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.