An American marine who shot dead an injured unarmed Iraqi in Fallujah, in an incident captured on video which led the Pentagon to open a war crimes inquiry, is reported to have escaped prosecution.
According to the CBS news network yesterday, investigators concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge the marine and that given the circumstances of the battlefield it was possible that he felt his life was threatened. "At the very least, navy legal experts believe the situation is ambiguous enough that no prosecutor could get a conviction," the station reported.
The US Marine Corps issued a statement from Iraq saying that no decision had been taken and that the investigation was continuing.
Issued from US Camp Fallujah, the statement said: "The investigation into the allegation of the unlawful use of force in the death of an enemy combatant inside a mosque in Fallujah during combat operations on November 13, 2004 has not been completed."
The incident took place during the operation in November last year to take control of the city that was long considered a stronghold of the resistance. The week-long operation cost the lives of more than 70 marines, hundreds of insurgents and an unknown number of civilians. The city was all but destroyed in the effort.
The shooting of the wounded Iraqi, who was lying in a mosque with other injured men, was recorded by an American television crew. Viewers were able to see the marine pointing his rifle at the man and hear him say that he was faking he was dead. A clatter of gunfire could then he heard and another marine says: "He's dead now."
At the time of the incident the shooting was described by the International Committee of the Red Cross as a demonstration of "utter contempt for humanity".
The marine was withdrawn from combat operations pending the results of the investigation.
The initial report about the incident said that the marine who had shot the man had apparently himself 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.
Kevin Sites, the freelance television reporter who recorded the incident, wrote several days later in an "open letter" to the Marine Corps: "Observing all of this as an experienced war reporter who always bore in mind the dark perils of this conflict, even knowing the possibilities of mitigating circumstances - it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right."