In editing Chris Shumway's compelling piece, I struggled with what term to use in the lead (and throughout the story) to describe the fateful incident around which so much controversy has revolved. Chris originally used the term "shooting incident." That's certainly accurate, but a bit passive. I am very inclined to refer to it as an "ambush."
We run into questions like this all the time, and I thought it would be interesting to ask our readers what they think from time to time, starting with this dilemma.
The problem is not whether we could call the incident an "ambush" if we knew for certain that Sgrena's version of the story is correct. We haven't seen her refer to it as such, but the situation would clearly fall under our "tell-it-like-it-is" rule. That is, if we knew for certain that a duck is a duck, we call it a duck. We don't quote a zoologist telling us it's a duck.
But we don't do this when we suspect or even stronly "believe" something is the case. We try to err on the side of skepticism in all cases, regardless of our own perspective.
In this case, though, the question is not whether we should buy Sgrena's or the Pentagon's version of the truth. No, this one boils down to a simple semantics issue. My question is, even assuming US patrol was visible and gave what it said were warnings, if they were done in such a way that the vehicle's driver could not detect them on time (which almost certainlywas the case, or else he would have stopped the car), does the incident qualify as an ambush?
Again, it doesn't matter what happened. We have to assume that Sgrena and the driver could be wrong -- either mistaken or lying. The question is whether an incident can amount to an ambush even if the perpetrators, who it is known were lying in wait, make an undetected attempt to warn the target before engaging it...
In the end, we went with the term "attack."