Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Kevin Sites' version of the story

More on the issue of Marines killing terrorists. Previous posts, in chronological order, are:

My obligatory post on Marines killing terrorists
The other side of the story
The other side of the story, continued/amplified

For those who aren't aware of it, reporter Kevin Sites, who taped the Marine killing a terrorist in a Fallujah mosque, has a blog. He's posted his side of the story here.

I have a few issues with his story, although I don't doubt he is telling things as he saw them. First, he gives us information that the Marines had reason to believe they were being fired on from the mosque:

At that point, we hear the tanks firing their 240-machine guns into the mosque. There's radio chatter that insurgents inside could be shooting back.

Further along, we have

We hear gunshots from what seems to be coming from inside the mosque.

The Marines enter the mosque. Bear in mind, and Sites notes, that these are not the Marines who took the mosque the day before.

Inside were 5 terrorists. (Sorry, I absolutely refuse to call them "insurgents". Sue me.)

One of the Marines raises his hand signaling five.

"Did you shoot them," the lieutenant asks?

"Roger that, sir, " the same Marine responds.

On entering the mosque, Sites sees:

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. I look closely at both the dead and the wounded. There don't appear to be any weapons anywhere.

Now this is interesting. The Marines had noted 5 terrorists? How could they have possibly seen these men, if they were laying on the floor. Does the Marine's TOE include x-ray specs now? It seems to me that they, or others, must have appeared at windows. Doing what, we have no way of knowing.

Sites is the only man in the building who was there yesterday. He know that these 5 men he sees were left there after being treated for wounds. He know that they were shooting at other Marines yesterday. He tells the OIC that they are yesterday's left-behinds. The OIC leaves the room to report this to higher.

A different Marine enters, and for whatever reason, sees the 5 wounded terrorists he expects to see, and thinks one particular terrorist, the one Sites is...

...squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them.

...a threat.

Bear in mind Sites is inches away, looking through a viewfinder on a camera. Ever tried that? Try it with any kind of camera, video, still, digital, professional, consumer, whatever--your field of view is, to put it simply, limited. Which means Sites could not be seeing everything going on, unless he is aiming the camera without using the viewfinder. So perhaps the Marine saw something Sites didn't?

The Marine determines that the terrorist is faking death:

"He's fucking faking he's dead -- he's faking he's fucking dead."

Then the Marine fires, killing his terrorist target.

Sites then tells the Marines then in the room:

I get up after a beat and tell the Marines again, what I had told the lieutenant -- that this man -- all of these wounded men -- were the same ones from yesterday. That they had been disarmed treated and left here.

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.

(Fear and dread? Hell, the guy is seeing his life pass before his eyes.)

We don't know, and can't know, if these wounded terrorists had only moments before been firing on these Marines. The Marines saw 5 men, there were 5 terrorists in the room. Sites says no weapons were in evidence. Hastily stashed? Wielded by 5 other terrorists, still loose in the mosque? We don't and can't know.

"I didn't know sir-I didn't know."

The Marine was faced with an unknown situation. He had incomplete information. He perceived a threat. He had a heartbeat or two to think, reach a decision and act. He acted on his training. He eliminated the perceived threat.

Based on everything in Sites' account, using my God-given common sense (although with 20-20 hindsight available), I think he did the right thing.

Was it the "Right Thing" from an ethical or moral standpoint? I still say yes. He is fighting the declared enemies of his country--something he has sworn an oath to do.

Did he do the right thing according to his instructions and the rules of engagement? I suspect a Courts Martial will make that determination.

Could Sites be right, and the terrorist wasn't a current threat? Sure.

But in a heartbeat or two, given what you, the Marine on the ground, know about the situation, about the terrorist propensity to use fake surrenders, boobytrap their dead, and fire after surrendering, do you take a chance with your life--and the lives of everyone on your fire team? With Sites' life?

No.

The Marine did the right thing. If there were no "fog of war", perhaps this story would have a different, happier, ending. But the fog of war is real, and you can't avoid it.

Will the Marine brass realize this, and stand up to the tremendous pressure they will face to charge, try and convict this young man? I certainly hope so. Justice calls for it.

Remember these words:

"But if we find we have left our bones to bleach in these desert sands for nothing, beware the fury of the legions...." (A Roman Centurion in a letter home from North Africa, 3rd Century)

Because if we leave this Marine's, these Marines', these soldiers, airmen's, and sailors' bones to bleach in the sands of Iraq for nothing--if we try to second guess their every move from the safety that they enable us to have, we will have done far more damage to our military than the terrorists ever could. And we will deserve their judgment.

And I suspect that judgment could be summed up in the statement, "You think I'm going to die for these assholes?"

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