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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 15, 2004 ]

Another Abu Ghraib; execution in a mosque on videotape

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The Marine could be heard insisting: "He's f---ing faking he's dead -- he's faking he's f---ing dead." Sites then watched as the Marine raised his rifle and fired into the man's head from point-blank range. "Well, he's dead now," another Marine said.

And so are we in the minds of 45 million Arabs. I had feared that the fighting around the holiest of mosques in Sadr City would result in the 'photo-op' of US troops standing in full battle dress -- with boots on -- within the confines of the mosque. We unfortunately went one better in Fallujah in which a marine, caught on tape by an embedded freelance correspondent, shot point-blank a wounded, unarmed insurgent.

While "NBC has chosen not to air the most gruesome of the images," not to worry, al Jazeera will show it in its entirety. It will be completely forgotten by the Arab street that:

The Marine battalion stormed an unidentified mosque Saturday in southern Fallujah after taking casualties from heavy sniper fire and attacks with rocket-propelled grenades. Ten insurgents were killed and five others were wounded in the mosque and an adjacent building. The Marines displayed a cache of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles that they said the men were holding. They said the arms were conclusive evidence that insurgents had been using mosques as fighting positions in Fallujah, which they said made the use of force appropriate.

When new reports indicated that mosques in the area had been reoccupied, "including the mosque the Marine battalion had stormed the day before," a different group of marines entered the mosque and re-shot the wounded insurgents left behind on Friday.

Making the situation all the more poignant, the shooter may well be able to claim legitimate self-defense as the marines has just suffered one killed and five wounded when "the booby-trapped body of a dead insurgent exploded."

"The policy of the rules of engagement authorize the Marines to use force when presented with a hostile act or hostile intent," he said. "So they would have to be using force in self-defense, yes."

To the Arab street it will be murder in that special lopsided balance in which Arabs can kill themselves but if an outsider, a westerner, an American does it, the affront transcends the killing itself. Worse, we have not allowed the Red Crescent to enter Fallujah as the military situation is not uniformly calm, and soldiers must still search house to house to insure that no hiding insurgents have been left behind. Insurgents could also blend in with Red Crescent as refugee or wounded and gain exit from the city. The obverse of not letting the Red Crescent in is to fan the flames of rumor that we have produced great numbers of Iraqi civilian dead. This one dead will turn rumor into fact.

It is not easy to imagine our suffering yet another Abu Ghraib, but this may be it. Despite all the efforts by the serving military, as distinct from interrogation, MI, or spec ops units, to enforce a reasonable military justice with regards to the harming of noncombatants or the perpetration of criminal acts, chance permits a perfect storm event to form that undoes much that has gone before it:

Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich said that such incidents can only damage the U.S. cause in Iraq. "We cannot prevail in this conflict if our actions suggest that we do not value Muslim life or that we view Muslims as an inferior species," said Bacevich, who now teaches international relations at Boston University. "My sense is that such an impression has already taken hold in the Arab world. This incident can only reinforce that impression."

The image has indeed taken hold. While we have seen the majority of Abu Ghraib photos depart prime time, they remain vibrantly alive in the Arab and Muslim press, acting as resistance agent and recruiting vehicle.

Marines Investigate Apparent Slaying of Wounded Insurgent
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post
November 16, 2004; Page A14

US investigates Falluja killing
BBC NEWS
Published: 2004/11/16 02:48:48 GMT

Marine kills injured prisoner in Iraqi mosque
MSNBC and NBC News
Updated: 8:06 p.m. ET Nov. 15, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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