more atrocity

This can’t be good (link via Atrios):

FALLUJA, Iraq (CNN) — The U.S. military is investigating whether a Marine shot dead an unarmed, wounded insurgent during the battle for Falluja in an incident captured on videotape by a pool reporter.

The man was shot in the head at close range Saturday by a Marine who found him among a group of wounded men. The wounded men were found in a mosque that Marines said had been the source of small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire the previous day.

Four of the men appeared to have been shot again in Saturday’s fighting, and one of them appeared to be dead, according to the pool report. In the video, a Marine was seen noticing that one of the men appeared to be breathing.

A Marine approached one of the men in the mosque saying, “He’s [expletive] faking he’s dead. He’s faking he’s [expletive] dead.”

The Marine raised his rifle and fired into the apparently wounded man’s head, at which point a companion said, “Well, he’s dead now.”

I’m sure the videogame industry will be blamed for this one any minute now. Shift the blame, shift the blame, until it spreads into a thin enough patina so that we don’t notice those bright lines between right and wrong go all fuzzy and out of focus.

Naturally, this is not a statistical sample. This is not a poll. And because of that, the spin will be, as it was for Abu Ghraib, that this data point has no statistical value. But a single point changes your posterior distribution a lot if your prior gave probability one to the event “no torture, no atrocities.”

This news has put me off my homework for the night.

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0 thoughts on “more atrocity

  1. Once again we butt heads. “Atrocity” is a very harsh word right now, given the dearth of information. I’m disinclined to show much respect for the condemnation of Marines in Fallujah from Mathematics graduate students in California.

  2. I’m disinclined to believe that no atrocities are committed at all during war. And yes, it’s true that this soldier may be exonerated in the end.

    And perhaps atrocity is too loaded. Should I instead say violation of the Geneva Conventions? I know that the new conventional wisdom is that they are “quaint,” but it’s a slippery slope. Or perhaps “hypothetical atrocity”.

    As an aside, I’m in electrical engineering.

  3. As another point, it’s clear that the Marine has a defense, which is that the wounded guy could have had a grenade. Since dead men tell no tales, and the body is probably gone by now, it all turns into “he said, he said” and proof beyond a shadow of a doubt cannot be established.

    Does this mean that we should then embrace the notion that if they move we should shoot? I don’t think so, but I don’t personally know the horrors of war. Maybe we should all grow such thick skins, respecify the rules of engagement, and embrace them wholeheartedly.

  4. right or wrong, i don’t know. maybe it looked like he was going for a weapon or triggering an explosive or something. but if they don’t try him, i’ll be pissed. the US makes sure we try everyone else who violates the geneva conventions; we sure as hell better try our own.

    honestly, i feel bad for the marine. he was probably flipping out. but frankly, if he can’t handle the pressure, i don’t want him holding a gun and representing me.

  5. nevermind: i retract my previous statement about trying him for war crimes. i still don’t want him holding a gun but:

    “Convention I offers protections to wounded combatants, who are defined as members of the armed forces of a party to an international conflict, members of militias or volunteer corps including members of organized resistance movements as long as they have a well-defined chain of command, are clearly distinguishable from the civilian population, carry their arms openly, and obey the laws of war. (Convention I, Art. 13, Sec. 1 and Sec. 2)”

    the insurgents are not clearly distinguishable from civilians.

  6. EE, really? You write about math (or “maths” as they call it in Merry Olde Englande) so often.

    Ari: Fair enough. I had a more elaborate reply, but it was mostly just vitriol so I truncated my comment to a fairly bland reprimand instead of actual debate. Mea culpa, I suppose.

    Surreal: I don’t buy this “If he can’t take the heat, get him out of the kitchen!” line. I doubt there’s anybody who’s equipped by “normal” society to function in a place like Fallujah in the last two weeks. And I’m not talking about military training, I’m talking about dealing with the psychology of watching your friend get shot then trying to round up wounded civilians to take them to a US MASH unit then discovering that some of the “civilians” are really dudes with a grenade in their pants. Furthermore, all of my thoughts on the topic are colored by the fact that one of my best friends is there (another just returned safely, thank God) and I can’t even imagine how the goofy kid I remember from grade school is supposed to know whom to shoot.

    Finally, on a lighter note, Anand. I saw “Playboy of the Western World” over the weekend. Dublin’s Abbey theatre is touring the US. If they visit the West Coast you should check it out.

  7. But: it is pretty well established that he was a prisoner. This is a case in which the additional protocols to the Third Geneva Convention would apply.

    The whole case is indeed tricky. If this prisoner was feigning death in order to kill Marines, it would be counted as “perfidy” and they would not be allowed protection under the Geneva Conventions. However, these prisoners had been taken and treated already. He would have been “hors de combat” if (Article 41, additional protocols to 1949):

    (a) He is in the power of an adverse Party;

    (b) He clearly expresses an intention to surrender; or

    (c) He has been rendered unconscious or is otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore is incapable of defending himself; provided that in any of these cases he abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.

    Thus if the insurgent was trying to attack the Marine or pull a trick, he would have been in violation. From the transcript, it seems the Marine thinks it was the latter and shot the insurgent in the head.

  8. I don’t buy this “If he can’t take the heat, get him out of the kitchen!” line. I doubt there’s anybody who’s equipped by “normal” society to function in a place like Fallujah in the last two weeks.

    well, i don’t think we should be taking anyone directly from “normal” society to falluja. there’s training — we should know who can handle what. there’s a chain of command — officers should know to pull their soldiers out when they’ve had too much.

    i want to see the video before i make a certain call, but not everyone over there is shooting the wounded because they freak out. i’m paying someone to shoot people. i paid for their gun and their uniform and their supplies. and i’m paying for the stupid man who sent them over there. and when i’m paying for all that, i just want them to shoot the right people. and when they don’t, i want someone to find the problem there and fix it.

  9. asarwate:

    but, from chapter 1:

    “Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof.”

    these insurgents are not a party to the original convention, nor have they accepted and applied the provisions thereof. thus, the US is not bound by it in this case.

  10. Article 5 of the Geneva Convention of 1949:

    Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

    Who’s the competent tribunal in this case? Just as it was too easy for me to condemn the Marine in my initial post, it is too easy for you to to say the Conventions do not apply.

  11. Well, Anand, article 5 applies after the guy is captured and secured. Once you’ve done that, you don’t get to summarily execute him even if he gets ID’d as an unlawful combatant. The ID’ing has to be confirmed by the tribunal. But this person was not yet captured or secured. His intention to surrender not ascertained. That doesn’t mean the soldier is completely out of the woods – aside from the GC, he may have broken a standing order. That said, in my grandfather’s day, when soldiers shammed death, not in order to trick the enemy to come near them and set off a bomb, but merely to escape, were shot. Or bayoneted. It’s also worth pointing out that the playing possum trick seems the only reliable way to kill Marines in Fallujah. Without it there’d be far fewer Marine casualties.

  12. Omri, I beg to differ. From the MSNBC article:

    Sites’ account said the wounded men, who he said were prisoners and who were hurt in the previous day’s attack, had been shot again by the Marines on the Saturday visit. It was the fourth man who was shown being shot.

    These were people who had been taken prisoner. They had been wounded the day before, taken prisoner, and then treated. Another graf:

    The camera then shows two Americans pointing weapons at another Iraqi lying motionless. But one of the Marines steps back as the man stretches out his hand, motioning that he is alive. The other Marine stands his ground, but neither of them fires.

    It would be interesting to know what the first guy did to be “faking being dead” and deserve being shot versus the second guy.

    Maybe the conventions are quaint and outdated and we should scrap them. Unless the parties to the conflict are official military of state actors, it’s open season on the residents of Fallujah. That way everyone’s playing by the same rules.

    Maitland: since the civilians are not distinguishable from the insurgents, are we not bound by the conventions with respect to them? That is to say, suppose a civilian is injured in the course of taking some insurgents prisoner. If the civilian moves, can we shoot them? We don’t know if they are an insurgent or not, after all. They are all mixed in.

  13. One thing that strikes me is that in war the mentality is shoot first and ask questions later. Atrocity is perhaps the wrong word, but I don’t really know how to fill in the following analogy:

    murder : manslaughter :: war atrocity : ???

  14. I think your analogy is actually:

    murder : manslaughter :: war atrocity : war

    I mean, isn’t war sanctioned manslaughter on a certain level? This whole bastardly conflict gives me the heebie jeebies, let alone trying to figure out what’s right or wrong in situations like this.

  15. No, not really. My point is, in manslaughter you are guilty of inadvertantly killing someone, right? I mean, you didn’t intend to kill them. And here we have a case in which a soldier honestly believes they are acting in self defence and kills what turns out to be an unarmed person. The question of guilt remains. All this talk of Geneva Conventions tries to boil it down to a black/white line. Perhaps there should be an intermediate category between “self-defence” and “war criminal” that represents “horrible but unintentional fuckup.” Which is where manslaughter fits in for civilian cases, no?

  16. I just saw the video on PBS; they faded it to black during the actual shooting. It wasn’t clear if the wounded man posed a threat or not from what I saw, and the fade to black didn’t help. These men were inside a mosque, and I’m pretty sure that they hadn’t been taken prisoner by US forces before this incident. One soldier referred to the wounded inside as having been “left behind” by other insurgents. I think the insurgents were using the mosque as a place to treat their wounded, but I’m not 100% sure.

    As an aside, if I’m an NBC cameraman, and my boss tells me I’m being assigned to go around with these troops, I say helllllz no. I couldn’t believe the dangerous situations that these news crews went into with the troops.

  17. as to whether this guy was a prisoner:

    it appears to be very unclear. one report said the mosque had previously been secured and the wounded insurgents within had been taken prisoner, but hadn’t been evacuated to a POW area because of heavy fire outside the mosque.

    another report said that the video shows the marines entering the mosque, passing some marines coming out. when those going in asked if there were insurgents inside, the marines coming out said yes. when those going in asked if they were armed, those coming out shrugged.

    so it’s possible that these guys were prisoners, but nobody on the scene knew it.

  18. I guess a real problem here is the premise in which Bush went to topple Saddam: lots more of justice, no more “killing people without due process” (like it is in Texas), and lots more of Jesus love…

    Now, if you take that distribution as the aforementioned prior, then be sure that the brutality of a military operation is shocking. But I really, really think the biggest question is: how many inocents have been killed in Iraq by their freedom fighters (we, from USA)? I read that out of the first 80 airstrikes, 72 missed the target by more 4 blocks. So if Saddam had missiled an american school in Ohio, lets say trying to shoot an Osama plane to help the US, what would american opinion say?

    As human beings we like to think that every idea that big “I” has, is supposed to be best for all… Sometimes, you should consider things carefully before acting… Kind of like mathematics… With no preparation at all, would it be meaningful to try to prove any Millenium Problem? Most people would say it is silly… Of course, life is less math, and more ideology – and therein could lie the problem…

    PS: I am not sure to hide from Bush, or run from the French connection… Who knows, if we mess up enough, some God is sure to show up. That is another strategy…

    PS2: For those who question the power of mathematics – burn!burn!burn! – Where would thy missiles be without equations or Kalman filters? We attack conjectures and conjure truth! Besides a few suicidal ones, who are our casualties? Only sanity… But the world is insane!

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