WASHINGTON, D.C. -- By now, almost everyone in the world with a television has seen the videotape that appears to show a U.S. Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi terrorist inside a mosque in Fallujah. For the record, here are the facts, because facts -- not rumors or emotions -- really are important. Here is what those who were there told me:
On Friday, Nov. 12, U.S. Marines were fired upon by terrorists armed with AK-47s, RPD machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades from a mosque and an adjacent building. The Marines returned fire, first with M-16s and 240G machine guns, and then, as they continued to take fire and casualties, they escalated to an MK-19, a 40mm grenade launcher and then an AT-4 missile.
When none of these weapons successfully eliminated enemy fire, the platoon commander called for and received permission to open fire with the main gun of an M-1 Abrams tank and then storm the buildings. In the ensuing assault, 10 terrorists were killed and five others were wounded, as the Marines went room-to-room clearing the buildings. Immediately afterward, two correspondents accompanying coalition forces were shown a large quantity of AK-47s, machine guns, mortar rounds, explosives, RPGs and hand grenades that had been stored in the mosque.
While the print and broadcast cameramen were photographing the evidence of a war crime -- weapons being stored in a place of worship -- the Marine unit received an order over the radio to advance and secure another building. As the bone-tired troops departed for their next objective, one of the correspondents asked what would become of the wounded terrorists. A Marine sergeant replied that another unit was to move up and evacuate the injured enemy to the rear for treatment and detention.
The following morning -- Saturday -- another platoon of Marines from a different company was attacked from the mosque. A second gunfight ensued, and once again, a squad of Marines assaulted the structure. They were accompanied by NBC correspondent Kevin Sites and his cameraman, taping for the "pool" -- meaning that whatever tape he filed would be available to all the networks accredited to cover Operation New Dawn.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.