Cameraman Kevin Sites Explains Outing Marine Killing

Last week, NBC cameraman Kevin Sites, embedded with the Marines in Fallujah, wrote a startling report of a marine who shot and killed an already wounded Iraqi insurgent. On his website, Sites explains why he did it, in an open letter to marines. He wants to counter speculation that he is an anti-war activist or anything but an impartial journalist. Here's a portion of his eyewitness account of the killing:

When we arrive at the front entrance, we see that another squad has already entered before us. The lieutenant asks them, "Are there people inside?" One of the marines raises his hand signaling five. "Did you shoot them," the lieutenant asks? "Roger that, sir, " the same marine responds. "Were they armed?" The marine just shrugs and we all move inside.

Immediately after going in, I see the same black plastic body bags spread around the mosque. The dead from the day before. But more surprising, I see the same five men that were wounded from Friday as well. It appears that one of them is now dead and three are bleeding to death from new gunshot wounds.

The fifth is partially covered by a blanket and is in the same place and condition he was in on Friday, near a column. He has not been shot again. I look closely at both the dead and the wounded. There don't appear to be any weapons anywhere. "These were the same wounded from yesterday," I say to the lieutenant. He takes a look around and goes outside the mosque with his radio operator to call in the situation to Battalion Forward HQ.

I see an old man in a red kaffiyeh lying against the back wall. Another is face down next to him, his hand on the old man's lap - as if he were trying to take cover. I squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them. Then I notice that the blood coming from the old man's nose is bubbling. A sign he is still breathing. So is the man next to him.

While I continue to tape, a marine walks up to the other two bodies about 15 feet away, but also lying against the same back wall. Then I hear him say this about one of the men: "He's fucking faking he's dead - he's faking he's fucking dead."

Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.

However, the marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he's going to cover him while another marine searches for weapons. Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down. "Well he's dead now," says another marine in the background.

Here's what happened immediately thereafter:

I am still rolling. I feel the deep pit of my stomach. The marine then abruptly turns away and strides away, right past the fifth wounded insurgent lying next to a column. He is very much alive and peering from his blanket.

He is moving, even trying to talk. But for some reason, it seems he did not pose the same apparent "danger" as the other man - though he may have been more capable of hiding a weapon or explosive beneath his blanket. But then two other marines in the room raise their weapons as the man tries to talk.

For a moment, I'm paralysed still taping with the old man in the foreground. I get up after a beat and tell the marines again, what I had told the lieutenant - that this man - all of these wounded men - were the same ones from yesterday. That they had been disarmed treated and left here.

At that point the marine who fired the shot became aware that I was in the room. He came up to me and said, "I didn't know sir - I didn't know." The anger that seemed present just moments before turned to fear and dread.

The wounded man then tries again to talk to me in Arabic. He says, "Yesterday I was shot ... please ... yesterday I was shot over there - and talked to all of you on camera - I am one of the guys from this whole group. I gave you information. Do you speak Arabic? I want to give you information."

Sites goes on to explain why he had to report the story. He says he wasn't making any judgment and that he and NBC tried to portray every mitigating circumstance. It's Sites' last words that resonate the clearest:

So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera - the story of his death became my responsibility.

The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.

[thread hijacked by trolls, comments closed, I'll be deleting many of them.]

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