Self-defense on and off the battlefield

Diana West

11/22/2004 12:00:00 AM - Diana West

In the space between the fog of war (confusion, peril and instant reflexes) and the edited news break (carefully scripted and produced filler between Viagra commercials), a young Marine hangs out to dry.

Maybe I should say he hangs crucified, although that particular metaphor these days isn't just politically incorrect, it's radioactive. But what I'm getting at, in this land of free speech and home of brave Marines, is my unequivocal belief that Marine X committed no "war crimes" in that fortified Fallujah mosque last week where he shot and killed a prone and wounded terrorist. He was just doing his job -- his hellishly dangerous job -- and thank God for him.

This is hardly the consensus view, at least not the one that is actually spoken out loud. And I don't mean just on Al Jazeera, where the NBC News "get" of the week -- a video sequence of the Marine in question shooting a wounded Fallujah fighter after shouting that the man was "faking" his incapacity -- has been airing at half-hour intervals as if it were the Lost Episodes of Abu Ghraib. "Enlightened" people everywhere are clucking -- but not over the heinous execution of CARE's Margaret Hassan, the mutilated bodies found on Fallujah's streets, the beheading chamber discovered by U.S. soldiers, the Taliban-like decrees threatening death for Fallujah women who don't "cover," or the bomb-making workshops seized before creating more craters of carnage. They emote over the death of a terrorist dedicated to all of the above.

Seeing may be believing, but a minute of video doesn't tell the whole story. And the whole story is not that an American soldier stormed a house of worship to shoot a pious Fallujah citizen in cold blood -- the "war crime" we are led to imagine has happened. The mosque served as a fort; the citizen was an apparently wounded, apparently dangerous combatant; and the Marine was fighting the urban war of his life.

Even so, Amnesty International is already tsk-tsk-ing that "this latest incident is just a further reminder that one cannot take it for granted that troops ... will strive to abide by the ... law," while the United Nations, naturally, has called for an investigation into alleged "abuses" by U.S. troops in Fallujah. (Anything to detract from the grostesqueries of the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal.)

Meanwhile, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., U.S. military commander in Iraq, has too quickly conceded that the shooting was a "tragic incident," while U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte makes it sound as if the Marine now under military investigation is practically guaranteed a stretch of busting rocks at Fort Leavenworth: "The important point is that the individual in question will be dealt with," he said. "But I don't think that (the incident) in any way is a reflection on the quality and caliber of absolutely fine young servicemen" blah, blah, blah.

Frankly, I think it is. But that's a good thing. In other words, I have heard nothing, nada, zilch that indicates this Marine was doing anything besides trying to preserve life and limb in his unit while fighting to wrest control of Fallujah for liberated Iraq.

"In a combat infantry soldier's training, he is always taught that his enemy is at his most dangerous when he is severely wounded," commented Charles Heyman, a senior analyst with Jane's Consultancy Group in Britain. And the jihadist enemy we find in Iraq -- comrade in both faith and arms with the terrorists of Beslan, Bali, Jerusalem, Madrid and Manhattan -- are even more dangerous wounded than others.

Some are rigged with suicide-belts to detonate in extremis. Booby-trapped corpses -- a Judeo-Christian taboo Muslim jihadists overcome, I suspect, in their perverse belief that killing infidels on Earth earns them virgins in paradise -- are a common hazard in hotspots.
Even one of our beheaded hostages in June, poor devil, was packed with explosives designed to detonate at an American soldier's touch. Who, among the global millions who have watched NBC's videotaped-shooting, realizes that a comrade of the Marine in question was killed by a booby-trapped corpse the day before? That same corpse-bomb wounded five others in the unit.
And who, among those same millions, realize that even as Marine X, NBC's global antihero, was shooting the enemy he suspected was playing possum, just a block away, another explosive-rigged corpse was killing another young Marine?

In that split second of fear and indecision, our guy made the right call. Think about it during the long, luxurious minutes of the next commercial break.