PINEHURST, N.C. — Within the past few weeks we have seen over and over again the video imagery of a Marine shooting and killing an Iraqi insurgent. An NBC pool photographer embedded with a Marine unit fighting its way through Fallujah captured the scene on camera. In most of the replays of that footage, the actual shooting was masked. But there is no doubt that the shooting and the Iraqi insurgent's death did occur.
Is this incident indicative of what our Marines are taught to do? Does this shooting comply with the laws of war? These may be easy questions, but there may not be any easy answers to them. And, I suspect, an individual's initial reaction to this shooting is influenced heavily by whether or not the individual feels the United States should or should not be involved in Iraq. The Marine doesn't have that freedom of choice. The Marine was pulled from the combat scene. An investigation into the incident is under way by command authorities.
I wasn't there. I didn't witness the event, so I am not prepared to say definitively what did or did not happen. That may be good advice for all of us who choose to make judgments about the shooting. I suspect that among the Marines and the photographer present there are different versions of what really happened.
What we do glean from the news reports is that as the Marines were going house to house, room to room, in their mission to clear Fallujah of insurgent and terrorist forces, they came across some enemy forces. One of the insurgents was lying on the floor, either wounded or faking wounds. The Marine in question would tell you that he believed the insurgent had a concealed weapon and was a mortal threat to himself, his buddies, and the cameraman. He shot and killed the insurgent.
As we individually make our assessments and judgments of what the Marine should have done, we should be cautious. We should reflect on what that Marine and his buddies had witnessed in the days leading up to the shooting. They had seen other Marines killed and wounded fighting against an often unseen and unheard enemy.
Let me quote from a military officer who was in Fallujah during the battle for that city. This is an unsolicited report from one who was there:
"... the brutality and fanaticism of the enemy surprised me. The beheadings were even more commonplace than we thought, but so were torture and summary executions ... There are hundreds of tons of munitions and tens of thousands of weapons that our regiment alone has recovered."
This same officer wrote:
"The enemy (the Marines) fought burrowed into houses and fired through mouse holes cut in walls, lured them into houses rigged with explosives and detonated the houses on pursuing Marines, and actually hid behind surrender flags only to engage the Marines with small arms fire ... I know of several instances where dead enemy rolled grenades out on Marines who were preparing to render them aid."
Just as a crime scene or a hostage situation in this country must be viewed from several perspectives before we unjustly accuse a police officer of an unnecessary killing, we should render the same objectivity to a wartime scenario. War is hell as the saying goes. It is a difficult and ugly environment which often demands immediate and impulsive actions/reactions.
Knowing what that Marine had witnessed and what he knew of the enemy, he may have reacted exactly the way many of us would have reacted. He may also have erred in his judgment. I have every confidence that the ongoing investigation will be fair and thorough. Until it is complete, and we have a better understanding of what really happened, it may be best to withhold judgment.