SAN DIEGO (AP) – A Marine corporal who was videotaped shooting an apparently injured and unarmed Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque last year will not face a court-martial, the Marine Corps announced Wednesday.
A review of the evidence showed the Marine’s actions were “consistent with the established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict,” Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, said in a statement.
The corporal was not identified in the two-page statement issued by Camp Pendleton, the headquarters of the expeditionary force north of San Diego.
In sworn statements, the corporal said he shot three insurgents in self-defense in the mosque Nov. 13, believing they posed a threat to him and his fellow Marines, the statement said. Autopsy results showed that all three died of multiple wounds from gunshots fired from the corporal’s M-16.
One of the shootings was recorded by Kevin Sites, an NBC cameraman embedded with the Marines, and the dramatic footage prompted outrage among Iraqis and an immediate investigation by the Marine Corps.
In the video, as the cameraman moved into the mosque, a Marine in the background could be heard shouting obscenities and yelling that one of the men was only pretending to be dead. The Marine then raised his rifle toward an Iraqi lying on the floor of the mosque and shot him.
The incident played out as the division’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, returned to the unidentified Fallujah mosque. While Marines had secured the mosque complex on the previous day, intelligence reports indicated that the mosque had since been reoccupied by insurgents.
The Camp Pendleton statement said the corporal “could have reasonably believed that the AIF (anti-Iraq forces) shown in the videotape posed a hostile threat justifying his use of deadly force.”
Before the opening of the Nov. 8 assault on rebel-held Fallujah, Marine commanders told infantrymen that the rules of engagement allowed the use of deadly force against men of military age deemed holding hostile intent, even if the enemy didn’t fire on the Marines first.
According to the Marine Corps, an enhanced videotape of the shooting supports the corporal’s claim that the wounded Iraqi was concealing his left arm behind his head. Although the Marines said it was unclear from the video whether the Iraqi made any overtly threatening gestures, enemy forces commonly feigned death.
The investigation consisted of 22 interviews with Marines, autopsy reports, ballistic tests and the videotape of the shooting. The Marine was brought back from Iraq following the shooting. He remains at Camp Pendleton, said Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson, a Marine spokesman.
A fourth Iraqi also was shot and killed in the mosque complex, but the bullets could not be traced to the corporal’s weapon, according to the statement. The investigation into the death of the fourth insurgent is ongoing, Johnson said.