Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Law of War

Alert Readers have asked my opinion of the story of the Marine who is alleged to have broken the law by shooting an injured, unarmed fighter. The law of war is clear that one cannot do this. Upholding the law of war is the hallmark of a professional and disciplined fighting force. If one is allowed to shoot an occasional wounded enemy, then other things will eventually start to slip and soon your forces will be no better than thugs. Having said that, I reserve all judgment until the outcome of the internal investigation to be conducted by the 1st MEF. For an incident of this high a profile, it is likely that a full-bird colonel, and possibly a team of investigators, will be charged with determining if a crime was committed or not. There are many defenses that this young Marine could have, and we should hold out tongues until further information is available. It is tempting to say that the Devil dog should be let off, even if he was in the wrong. But when fighting for the future of civilization, it is best to uphold it. Prepare yourselves as the press gears up to make Abu Ghraib-like hay out of this story. If the name of this Marine is released, we'll all know it very soon, whereas there will be few stories of the heroism of the Battle of Fallujah, though no doubt it was present in spades. See my post from last week about our society overlooking physical courage.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have followed your blog faithfully since discovering it shortly before the Fallujah assault began. Your insight and explanations have been very helpful to this Army mom.
Regarding the Marine in question I can only say that as more details come to light about this incident I don't see where any question of his judgement comes about. If he had truly lost another member of his unit and several others wounded by a "defenseless, wounded" and yet booby trapped insurgent, he was only putting the safety and welfare of his squad first. Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on you.
The Geneva Convention and the "rules of warfare" are a wonderful thing- but when your enemy has no rules, sometimes they must be bent. The next booby trapped body, or wonded individual could have taken out the reporter and cameraman responsible for putting this story out- but they don't realize that, do they? They just want to make the US military look bad in light of such a successful mission.
God forgive me, but as the mother of an active duty paratrooper, I would hope my own son would make the same decision that this Marine made.
(and the only reason this comment is anonymous is that I didn't feel like going through the ropes to register as a user)

November 16, 2004 at 10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't fault this Marine for his actions.The day before his unit sustained injuries from a booby trapped terrorist.People should remember that we weren't there fighting against filthy terrorist who use every dirty trick there is.I say it's the fool who thought pretending to be dead was a good idea.

November 16, 2004 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger Zoomlens, Zoomlens2 said...

I don't think the GI did anything wrong, either. Who among us would have done differently if in his shoes? For all he knew the enemy had a grenade or a gun. He was FAKING death and that in itself was suspicious. I don't think the military will try to punish this soldier, but if they do, I believe the American public will have a fit. I know I will.

November 17, 2004 at 12:28 AM  
Blogger Emphasis said...

I find it unconscionable that “our press,” during a time of war, rush to publish articles and show films, and photos that can only make it more difficult for our troops to defeat the enemy, and come home alive. The investigation of this matter should be done by our military and the necessary action should be taken, but the disclosure by those who our troops are defending of this type of incident, brings only aid and comfort to our enemies. We are at war dam it!

I only hope the publication of this shooting does not make a Marine or any other grunt hesitate in the future. When in doubt make sure that the enemy does without……his life.

November 17, 2004 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Dominic said...


Great stuff on your blog. In regards to the Marine, I mentioned the incident on my "paltry" little blog(in comparison to your fine work). I believe also that we should reserve judgement of the Marine in question. If found guilty of a criminal act,unfortunately, he should be punished. Yet, having been a infantry marine, I can totally understand his thought process at the moment in question. Hope things play out in a just fashion and he is not made politicall expedient.

November 17, 2004 at 5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that my 'credentials' have anything to do with my comment, but... I am the daughter of a 30+ year military officer, the wife of a 20 year military officer and the mother of a 1st LT in the USMC currently stationed in Iraq. I seem to be in disagreement with others who have posted comments but am compelled to add my two cents.

It is important to note that General Sattler got right on top of the situation. The young “Marine has been withdrawn from the battlefield pending the results of the investigation.”

Whatever the reasoning behind the Marine’s action –exhaustion, battle-fatigue, whether or not the enemy fights ‘fairly’ (in itself, the statement is fraught with contradiction in battle)- the fraternity of the Corps will both protect the integrity of the USMC and hold the Marine accountable for his actions based on the standard of the United States military, not on the standard of international, Iraqi or terrorist law – as he should be (in spite of Geneva Convention, which I believe our own law supersedes).

"We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability," said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. "The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision and to protect the rights of all persons involved."There is a very clear standard held by the United States military. I love the military -- especially the Corps. The country, however, I love more. I want the military to hold anyone accountable for actions outside OUR proscribed norms. It appears that the young man behaved outside U.S. norms. The investigation will determine if that is the case. I trust that the Justice branch of the military knows what it is doing and will do what it should. If the young man is found innocent (on whatever basis), kudos all around. If the young man is found guilty (of behaving outside the USCMJ), he will be discharged or more severely punished. As he should be.

I know that justice will take place and will do so, not under a microscope (as the court will be held - thankfully - outside of the public view). I don't want a media circus over this. I want the USCMJ to decide -- not us as we sit here reading news & judging. After all, if not the pursuit of justice, then what will be left after the war is over but anarchy and chaos and rule by thuggery?

November 17, 2004 at 7:53 AM  
Blogger tbedilion said...

If those images of that young Marine become the images of Fallujah, irrespective of the ultimate justice or in-justice therein, if they become the collective tagline in our memories of "Fallujah" then the battle won quickly becomes a battle lost.

Irrespective of the true right or wrong in that incident we will make them the touch stone for our self doubt and the outrage they couldn't muster this time over civilian casualties will find a home. If there was only a way to measure the true cost of an Abu-Ghraib, a cost we all know is real but can't quite put our fingers on, we might be better able to balance these messages in the media and in our own minds.

The sad reality is we all seem to love a Scott Peterson episode. At home this self absorption is simply venal masturbation- paying attention to that trial did not buff the sheen of anyone's civic duty or virtue. The jury alone was responsible for that. Abroad and in a time of war the risk is grave and palpable. For their part the USMC has been forthcoming and made all the appropriate disclosures. Unfortunately the one thing they cannot do is provide the neccesary balance and steer us to the overwhelming good coming from our actions. It must be better if we see that ourselves than being told it. Right?

What would Karl Rove do??? How can we focus on the overwhelming good? How do we nip this one in the bud so that it sorts itself into it's appropriate perspective?
What is the single image that should become the memory of Fallujah? It must be there....right?..... I mean, this isn't it, is it? Unless of course Ghengis Khan is reminiscing again.

November 17, 2004 at 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I know the badguy was lying face down, so our soldier did NOT know he was "unarmed", and DID think he was playing possum -- not to hide, but to ambush.

I don't think our soldiers in a battlezone have the same burden of caution that a policeman delaing with ordinary civilians would have.

November 17, 2004 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Greg D said...

I'm just a civilian, but if my understanding of what was going on is correct, he's not guilty of a crime. here's my understanding:

1: The enemy was "playing dead". That makes him an "infiltrator", not a prisoner.

2: Besides, the Geneva Conventions only offer protection to those who follow them (anything else would be idiotic). I don't believe the thugs in Fallujah were following them, thus they aren't entitled to their protections.

November 17, 2004 at 11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

I have just read and signed the online petition:

"U.S. Marine kills wounded insurgent"

hosted on the web by, the free online petition
service, at:

I personally agree with what this petition says, and I think you might
agree, too. If you can spare a moment, please take a look, and consider
signing yourself.

November 17, 2004 at 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the standards of conduct being enforced now, EVERY single person in the command structure of the US military in WWII would be considered a war criminal, as would a great many of those farther down the ladder. During that war we fire-bombed cities with the express intent of killing unarmed civilians by the tens of thousands. This was accomplished sucessfully in places like Dresden and Tokyo. (The fire bombing of Tokyo killed over 100,000 people.)

It is insane that we are now saying that it is illegal and un-American for a soldier or marine to kill the enemy. The rules of war are an assinine concept, given that the other side refuses to abide by them. As General Sherman so eloquently wrote, "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it...."


November 17, 2004 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Damien said...

Longtime reader (2 weeks), first time commentor,

I can understand everybodys desire to understand the motivations of this young Marine. Thankfully there are people like him who accept the mortal challenges of his occupation. However, the violation of the LOAC is fairly apparent, both concepts of proportionality and distinction have been past.

Unfortunatly if charges are past they may be either Manslaughter (under Article 119) or the greater charge of Murder (under Article 118).

These actions must be viewed dispassionately (in context). That higher standard of conduct must be acheived. Obviously it is not my intent to step on any toes, if I have caused offence I deeply apologize.

November 17, 2004 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Ramrod said...

Higher standards, wow. He walks into a room with unknown enemy who are known for booby traps and lying in wait as suicide bombers, a man moves and you kill him. that's what this war is. This pious reasoning after the fact is nonsense. The situation required instant action and he took it.

November 17, 2004 at 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chester writes: "But when fighting for the future of civilization, it is best to uphold it."
Actually, no. The correct statement is: "But when fighting for the future of civilization, it is best to win."

Fighting is, itself, the antithesis of civilization. There is nothing civilized about war. Civilization is not promoted by the way you fight, and is not retarded by the way you fight. It is promoted, or retarded, by whether or not you are civilized to begin with, and by whether or not you win.

The only issue is: what tactics, in a given time and place, promote winning? If, as I think plausible in current circumstances, the best tactics are to kill as many IFBs (IslamoFascistBastards) as possible, without regard to whether or not they are wounded, captured, or whatnot, then those are the best tactics. Period. A civilization intent on preserving itself -- and thus promoting civilization -- should employ whatever works best, in the face of an existential threat. Whether or not indiscrimate killing of IFBs is really the best tactic is a legitimate question. It is obvious that some (many?) IFBs who survive due to our "civilized" adherence to the "rules of war" simply survive to fight against us another day. Evidence: reports of Gitmo prisoners released to take up arms against us again.

The expected rejoinder to this cold-blooded harshness is that, in adopting it, the civilized are corrupted and slide down the slipper-slope into un-civilization. In the abstract that argument might carry some weight. But there is abundant evidence to the contrary. Consider WWII. Faced with an existential threat, the allies, fighting a "good" war (and it was a good war! I'm not being ironic), resorted to the most incredible measures of mass slaughter of "innocent civilians": the fire bombings of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The actions of the Marine in this incident are monumentally trivial by comparison. But the horrifically uncivilized actions of Churchill, Roosevelt, Marshall, Eisenhower, etc., carried the day, and the civilization we are now defending is the civilization saved by their actions. So, if resort to barbaric and uncivilized behavior in war devalues and corrupts the civilization engaging in same, the civilization we now defending is not, really, civilized -- it being the descendant of uncivilized war, conducted on a broad and massive scale, far dwarfing all of Fallujah. But we don't think it is uncivilized: the civilization we now enjoy, and are defending against an existential threat, is truly a civilized civilization, defended and won, in the past, by barbarisms on a scale unimaginable to those who carp and whine about Abu-GrabAss or the Marine-in-Fallujah.

The best policy would be for the US to declare outright: our policy is to kill, indiscrimately and under all circumstances (except for the following caveat), all IFBs. And we should adopt a very broad and loose interpretation of who is, and is not, an IFB. If there is any doubt, waste the fucker. The obvious caveat being: if we might gain good intel from a captured IFB, then preserve him and try to extract said intel (by whatever means work, including torture -- the only rap against torture being that it is often ineffective). Then bring the IFB closer to God.

Such an overtly brutal policy will, of course, shock and dismay tender hearts, and will generally undercut foreign tenderness toward the US. But that is not a regrettable downside to an otherwise positive policy. It is, per se, to be desired. Nothing would promote civilization, long-term, than to have almost all the rest of the world fear us for the brutality we employ in defending our civilization. Whether they then love us (because we are also defending their own civilization, or promoting ones that do not yet exist, but could be mid-wifed by our violent and brutal victories) or hate us, should be a matter of supreme indifference. Machiavelli said it best (I paraphrase): it is good to be loved; it is better to be feared.

Ben Crain

November 17, 2004 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger SESchutz said...

We are not fighting a conventional war. These are not soldiers, they are terrorists, and will use any terrorist technique.

As a parent of a Marine on the front line, whose platoon just suffered 8 injuries this past week, including his captain, I am not in the least bit objective and dont care to be. I belong to the kill every man, woman, child, camel, and dog theory.

November 17, 2004 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Mark Tempest said...

Chester: I do not think that your opinion about the Marine is correct. The "law of war" is not at all so clear as you seem to believe.
Suppose a law says, “You must stop at all red traffic lights.” Suppose you are driving your wife to the hospital because she will bleed to death if she doesn’t get there soon. Would you stop at each red traffic light along the way because the law is so clear? Of course not…because, even though the law is “clear” we all know that some things, like saving a life, override the law and make certain actions justifiable under the circumstances.
In the case of this young Marine, the Law of Armed Conflict says, “You can’t shoot wounded, unarmed prisoners.” But, what if the enemy has been known to play “possum” to set up an ambush. Or what if the enemy has been known to use suicide bombers? Or feigns surrender only to attack? At what point does such behavior create a reasonable doubt that a “wounded, unarmed fighter” is what he appears to be? Are you compelled by the LOAC to give the benefit of the doubt to the supposedly unarmed, wounded guy? When does your own right of self-defense against such acts override the law and put the burden of proving “harmlessness” onto the enemy?
No law can require you to do acts that will bring about your own death if blindly followed in all circumstances, especially when those conditions include an opposing force that has violated the LOAC by doing things like feigning injury or surrender.
Under the circumstances, could this Marine have had a reasonable doubt as to what this “fighter” was up to? You bet he could and I’m confident the investigation will clear him.

November 20, 2004 at 4:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


November 29, 2005 at 8:07 AM  

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