In the particular circumstance I was reporting, it bothered me that the Marine didn't seem to consider the other insurgents a threat -- the one very obviously moving under the blanket, or even the two next to me that were still breathing. I can't know what was in the mind of that Marine. He is the only one who does.Link
But 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. According to Lt. Col Bob Miller, the rules of engagement in Falluja required soldiers or Marines to determine hostile intent before using deadly force. I was not watching from a hundred feet away. I was in the same room. Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all.
Making sure you know the basis for my choices after the incident is as important to me as knowing how the incident went down. I did not in any way feel like I had captured some kind of "prize" video. In fact, I was heartsick. Immediately after the mosque incident, I told the unit's commanding officer what had happened. I shared the video with him, and its impact rippled all the way up the chain of command. Marine commanders immediately pledged their cooperation.
We all knew it was a complicated story, and if not handled responsibly, could have the potential to further inflame the volatile region. I offered to hold the tape until they had time to look into incident and begin an investigation -- providing me with information that would fill in some of the blanks.
For those who don't practice journalism as a profession, it may be difficult to understand why we must report stories like this at all -- especially if they seem to be aberrations, and not representative of the behavior or character of an organization as a whole. The answer is not an easy one.
In war, as in life, there are plenty of opportunities to see the full spectrum of good and evil that people are capable of. As journalists, it is our job is to report both -- though neither may be fully representative of those people on whom we're reporting. For example, acts of selfless heroism are likely to be as unique to a group as the darker deeds. But our coverage of these unique events, combined with the larger perspective - will allow the truth of that situation, in all of its complexities, to begin to emerge. That doesn't make the decision to report events like this one any easier. It has, for me, led to an agonizing struggle -- the proverbial long, dark night of the soul.