, even trying to talk. But for some reason, it seems he did not pose the same apparent "danger" as the other man -- though he may have been more capable of hiding a weapon or explosive beneath his blanket.
For a moment, I'm paralyzed still taping with the old man in the foreground. I get up after a beat and tell the Marines again, what I had told the lieutenant -- that this man -- all of these wounded men -- were the same ones from yesterday. That they had been disarmed treated and left here.
At that point the Marine who fired the shot became aware that I was in the room. He came up to me and said, "I didn't know sir-I didn't know." The anger that seemed present just moments before turned to fear and dread.
I interviewed your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, before the battle for Falluja began. He said something very powerful at the time-something that now seems prophetic. It was this:
"We're the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman's war here -- because we don't behead people, we don't come down to the same level of the people we're combating. That's a very difficult thing for a young 18-year-old Marine who's been trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy with fire and close combat. That's a very difficult thing for a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with 23 years experience in the service who was trained to do the same thing once upon a time, and who now has a thousand-plus men to lead, guide, coach, mentor -- and ensure we remain the good guys and keep the moral high ground."
I listened carefully when he said those words. I believed them.
So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera -- the story of his death became my responsibility.
The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.
I pray for your soon and safe return.
Len on 11.22.04 @ 12:18 PM CST