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November 16, 2004

Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

Reporters are bending over backwards to explain and dismiss apparent executions of Iraqis in Fallujah, including this latest one, committed by a US Marine and caught on videotape by an NBC News crew.

Agence France-Presse is reporting that one of their correspondents has found 27 bodies of men apparently executed at point blank range.

But after referring to the city of 280,000 inhabitants as a "rebel enclave" in order to dehumanize Fallujah, AFP only looked to one source for a speculative explanation of the killings:

Marine Captain Drew McNulty said he thought that the mujahideen who had ruled Fallujah, before the insurgents took heavy losses in a US-led assault launched last Monday, had forced all males aged 15 to 50 to stay and fight.

"They probably kept the military-aged males and forced them to fight and those who refused they executed," he speculated.

This is truly fascinating stuff, since the "males aged 15 to 50" criteria is one used by US occupation troops and Iraqi interim government forces to separate "friendly" Iraqi civilians from potential enemies. But the AFP report is less than skeptical of the Marines' explanation, leaving the story at that.

A decent reporter would have followed up the question like so: Since the US announced just before the ground assault that males aged 45 or younger would be captured if they tried to leave Fallujah from that point forward, how now can the Marines place sole blame for these executions on the "insurgents"?

I am not saying I have any better idea of who killed those men, but so far the number of videotapes showing Iraqis executing local noncombatants is zero, while at least two separate videos now show American Marines executing wounded Iraqis this past week (see the first here).

In the NBC video released today, the disturbing part is not that a battle-hardened kid could so coldly and angrily murder a man identified as a wounded "enemy" -- anyone who did not already know that such events are commonplace in war probably gets their news solely from Hollywood. What was really agonizing was watching NBC's correspondent awkwardly try to excuse the killing, instead of just doing his job and telling us what happened. Also excruciating: reading MSNBC's website report on the incident, which tries its best to "balance" (my word) its footage of a cold-blooded killing with mitigating evidence.

First, anchor Matt Lauer warned viewers that the video "could be disturbing to some viewers" -- perhaps politely excluding viewers who hate Arabs, not wanting to generalize about his audience's ability to stomach atrocity. Then Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski made a point of explaining that the Marine who committed the execution was himself wounded the day before, and that he made a "split-second decision that cost one enemy insurgent his life and could now result in charges against the Marine." So the dead man is our enemy, and the killer, we are reminded, is one of us.

Next we see troops sauntering about a room strewn with what appear to be dead or severely injured men. Suddenly, we hear a Marine yelling, "He's fucking faking he's dead! He's faking he's fucking dead!" Then apparently that same Marine shoots the prone man in the head from a few feet away.

Note the accusation the Marine made before executing the man. It was not that the man was armed or dangerous -- but simply that he was alive. That was the offense in question. Not "he's got a gun" or "he's got a grenade" or anything like that -- just that he was playing dead. (Ironically, had the man been pretending to be dead, he probably would have been doing so in order to avoid execution or capture, in hopes of being overlooked, as is common on battlefields the world over.)

But the man had in fact been wounded already -- apparently the day before -- and was unarmed. A separate unit of Marines had reportedly shot, disarmed and then abandoned the men in the building on the previous day.

Later we hear from Kevin Sites himself, who has been living among Marines for weeks now, and who continues to be surrounded by them. Sites reads from a prepared statement he holds in his hand:

As an embedded reporter I have witnessed the Marines behaving as a disciplined force throughout this offensive, and in this particular case it certainly was a confusing situation, to say the least. Perhaps the only one who knows the true intentions in this particular incident was the Marine in question.

And that's it. All we hear directly from Sites is a pre-written disclaimer, read aloud in highly restrictive conditions. This kind of reporting is given credence, even though embedded journalists obviously would not dare speak negatively about the men with whom they live, and on whom they depend for protection during firefights.

But the scene captured in NBC's own video does not uphold Sites' characterization of a "confusing situation" at all. A bunch of men, barely living or dead to the last one, are slumped, unarmed, against a wall or one another, or scattered about the floor of a large, otherwise empty room. The only thing confusing about the situation is how the Marine, or the reporter who witnessed the events and even had the advantage of instant replay, could have concluded that an unarmed man is a threat, and conceivably needs to be shot in the head, simply because he is breathing.

Advocates of looser rules of engagement have argued all day that one must leave open the possibility that the Marine thought the wounded man was actually a booby-trapped corpse, as this same unit reportedly discovered the previous day (the hard way). The rigging of corpses is a fairly common guerilla warfare tactic, and Sites dutifully reported that "possibility" in order to cast doubt on what his videotape actually shows.

But, if that were the fear, seeing that the prone man was in fact alive would, in such a case, have been cause for relief, not urgent suspicion. I haven't seen that logic employed in any commentary on the situation, though it seems self-evident. I just searched somewhat extensively and could find no accounts of a living mujahideen booby-trapping his own body in Fallujah.

In the end, Sites' apologetics are perfectly emblematic of the reason The NewStandard has used so little information gleaned from embedded reporters. His unwillingness to call a spade a spade, on the pretense of whatever "objective impartiality" an embedded reporter can muster in the thick of battle, is just a side-lesson about what modern media has done to modern warfare, and vice versa.

In the end, if reporters do their jobs (which they tend not to do), there will be a focus on how many such incidents were not caught on tape, and focus will drift from this particular instance (which appears to be more of is presented as more of an aberration than an example), to the broader context and what it indicates about the real, untold story of the second Battle for Fallujah.

Comments...

TobyPetzold: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

I just searched somewhat extensively and could find no accounts of a living mujahideen booby-trapping his own body in Fallujah.

Mujahideen are also jihadis. These people do not want to surrender; they want to attain martyrdom. And you find it implausible that one of these psychopaths would pull the pin or otherwise rig a grenade to go off with his last, dying breath? Whatever your "extensive" search for such an account turned up, that young Marine had just lost a friend under similar circumstances.

Americans aren't going to allow any degenerate Leftist ideologue to turn this incident into another propaganda coup. Forget it.

phrankin: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

I just searched somewhat extensively and could find no accounts of a living mujahideen booby-trapping his own body in Fallujah.

Im sorry this is rubbish, the previous day one of this marines comrads died in just this manner. AND as we live in america the marine will be tried under the justice system UNLIKE those whom shot Margaret hassan executed 50 iraqi guardsmen etc etc etc

jbe: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

How can a modern soldier gives a public relations coup to the enemy?

Regardless of political allegience everybody should be able to agree that war is not nice, not clinical and not television friendly. Bad things happen. It's a fact. There hasn't been a single war where bad things haven't happened.

But right here, right now, anything we say doesn't matter.

The images of this incident went out across the world, across Iraq. Knocking other events down the headline sequence. This is what matters.

It doesn't matter that some people here agree or disagree with the war. What *matters* is what the everyday people in Iraq think when they see an unarmed man executed in a Mosque. The images are more important than reasons.

This isn't partisanship but cold hard reality.

edwardedward: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

The article, except for two errors, is not bad. First, the author says he can find no evidence to support a belief that an insurgent might blow himself up!! This bizarre head-in-the-sandism undermines what is otherwise a very legitimate and troubling question -- Was that an execution shown on the video tape?

The author also suggests that executions by American soldiers might not be the exception, and it is hard to fault his vigilance on this question, since it is, in part, because of people like him that criminal behavior among American soldiers has been mild by comparison with the general history of war.

Though his point about the lack of objectivity of embedded reporters is insightful and no doubt has some truth, he is not credible in suggesting that reporters would cover up widespread executions. Reporters might wait until back in the Green zone to tell such a story, however. It seems to me the author doesn't understand how much reporters would have to lose by covering up that story, as well as how much they would have to gain by publishing it. I think he simplifies the incentives that impact news gatherers.

Gnok: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

Excuse me, but if that poor Marine was worried about a booby trapped Iraqi, he would not have shot him within 5 feet (apparent distance) with a bunch of his friends standing around. He would have sequestered himself and his buddies behind a wall and shot from a distance.

That excuse is pure rubbish. I've never seen such ridiculous reasoning in my whole life.

goprisko: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

Lost in the testosterone fogged minds of many are a few basic facts, facts which were ignored in Vietnam, and ignored now: 1. Iraq attacked no one. 2. Iraq is an ancient country 3. Every living Iraqui sees himself as a citizen of an ancient country 4. Every Iraqui is a devout Muslim 5.Family is paramount 6. Honor demands revenge for death of family members 7. Americans are not Muslims 8. Americans piss on Islam 9. Americans crap on Iraquis 10. Americans want to steal Iraqui oil 11. Sadam cached millions of tons of arms all over the country 12. Sadam trained millions as soldiers 13. The other nations of the world are getting afraid of the US 14. The enemy of my enemy is my friend 15. The US federal debt is 70% of GDP 15. US debt will equal GDP by 2008 17. In 2008 about 10% of the population will retire, tax revenue willl plummet. 18 Normal interest rates are the inflation rate plus 3% = 8% 19 In 2008 US interest burden will be 80% of the budget

All the Iraquis have to do to destroy the US is to keep fighting for several more years. Until the US runs out of money and credit.

I am a Vietnam vet. I know the costs of that war which were as follows: 1. End of environmental programs 2. End of Gold backed dollar 3. Peak in US oil production 4. End of unionization 5. Beginning of rampant inflation

The most poignant symbol of US folly and futility is a concrete block building in North Vietnam. WIthin it lies the controls for the railroad switch gear that routes trains from China to either Hanoi, or Bangkok. Surrounding it are thousands of bomb craters. The building, built in 1935, is intact, untouched.

That building, symbolizes the folly of US thinking.. and the futility of US policy....

Brian Dominick: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

Thanks for all the great comments. Just for the record, according to Kevin Sites himself, the booby-trap that this unit set off the previous day was affixed to a dead body, not a living one. I was not saying that would never happen (a rebel rigging his living self to blow -- obviously, it happens), I was just saying that the reporters are bending over backwards to find excuses for the Marines. So, too, are some of our readers, it seems, which is everyone's prerogative.

baubo: Covering (Up) Executions in Fallujah

It is beginning to sound like ethnic cleansing. First, Americans of color are put in prisons and abused or executed in record number, now we are exporting this practice internationally. Ask not for whom the bell sounds, it sounds for you and me. I am concerned to read in The Nation that Ashcroft's replacement, Mr. Gonzoles feels the Geneva Conventions are "quaint"?


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.