The Messenger

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The cameraman who shot the controversial video of a U.S. Marine killing a wounded Iraqi in Fallujah is keeping mum about the incident pending the various investigations, according to this New York Times article. Freelancer Kevin Sites, who also maintaines a popular website chronicling his Iraqi reportage, also shut down his blog's comments after various video-related death threats.

For what it's worth, people like Sites were specifically singled out as a difficult challenge to America's strategic global communications, in the recent report by the Dept. of Defense-advising Defense Science Board.

The significance of a common news language of bit and byte simply cannot be overstated. A truly global network is reshaping politics, diplomacy, warfare—all social interaction. Just one example: the ability of a blogger in a conflict zone to capture a digital image of an atrocity, upload it, paste it on a webpage, and have it available to millions in minutes is a startling development.

Link via Romenesko.

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  1. “Just one example: the ability of a blogger in a conflict zone to capture a digital image of an atrocity, upload it, paste it on a webpage, and have it available to millions in minutes is a startling development.”

    GENERAL ONE: (Holding Report) Okay boys, it’s time to face the music. The atrocity business just ain’t what it used to be. I know, it’s like you can’t get away with anything any more. But if we can’t find a way to put a stop to these blog people, we’re just gonna have to cut down on the atrocities.

    *muffled grumbling*

    GENERAL ONE: Hey! If one of you has a better idea, let’s hear it!

    GENERAL TWO: What if we write a memo to the White House, telling the President “atrocities” (uses fingers) can only be committed against signatories of the Conventions?

  2. Just one example: the ability of a blogger in a conflict zone to capture a digital image of an atrocity, upload it, paste it on a webpage, and have it available to millions in minutes is a startling development.

    Checks and balances are a motherfucker! If you are doing nothing wrong, what is there to worry about?

  3. Has it occurre to you, Ken, that looking for excuses to justify behavior that most people are shocked by isn’t a particularly wise course of action in a campaign that includes a large “hearts and minds” component?

    I’m sure that segment of the Arab world that is already suspicious of us will become much friendlier if we give them a legal brief explaining why it was technically legal to execute unarmed, wounded men on the battlefield.

  4. joe, you seem to be chastising Ken. I’m pretty sure his post was facetious.

  5. If so, a thousands pardons.

    The right is so far beyond parody these days, it’s tough to tell what’s ironic.

  6. I agree entirely joe; it was pure farce.

    Maybe I should have put a note at the top saying it all happens in the War Room?

  7. …the theory being, the White House staff would never act so tone deaf and immoral about atrocities?

    I don’t know HOW one would go about parodying the modern right’s defense of the abuse of Muslims. Have you ever read National Review Online?

  8. Joe, when it is a standard tactic for wounded jihadists to be resupplied with a final “surprise” for the next group of Marines, that context must be weighed in this Marine’s investigation.

    Re; Arab mistrust…The Turks’ defeat at Vienna in 1683 is still fresh in the collective memory of the Islamic world.

    One thing the last 3 years have undeniably done: Given demonstrable proof across the middle east that Bin Laden was wrong when he labeled the US “A Paper Tiger” in 1998.

  9. I wonder if it’s ever possible that small snippets of war footage could be taken out of context and used for propaganda purposes, or whether the military might understandably be concerned about that prospect, or whether joe’s anti-Bush blinders could come off for long enough to consider the possibility.

  10. “One thing the last 3 years have undeniably done: Given demonstrable proof across the middle east that Bin Laden was wrong when he labeled the US “A Paper Tiger” in 1998.”

    Why is that important?

  11. I’ll excuse the behavior. After being shot at and shooting people all day is anyone really surprised that a few marines here or there are unable to value the enemy’s life. This guy should be pulled from duty, but his actions are an inevitable result of what he was asked to do. He needs help, not jail.

  12. Ken Shultz,

    Snake’s handwaving is meant to distract us.

  13. (Stating the obvious): This thread is drifting – the issue here is the nature of “wartime” information and its control… in an age of increasingly ubiquitous gear and bandwidth (not to mention a policy of “embedding” reporters). Let’s not get sidetracked into debates on interpretations of the Geneva Conventions.

    JMJ

  14. JMJ,

    Thanks for that helpful corrective.

  15. Ok so we’re not a paper tiger, we’re a clumsy, ineffective tiger? If Iraq has demonstrated anything, it’s that we can barely keep a lid on one 3rd rate middle eastern craphole. Think we’re going to be invading the rest of them? Unlikely. If I were OBL, I’d be tenting my Monty Burns fingers and saying “Excellent.”

  16. Where can I watch this video without being a RealOne subscriber?

  17. ” If I were OBL, I’d be tenting my Monty Burns fingers and saying “Excellent.”

    Really? I guess you’d think having your allies overthrown in Afghanistan, having to flee with your tail between your legs and hide out Allah-knows-where, having a good number of your chief lieutenants killed or captured, and having a large U.S. military force parked in the middle of Iraq would be positive developments in your jihad against the infidels? Somehow I doubt OBL actually thinks that. He may be a fanatic but he’s not an idiot.

  18. I find it interesting that this particular piece of video has caused such outrage, given the existence of far, far more hideous stuff (both photos and eyewitness accounts) available on the ‘net.

    Thoughts on why this is? Is it because it’s a video (thought to be a more powerful medium)? Or that it came from a pool reporter from a major US network?

    JMJ
    (trying ever so hard to steer, steer this thread…)

  19. JMJ

    It seems to me that the two are kind of inextricably connected. A lot of ugly things happen in war, the Geneva Conv be damned. The fact that the modern media puts it in the publics face merely forces more people to deal with that reality. In my opinion, greater visibility is always good, but I would caution that to truely portray both sides of the issue, American’s would need to see Marines getting shot as well. Everyone might not be so quick to damn this Marine if they saw his buddy being blown up by a guy with a hidden bomb after that guy played dead or surrendered…

  20. JMJ, I consider this footage more significant because it’s our guys doing it, and therefore, we bear some of the responsibility.

    pigwiggle, I agree the conditions mitigate the crime. They should be taken into account during sentencing. But if the Marines don’t come down on this behavior, it will become more common and worse.

  21. “…behavior that most people are shocked by…

    “I’m sure that segment of the Arab world that is already suspicious of us will become much friendlier if we give them a legal brief explaining why it was technically legal to execute unarmed, wounded men on the battlefield.”

    Joe,

    The reason most people are shocked, is because they don’t have the slightest understanding of the conditions and circumstances of combat because A. they’ve never been in combat, or B. they haven’t studied military history and have nothing to go on other than their own uninformed perceptions. This was not the murder of a prisoner in a safe rear area. If that marine believed that the enemy he shot was playing dead, he was fully justified in killing him to protect himself and the other members of his unit. There are only two reasons to feign death when your position is overrun. One is to avoid capture. The other is to lure some of the enemy close enough to kill them. That marine should get the benefit of the doubt in this case unless further evidence demonstrates otherwise.

    This is not an Abu Ghraib situation where there was deliberate torture and abuse of prisoners. In combat a soldier has a split-second to react. That marine may have made the wrong decision, but let’s not rush to condemn him even before an investigation has been conducted.

  22. Jamie,

    The fact that the modern media puts it in the publics face merely forces more people to deal with that reality.

    The media largely censors itself when it comes to unpleasant images coming out of Iraq (stuff along the lines of what is seen in Saving Private Ryan). Indeed, grisly images of dead Americans are purposefully kept out of the news (likely because it would piss the shit out of a segment of the American public).

    Note that for gruesome images one need look no further than Al Jazeera

  23. It seems to me that the two are kind of inextricably connected. A lot of ugly things happen in war, the Geneva Conv be damned.

    Yup. But the issue here is the communication, or not, of these facts… in an age of (bla, bla, blah… what I said before).

    Pentagon brass, as well as their counterparts worldwide, along with the various flavors, colors and odors of politicians far and wide, are going to be examining situations such as this video and reaction thereto (and the fact that the DSB report exists means they already are). They will be drawing conclusions… which will be enacted into (good or bad – or more likely: neutral, bad or VERY bad) “policy” (gawd, how I hate that word).

    Is military control of information – even the hellish, nasty but inevitable stuff – desirable, or even possible? What does this imply as we move through the century?

    JMJ

  24. JMJ, I consider this footage more significant because it’s our guys doing it, and therefore, we bear some of the responsibility.

    But Joe, the various and sundry channels of communications (from papers and wire services to the blogosphere) are chockablock with stories of US soldiers talking (themselves, in their own words) about awful stuff, including shooting up unarmed civilians (including kids). Surely that rates higher up on the hideousness scale than blasting a (former, and, as it turns out, unarmed) combatant, nasty though that may be.

    This is why I have to think there’s something else at work here, whether the medium or the status of the messenger or something else entirely.

    JMJ

  25. John,

    When the Pentagon came up with the idea to embed reporters into military units they should have realized that it could cut both ways. Although you are going to get some more positive and sympathetic coverage in certain cases, there is also the possibility that unpleasant realities might hit the news. The opposite policy, complete control and filtering of information, has its own problems — such as decreased credibility. They chose the embed policy for this war. In my opinion they should stick with it. There is no need to surpress information that doesn’t compromise operational integrity.

  26. the ability of a blogger in a conflict zone to capture a digital image of an atrocity, upload it, paste it on a webpage, and have it available to millions in minutes is a startling development.

    After the initial frisson of shock and horror, another image comes along to make us forget, or, “put into perspective”. A majority of Americans aren’t appalled any more by what Ms. England did. Abu Ghraib is so last week.

    I’ll excuse the behavior.

    “Excuse” it? Or understand it?

  27. The media largely censors itself when it comes to unpleasant images coming out of Iraq

    …and all of us here who claim to know a little something about business can understand why. The newsmedia is a business. Dollars come from advertising which comes from ratings which comes from viewers. If you tell people what they don’t want to hear – truthful and necessary though that may be – they’ll change the channel. (Yes, this sounds cynical, but them’s da facts.)

    I wasn’t around back in the sixties, and was too young to recall the early seventies, so someone else will have to answer: what was the war coverage like (i.e. how was it portrayed by the newsmedia), say, up to 1968, versus coverage post-Tet? And if it changed, how well did it correlate (and did it lead, follow, or match pretty closely) popular opinion of the day? And how much international “variation” was there?

    What’s interesting (of course, and back to my original questions) is the differences between THEN (with control of news in the hands of a relatively tiny number of outlets) and NOW (with the aforementioned plethora of communications channels – and agendas – and ubiquity of gear and bandwidth).

    JMJ

  28. In the movie Private Ryan, after the Americans who survived the machine guns and scaled the cliffs at Omaha Beach shot the Germans surrendering with hands held high everyone in the theater cheered.

    You can argue and I might agree with you that we shouldn’t be in Iraq. But don’t piss and moan because the Marines are doing the job they were sent to do. War sucks. It’s about death, preferably not our guy’s death.

  29. Jason:

    “Note that for gruesome images one need look no further than Al Jazeera”

    except that Al-Jazeera was/is banned from Fallujah.

  30. a,

    I meant coverage of the war generally.

  31. excuse

    2. a. To grant pardon to; forgive:
    b. To make allowance for; overlook:

    1. To free from accusation, or the imputation of fault or blame; to clear from guilt; to release from a charge; to justify by extenuating a fault; to exculpate; to absolve; to acquit.

    2. To pardon, as a fault; to forgive entirely, or to admit to be little censurable, and to overlook;

    Who are you to excuse war crimes?

    If you are this Iraqi prisoner’s mother or wife or child, then excuse.

    If you are not, then how is your expression of forgiveness any more acceptable than that of those who excuse terrorism?

    AI Press Release

  32. I think calling what the marine did a war crime is probably a little over-the-top. The marine had recently been wounded himself, these were not innocent civilians, and there were reports of insurgents faking death and using their faked status to surprise US forces with bodily injury or death. I’m not saying the marine was in the right necessarily, but I highly doubt he shot the man out of cruelty. If he was doing so because he was in fear of his life, he should be excused. Sure, fly him back to the states and discharge him or similarly not allow him to return to the combat, but to say he commited a war crime is ridiculous, imo.

  33. raymond-
    After a good week of shooting people, being shot himself (in the head) the guy crossed a very thin line. I am unsurprised. This seems to me to be an expected and foreseeable result of the kind of actions these marines have seen. A common legal standard is to hypothesize about the actions of a reasonable individual. I see the common man crossing this same line. The same kind of thing most likely happened a dozen or more times in Fallujah without being caught on tape. This marine is now damaged goods and needs to be relieved of duty, not court-martialed.

    ? If you are this Iraqi prisoner’s mother or wife or child, then excuse.?

    By the same standard you have no grounds to condemn.

  34. It’s great we have these one-man war crime tribunals like Raymond, it makes these hot issues so much easier to deal with. I hate it when I have to think for myself.

  35. I think calling what the marine did a war crime is probably a little over-the-top. …to say he commited a war crime is ridiculous, imo.

    Perhaps I should have called it ‘one among several “grave violations of the laws of war protecting both civilians and combatants who are no longer taking part in hostilities”‘. But I was pressed for time. So, “war crime“.

    I highly doubt he shot the man out of cruelty.

    I saw videos of both instances of killing wounded men several times. (I’m not dwelling on these things. They were on the news.) I listened to the sound track. My impression was that both killings were matter-of-fact affairs. “This is all right. This is what we do. This is who we are. Bang.”

    I am unsurprised.

    As am I. I understand it. I expect it. Just as I expect that “illuminated” insurgents will try to kill occupying troops any way they can.

    Mrs. Hassan’s murder didn’t surprise me, either. Nor Bigley’s. Nor – after the first kidnapping and beheading – the gruesome murders of any of the hostages. (What would surprise me is if the French journalists are still alive.)

    This seems to me to be an expected and foreseeable result of the kind of actions these marines have seen.

    Yes. So much is foreseeable. From both sides. It’s war, and in war human beings make stupid and evil choices. (Yes I know. Human beings are always making stupid, evil choices. But in war the chances of the consequences of those choices being fatal are much greater.) It’s war, and in war there will always be people who rape, plunder, torture, murder.

    Japanese treatment of prisoners. The Vietnamese. The Italians and the Germans and Lt. Calley and on and on and on throughout history. You’d think we’d learn.

    Even inside countries untouched directly by battle, helpless human beings are ritually executed, so it’s foreseeable that the soldiers of a country which does not cherish fundamental human rights will, in time of war, act brutally.

    The same kind of thing most likely happened a dozen or more times in Fallujah without being caught on tape.

    In fact, another instance _was_ caught on tape. We saw it several days ago – well before this one. So I imagine that the practise must be widespread and not confined just to Fallujah. (The only really surprising thing about both instances is that they were filmed. )

    ” If you are this Iraqi prisoner’s mother or wife or child, then excuse.”

    By the same standard you have no grounds to condemn.

    The act, or the soldier?

    By that reasoning, no one but a victim has the right to condemn _any_ crime.

    The power to forgive rests only with the victim. The responsibility for condemning evil acts belongs to all of us, because these evil acts affect us all. If we tolerate them, if we _excuse_ them, we are accomplices.

    If this particular act is not investigated thoroughly and the perpetrator brought to trial, the message will be: This is all right. This is what we do. This is who we are.

    The ultimate responsibility for all this (American) brutality lies with the American people. You put these kids “in harm’s way”. You created a situation in which they would feel compelled to “violate the laws of war”. You support it. You re-elected the “commander in chief” who – despite the years – has not seen fit to ask Congress to declare war. It’s your war. You bought the leash.

  36. I’d guess to avoid “war crimes” like that shooting in Fallujah the Air Force could drop some Daisy-cutters and level that craphole town and all those precious insugent assclowns without much adoo.

    Kill them all and let God or history or whatever sort them out! Our Russian friends do it all the time.

  37. As stated before in the thread, previously insurgents had faked death and injury to set of booby traps.

    I don’t think the Marine was out of line at all. I think that he did the right thing. I think the American public would believe the same if they had all the facts.

    Putting a Marine or a soldiers life on the line to save civilian casualties is one thing. It is what is being done in Falluja and all around Iraq. That is why we are not using Daisy cutters or MOAB’s like Blunt suggests. That is why we invaded the country instead of turning it in to a glass factory and then using American workers to reap the oil fields.

    However, if it comes down to a choice between a Marine and a terrorist, take the terrorists life every time.

    I think those of you that are so critical of the Marine’s actions seem to live in some kind of alternate reality.

    Imagine you are in that situation. If you are the type to risk your life capture alive the terrorist willing to give his life to kill you, then you die, and your genes are not continued and the better man with the sense to kill the bad guy and move on gets to come home and have offspring.

  38. kwais,

    Oddly enough, you are conducting the same trial that others are accused of, except you acquit.

  39. I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that, unlike in the torture scandal, the top of the Defense Department didn’t order soldiers on the ground to murder unarmed and wounded prisoners.

  40. I wouldn’t say that I am conducting a trial, if anything, I would call it prosecutorial discretion.

  41. Ken, with all due respect I don’t think you actually understand why the Marine was screaming that the insurgent was pretending to be dead.

  42. You must be referring to the use of the term “murder”, and, of course, there were mitigating circumstances.

    I wanted to point out that there is a big difference between the behavior of this soldier and the behavior of those involved in the torture scandal. Namely, there’s a White House memo suggesting that there isn’t a legal problem with torturing people, the Schlesinger report attributes some of the blame for the torture scandal on Rumsfeld’s vacillation on torture as a point of policy and more than one accused soldier has claimed that military intelligence sanctioned the tortuous activities in question.

    That is, as bad as this soldier’s behavior appears to be on tape, at least there isn’t any indication that his behavior was sanctioned by policy.

    With that said, if you mean that I shouldn’t have used the word “murder”, I concede the point; you’re right.

  43. I just watched a 5-minute segment on the BBC’s use of language; specifically, “insurgent”.

    The editor made the point that it was the job of the BBC to avoid using emotion-laden words in order to allow its listeners/viewers to come to their own conclusions. (This is – clumsily rendered – the gist.)

    He also pointed out that where one stands on the issue of Iraq will determine the words one uses to describe the insurgents, and since the audience of the BBC news is global, the BBC tries to use words which are as neutral as possible. Such as “insurgents”.

    People here have defended the killing of an apparently unarmed wounded prisoner because he was, allegedly, a “terrorist”.

    Take the statement if it comes down to a choice between a Marine and a terrorist, take the terrorists life every time.

    From the video, there is no reason to believe it had come “down to a choice between a Marine and a terrorist”. From the sound track, there is no reason to believe it, either.

    Nor is there any way for us here to determine that the now-dead unarmed wounded prisoner had ever been engaged in terror. In my opinion, the only insight we get from the use of the word “terrorist” in this context is into the mind of the person using the word.

    Along the same lines… Another interesting phrase is the Marine was screaming that the insurgent was pretending to be dead.

    “Screaming” is the key word here. When one screams, one is usually overwhelmed with fear. What we hear on the sound track is, perhaps, “shouting”. But “screaming”?

    When we try to justify an action – any action – we try to put it in the best light possible.

    “The American screamed and shot the terrorist.”

    “The American whooped and shot the member of the resistance.”

    We know who each speaker is.

    Whatever may have been going through the mind of the Marine, what happened was that: The American shouted and shot the unarmed, wounded prisoner. The “laws of war” forbid this.

    From some of the posts here, I’m getting an image of Americans willing to tolerate anything, so long as it’s done by Americans. Torture? “Well, when _we_ do it, it’s nice. It’s for a good cause.” Killing unarmed civilians or wounded combatants hors de combat? “When _they_ do it it’s evil and barbaric. When _we_ do it, it’s excusable, justified.”

    A while back in another thread someone talked about American “arrogance”. I think that’s about right. I’d use the word “hubris”, though.

  44. Interesting article. http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/front_1.html
    “Fallujah captives: Saddam set up insurgency cells in 2001”
    Perhaps insurgent, terrorist, or resistance are all wrong. Maybe Baathist, if this is correct.

  45. When they booby trap themselves as wounded and pretent to surrender, only to attack unsuspecting troops who are attempting to attend to them. Then they can expect to get shot like that.

    They are the same people that set of a bomb that kills iraqi children, in order to wound American service members.

    I saw the tape of the Marine’s actions on CNN, and I thought “no harm, no foul”.

  46. Where are the embeds with the insurgents?

    Why isn’t there more video of throat slitting and torture by the insurgents on TV?

    There must be a market for it.

    Texas Chaisaw Massacre with real people.

    Your worst fears realized.

  47. raymond,

    What was “not a terrorist” doing in a mosque that had been recently used as a base of military operations?

    Praying when he should have been surrendering?

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