Kevin Sites has updated his blog with his version of the events regarding the shooting in the Fallujah Mosque. (HT Little Green Footballs) I am unimpressed. I sense guilt and fear in his rendition. He should have both emotions in my opinion. Moreover, his “analysis” seems deficient in comparison with his protestations regarding how experienced a “war journalist” he is.
He acknowledges how the intel was that insurgents may have re-occupied the Mosque after the initial attack the day before. However, he chooses to emphasize details without full context:
When we arrive at the front entrance, we see that another squad has already entered before us. The lieutenant asks them, “Are there people inside?” One of the Marines raises his hand signaling five. “Did you shoot them,” the lieutenant asks? “Roger that, sir, ” the same Marine responds. “Were they armed?” The Marine just shrugs and we all move inside. Immediately after going in, I see the same black plastic body bags spread around the mosque. The dead from the day before. But more surprising, I see the same five men that were wounded from Friday as well. It appears that one of them is now dead and three are bleeding to death from new gunshot wounds. The fifth is partially covered by a blanket and is in the same place and condition he was in on Friday, near a column. He has not been shot again.
What about the fact that this group of Marines went in expecting armed resistance because of the reports about re-occupation of the Mosque by insurgents? Did he not expect the Marines to go in firing? What’s with focusing on the allegedly “new” wounds–with NO context or information about what actually happened when the first unit went in to the room that day?
Then there is this:
I look closely at both the dead and the wounded. There don’t appear to be any weapons anywhere.
How closely did he look at them? Can he see through blankets and robes? Did he frisk them? Are we to believe that he got closer to the men than the armed Marines to search for weapons? If so, he is reckless and such recklessness can get our guys killed by booby traps.
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.
Note this, Sites isn’t looking at the insurgent when the Marine sees something that leads him to believe the guy is feigning death. And if you look at the picture I posted here, even when Sites is filming in that direction, he’s not in a position where he can see what the man’s right hand is doing. There doesn’t need to be reaching or lunging when you are wiggling the pin off a grenade or pulling a wire on a booby trap. The guy was faking–engaging in deceit–engaging in perfidious behavior against the laws of war. Furthermore, when Sites does look in that direction–his eyes would have had to focus impossibly quickly to see as much detail as the Marine was seeing. Sites is extremely vulnerable to cross-examination regarding his “eyewitness” testimony.
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.
What’s with the italics around the word “danger”? Is this some new tool of objective journalism I missed? Has Sites been trained to make distinctions between those who pose a danger and those who don’t as have the Marines? Did he bother to ask the Marine that question? It appears he makes up news in his own head instead of asking questions.
The other guy who was moving and trying to talk had both arms out of the blanket and was imploring–he wasn’t faking death. He wasn’t engaging in behavior that appeared to be deceitful. Regardless, why didn’t Sites ask the Marine what the difference was? Don’t journalists actually ask questions these days?
This is the part that really gets my goat:
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 guess all that war journalism has given Sites the power to read minds. How does he know the Marine wasn’t aware he was there? And what’s this with labeling the emotions the Marine was feeling? Some objectivity. I think the Marine was all of those things during the seconds he had to make a decision about a guy faking death who could have blown them all up.
And why didn’t Sites tell the Marines (not just their officer who immediately left the room) that the men were the same ones from the night before? Even if he had, approaching them with caution was advisable since they spent the night unguarded and within reach of other insurgents. And look at this:
It’s reasonable to presume they may not have known that these insurgents had already been engaged and subdued a day earlier. Yet when this new squad engaged the wounded insurgents on Saturday, perhaps really believing they had been fighting or somehow posed a threat — those Marines inside knew from their training to check the insurgents for weapons and explosives after disabling them, instead of leaving them where they were and waiting outside the mosque for the squad I was following to arrive.
He’s saying that because the other unit had been in the room shortly before, that they would have–in accordance with procedure– checked the enemy for weapons and explosives–so the Marine, therefore, should have known he had nothing to worry about. Sites apparently thinks the Marine in question should have totally relied on someone else’s search for weapons–even when he sees with his own eyes that the man is feigning death–which suggests other perfidy is possible. If my life and the life of my buddies was at stake–I don’t think I would take that risk.
When NBC aired the story 48-hours later, we did so in a way that attempted to highlight every possible mitigating issue for that Marine’s actions. We wanted viewers to have a very clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding the fighting on that frontline. Many of our colleagues were just as responsible. Other foreign networks made different decisions, and because of that, I have become the conflicted conduit who has brought this to the world.
Apparently not all mitigating circumstances were included, since Oliver North details a few things that were left out. I also don’t recall a discussion about feigning death being a war crime.
The next part is just plain pompous and self-serving:
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.
An enemy is not subdued if he is feigning death in order to blow you up. That’s the situation the Marine saw as a distinct possibility. And don’t give me that stuff about being in the same room. Sites didn’t have the same visual vantage point as the Marine. The video and picture clearly show that to be a fact. And as for Sites’s responsibility–if the death was warranted by the circumstances–it’s not a story. As it is, he gave the tape to Al Jezeera who is using it as propaganda–with no context. Doesn’t he have responsibility for that?
Anyone else get the impression from reading his blog that he’s sweating just a tad?
These principles lead us to the conclusion that we need to make a distinction in the case of the Marine in Fallujah. Clearly, a soldier who executes a prisoner, either on his own or under orders, has acted in cold blood and consequently has committed a war crime. Proportionality, humanity, and chivalry guide this judgment. But it seems to me that in the case of the Marine in question, military necessity trumped the other two conditions. He did not kill in cold blood, but responded to threatened danger in an uncertain environment.
Anyone who has ever talked to a veteran of World War II in the Pacific knows that the Japanese, like the rebels in Fallujah, were not inclined to surrender and that, on more than one occasion, they killed Americans after feigning surrender. Pretty soon, the Americans stopped making the offer and resorted to flamethrowers and satchel charges to take care of Japanese defenders.
Then there is Ken Myers–a “war journalist” who, unlike Sites, actually gets it:
The outcry over the killing by the marine passes all belief. Moreover, we actually know the context for the shooting. The marines thought the room in the mosque contained only dead bodies, not wounded. When the marine saw a “dead” man move, he cried out first, and then shot him.
Lance Corporal Ian Malone and Piper Christian Muzvuru, 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, RIP, took no such precautions in Basra in April last year. They simply ignored the body of the dead fedayeen fighter as they dismounted from their Warrior armoured fighting vehicle – and it, being on a suicide mission, promptly rose up and shot them both, before itself being blown apart. Thenceforth, the “Micks” probably made it their business to re-kill every corpse they saw.
I agree it’s not nice. War is not nice – and the US marine that the entire world has now seen kill a defenceless, wounded man, had probably spent the previous two days in street-fighting and house-clearing. This kind of warfare causes unspeakable stress, for soldiers are in danger every second, for hour after hour after hour. It is simply fatuous to sit in high moral judgment on the split-second decision-making of some 20-year-old in the middle of such combat.
In other words, I’m saying the marine who killed the Iraqi did the right thing – he put the lives of himself and his colleagues first. Ask Mrs Malone in Dublin or Mrs Muzvuru in Harare what they now fervently wish their sons had done
Fatuous. That is a perfect word for what Kevin Sites wrote in his blog yesterday. It means “vacuously, smugly, and unconsciously foolish.” Expecially when you read it along with the words of the two men quoted above.
And, as for journalistic and moral responsibility, Ken Myers hits it on the head:
Moreover, an unprecedented struggle awaits us when Iraq is done. We in the media must learn what our role in that struggle will be. Vicarious indignation at so-called atrocities is a moral frivolity: it proves that we are unaware of the scale of the crisis we face, now and into the foreseeable future. Our common enemy has vision, dedication, courage and intelligence. He is profoundly grateful for whatever tit-bits come his way: our media have a moral obligation to ensure that we are scattering absolutely none in his direction.
And about that last point, our guys over there are watching the media. Look at this post by American Soldier.
American Soldier has more to say about the Kevin Sites response:
I may not respect the words that Kevin wrote on his site. However, I felt Kevin Sites’ open letter was fair and in the end were the words of a person just doing his job. He reported, knowing what could become of that Marine. He said in this letter that he contemplated destroying the footage but didn’t. He will have to live with the fact that this may send a Marine to jail and possibly dishonorably discharged from the Marines.
So I say this to you Kevin, this was your choice! You enabled this to come out. You knew that this might of leaked out at some point and in the end you could not accept that. You viewed something extraordinary in that room. However you just viewed it! You were not that Marine who made that shot. You were not staring down that barrel. In fact you have never had to stare down the barrel of a weapon to kill someone. You just don’t know. You only know what it’s like to view that. I tell you that it’s a feeling that haunts you forever. However we (Soldiers) do it to ensure our friends to our left, right and rear don’t get hurt or killed. We don’t do it for any political agenda. It’s war, there is no time for those thoughts. That Marine had his reasons, I highly doubt he did it just to kill another person. I am not that Marine! I am a Soldier who has had to make those tough decisions though. So I can relate to those split second reasons. They all can’t be truly explained!My advice to you is move on. I sincerely believe you have lost all trust no matter how you articulate it. This is what you will have to live with now for your actions!
Captain Ed at Captain’s Quarters writes about another incident of insurgents faking death and killing Marines. Do you think those guys knew about the Sites video uproar? Perhaps these barbarians–who unlike us are totally oblivious to the laws of war- are hoping the resultant uproar is causing our Marines to second-guess instinct and training–leaving themselves open to death in this sort of situation.