How does one determine murder or self-defense from thousands of miles away?


UPDATE: Kevin Sites, the NBC journalist at the scene, doesn't seem convinced that he saw a murder: "I have witnessed the [M]arines behaving as a disciplined and professional force throughout this offensive. In this particular case, it certainly was a confusing situation to say the least."

An NBC camera crew filmed a Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent in Fallujah, and the media will doubtless give this the objective, calm treatment for which they are famous. However, I wouldn't rush to judgement on this one. Here are a few things to consider:

1. The guy wasn't a prisoner, he was a combatant. After a combatant indicates he wishes to surrender, and is searched and restrained (hands tied, blindfolded, etc.), then he is a prisoner. Until then, he's a combatant.

2. Unlike civilians, enemy combatants are presumed to be mortal threats unless they are obviously incapacitated or have surrendered. This combatant was apparently making no move to surrender, although he may have been incapacitated, which would be a crucial fact.

3. From the time of the initial invasion last year, the insurgents have completely disregarded the laws of war, which ban the use of the "ruse," appearing to surrender and then continuing to fight when the Coalition forces approach them. They have also booby-trapped dead and wounded men, as well as used the suicide-bomber attire that is so fashionable on the West Bank.

4. We have no idea what all the facts are. One left-wing Australian paper calls this incident "cold-blooded murder." I am betting that they haven't used that phrase to describe the bombings of Iraqi marketplaces or police stations.

5. Under Catholic teaching, it is permissible for servicemen acting under legitimate authority to use deadly force against the enemy -- even when the an individual member of the enemy poses no immediate threat. For example, if a enemy soldier is sleeping in his bed, one can justifiably slit his throat. It might not be nice, it might not be sporting, but it is permissible.

6. Sprinkled in with our military — indeed, any fighting force — are those contemptable persons who enjoy the thrill of killing for its own sake. They can be weeded out beforehand, but some will always slip through. That being said, I have no idea whether this Marine fits into that category.

7. Marines will protect their own, but if one of their own has done something criminal or dishonorable, God help him, because the Marine Corps won't. Robert Bork, himself a Marine lawyer in the 1950s, says that if he were a innocent defendent, he would want to face a military jury, but if he were guilty, he would prefer a civilian jury.

An aside: This has no bearing on the moral question of whether this shooting was justified, but I am reminded of the Iranian response to the USS Vincennes accidently shooting down one of its civilian airliners, killing dozens of people. According to one account that I read, the Iranian government believed that it wasn't an accident — they truly thought the U.S. directly ordered the shooting.

Here's the sick part: afterwards, the Iranians were impressed with our "bloodthirstiness," and resolved to treat the U.S. with more respect. After all, it's something they would have done to demonstrate their own lack of scruples. That's one of a zillion examples of why we're deeply involved with pacifying the Middle East.


Good comments as always.

I'm sure we'll have the parade of Americans who see this as one of a handful of acts that proves we are the Evil Empire...

The SgtMaj of that Btn is a good friend of ours.
I have no doubt that this incident will be handled properly- whatever the outcome...

This wont be the first time and it wont be the last, but the dog and pony show that comes with it is more a scare tactic by the media who of course is so one sided...

I truly do wish the media was not allowed in a war zone.

As an aside, why are prisoners being blindfolded? I don't understand that and it disturbs me.

I actually disagree, Cathy -- it's not the journalists on the ground who are the problem. In my experience, the guys who are with the troops are not particularly biased, because can see the incredible pressures of making many life-or-death decisions in a short amount of time. It's the editors and managers that have the opportunity to skew the coverage.

I didn't see it, but apparently last night NBC ran its story on this incident, showing some of the video of the Marine shooting the insurgent. Then they cut to a video of a wounded Marine writhing in pain, the victim of a bomb attached to an insurgent's body. Now that's fair and balanced!

(Those were videos of two separate incidents, if that wasn't clear.)

On American channels the name on the soldiers backpack was pixeled out so that it could not be read but on the French channels it was clearly visible and several stations showed the actual firing of the gun, some repeatedly.

I don't agree with embedded reporters in such situations. I don't think that a soldier should have to think whether or not what he is doing 'could' be interpreted in a poor light. This clip now, even if and when the soldier is proven innocent, is having a terrible effect around the world heaping unnecessary criticism on the Marines and the U.S.

Correction.. Our Friend is with 1-3 WHEW.. Though that unit has lost alot of good Marines.'SBIO.htm

If the reporters didnt get to tag along, then of course this administration would be hiding something.. At least that's how the biased media would phrase it...

Eric.. wonder if the journalism MOS is looking for a few good men, eh? Used to be that all units had a billet for these guys..

Speaking of violations of the laws of war, perhaps a more salient example for this episode is that the Marines were being fired upon from a mosque.

I think you ought to let John Paul speak to this. I see no Catholic Light in your interpretation of reality. Next you will be justifying abortion.

thelrd in TEXAS

JP II did not give his blessing to this war.

I doubt that a war that happens in the future will receive a papal blessing, however just the cause. The Pope is not in the war-blessing business.

Your other argument just doesn't hold water.

You know, I really do enjoy it when people disagree with my posts by citing Church teachings, facts, or rational arguments. Maybe someone like that will comment. I'm reminded of the woman on Mark Shea's blog who told me she "saw nothing of Jesus in your words," and called me "stupid" and one of "the idiots."

Bill, it would be easier to think of laws of war the insurgents haven't broken, rather than think of the ones that they have. I don't know how anyone can complain about mosques being violated when it's Muslims who are using them as arsenals and sniper's nests.

Here we go again.....the media just doesn't want the US forces to succeed in's that simple.

Eric, thank you for your insight, it was horrible to see this on the news---and one's first reaction is to condem--- I have not been in this situation and should wait to see all the facts that will come to light before thinking ill of this Marine.

Evidently this reporter is an anti-war activist according to a story on today.....gee, that's a surprise!

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This page contains a single entry by Eric Johnson published on November 16, 2004 10:34 AM.

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