Marines will investigate claims of war crimes

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The Independent Online

The senior officer in charge of the US Marines who have taken Fallujah said yesterday that a full investigation would be made into possible war crimes after one of his troops was captured on video apparently shooting dead an injured insurgent who had been taken prisoner.

The senior officer in charge of the US Marines who have taken Fallujah said yesterday that a full investigation would be made into possible war crimes after one of his troops was captured on video apparently shooting dead an injured insurgent who had been taken prisoner.

Lt-Gen John Sattler, commanding officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said in a statement: "We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability. The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision and to protect the rights of all persons involved."

The Marine Corps announced the investigation after a television correspondent embedded with the Marines caught on film an incident in which one of the troops appears to shoot dead one of a handful of injured insurgents inside a mosque last Saturday.

In the footage, which was reported in later editions of The Independent yesterday, the troops can be seen entering the mosque where the group of injured insurgents had been left following a firefight with a different group of marines the previous day. Rather than being transported away for treatment the fighters had been left in the mosque, which the second group of marines had erroneously been told had been reoccupied. The video shows one of the marines notice that one of the Iraqis is breathing.

"He's fucking faking he's dead," he says. A second replies: "Yeah, he's breathing." The first marine repeats: "He's faking he's fucking dead." At this point the footage shows the marine point his automatic rifle at the wounded man. Though US and British networks stopped the film here, the sound of a gunshot can be heard, followed by a voice saying: "He's dead now."

In a report that accompanied the footage, Kevin Sites, a freelance journalist on assignment with NBC, said a total of five injured insurgents were in the mosque, three of whom were severely injured and one who was dead. He said: "The prisoner did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way."

US reaction has been muted. Several major media organisations relegated the investigation to inside pages or located it down their list of reports.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the Geneva Conventions specified that anyone injured in combat, either fighter or civilian, had a right to medical treatment.

A spokesman, Florian Westphal, said: "The fact that was reported was that he was wounded. But whether he was already a prisoner or not was not clear to me," he said. "We cannot, on the basis of TV images - no matter how disturbing and disconcerting they are - arrive at a judgement about an incident. We were not on the spot so we cannot be aware of all the circumstances of this incident. It's clearly recognised that people in combat situations are under enormous strain."

In its report, NBC interviewed Lt-Col Bob Miller, the judge-advocate general heading the investigation.

Asked if the marine was acting in self-defence, he replied: "The policy of the rules of engagement authorise the marines to use force when presented with a hostile act or hostile intent. So they would have to be using force in self-defence, yes. Any wounded who don't pose a threat would not be considered hostile."

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