The US Marine Corps launched an investigation into possible war crimes last night after video footage taken inside a mosque in Fallujah apparently showed a Marine shooting dead an unarmed Iraqi insurgent who had been taken prisoner.
The footage showed several Marines with a group of prisoners who were either lying on the floor or propped against a wall of the bombed-out building. One Marine can be heard declaring that one of the prisoners was faking his injuries.
“He’s fucking faking he’s dead. He faking he’s fucking dead,” says the Marine. At that point a clatter of gunfire can be heard as one of the Marines shoots the prisoner. Another voice can then be heard saying: “He’s dead now.”
The footage was obtained by a team from the American NBC network that was embedded with the Marine Corps during last week’s seven-day battle to capture the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, which military commanders say has been a focus of Iraqi resistance. The film was then pooled and made available to other media.
On the footage that was broadcast last night, NBC correspondent Kevin Sites said that the five wounded Iraqi fighters had been left in the mosque after Marines had fought their way into that part of the city on Friday and Saturday. Ten other Iraqis had been killed in the battle for the mosque. Instead of being passed to the rear lines for treatment the wounded Iraqis were left in the mosque until a second group of Marines entered the building on Saturday, following reports that the building may have been reoccupied. Sites said that at this point one of the five Iraqis was dead and that three of the others appeared to be close to death.
In his report accompanying the images, Sites said that one of the Marines noticed that one of the wounded men was still breathing before shouting that he was “faking it”.
“The Marine then raises his rifle and fires into the man’s head. The pictures are too graphic for us to broadcast,” said Sites. He added: “The prisoner did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way”. Major Doug Powell, a spokesman for the Marine Corps in Washington, told The Independent: “It’s being investigated – I can’t say much more than that. It’s being investigated for possible law of war violations. A naval criminal investigation team is looking into it.”
The footage – some of the first to show the situation inside Fallujah and the bloody nature of the street-by-street battle that has taken place there – is the latest to emerge from Iraq to contain possible evidence of war crimes perpetrated by the US military.
Other footage has shown troops shooting wounded fighters lying in open ground as well as attacks on Iraqis – some said to be civilians – by US aircraft and helicopters. This latest footage is among the most shocking given that it apparently shows without obstruction the Marine shooting the prisoner in the head at close range.
Kathy Kelly, a spokeswoman for the peace group Voices in the Wilderness, said last night that such images would “recruit more terrorists faster than they are being killed”.
“I don’t think the US is paying much attention to the Geneva Conventions any more – that is the problem. This must be investigated,” she said.
NBC said in its report that the Marine who had shot the insurgent had apparently been shot in the face the day before and that one of his comrades had been killed the previous day by a booby-trap bomb that had been placed on the body of a dead insurgent. He has been withdrawn from the field and his unit removed from the front lines, officials said.
Military experts said last night that rules of engagement prevented US troops from shooting an enemy where there was no threat being posed.
Yesterday, the Marines said they had taken more than 1,000 prisoners in the battle for Fallujah. Colonel Michael Regner, operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Fallujah, said at least 1,052 prisoners had been captured in the battle. No more than about two dozen of them were “foreign fighters”, he said.