Review Clears Marine Who Was Filmed Killing Iraqi Insurgent

Times Staff Writer

A Marine corporal shown on film killing a wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi insurgent in a mosque during last year’s assault on Fallouja broke no rules and would not be punished, the Marine Corps announced Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski said that a review of the tape -- which caused an international furor when it was broadcast -- showed that the corporal’s action “was consistent with the established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.”

Although the tape does not prove that the Iraqi ,who was lying on the floor, was a threat to the corporal and the other Marines, it does confirm that the corporal could have reasonably assumed that the insurgent was a threat, the general said.

Natonski, in a statement released here, said the tape showed the Iraqi concealing his left arm behind his head, and that feigning death or surrender was a common tactic among insurgents who would rise to continue fighting.


Insurgents during the Fallouja battle were also known to take injections of amphetamines and adrenaline that allowed them the ability to continue fighting despite serious wounds.

After the video, taken by NBC correspondent Kevin Sites, was broadcast, the corporal was taken off the front lines, had his weapons confiscated, and was sent back to Camp Pendleton to await an investigation.

The tape, which was broadcast repeatedly on stations in the Arab world, brought outrage from some Arabs and calls for an investigation by international human rights groups.

In his statement, Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, said 22 Marines were interviewed from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, the unit that stormed the mosque during the fight to wrest control of Fallouja from insurgents.


Also reviewed were ballistics tests, autopsy reports on Iraqis killed in the mosque, and an enhanced copy of the controversial video.

The corporal admitted to killing three Iraqis in the mosque “believing they posed a threat to him and his fellow Marines,” according to the Marine Corps investigation.

One of the shootings is shown on the tape.

Sites was an embedded reporter with the battalion during the Fallouja assault, providing pool coverage for other reporters. He left shortly after the tape was broadcast, amid anger from Marines who felt he had betrayed them.

On his Web log, Sites, an experienced war reporter, wrote an “Open Letter to Devil Dogs of the 3/1" in which he said he never meant to harm the corporal or the other Marines.

“As you know,” he wrote, “I’m not some war zone tourist with a camera who doesn’t understand that ugly things happen in combat.”

The mosque had been the scene of close fighting between insurgents and Marines on Nov. 12.

The next day, the Marines, told that the mosque was being used as a rallying spot for insurgents, returned to the complex and burst through the entrance with their M-16s ready to fire.


On the tape, one Marine can be heard yelling obscenities, warning that one of the wounded insurgents was only faking being dead.

A gunshot is heard and a Marine voice says, “Well, now he is.”

Natonski’s decision means the corporal, whose name was not revealed, will not undergo a court martial.

During the battle in Fallouja, 71 U.S. service personnel were killed and 623 wounded.

When the furor over the tape from the mosque erupted, several private lawyers rushed to the corporal’s defense.

A San Diego County supervisor, a former Marine, called on President Bush to prevent the corporal from being punished.

The incident later was the basis for an episode of the pro-military television show “JAG” on CBS. In that story, the Marine was found not guilty.