The U.S. military has opened an investigation into whether a U.S. Marine used illegal force in the fatal shooting of a wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi insurgent inside a mosque in Fallujah. The incident is drawing condemnation from human rights monitors.
An American television news crew was with Marines in Fallujah Saturday when they entered a mosque that had been the scene of a deadly shootout between insurgents and American forces a day earlier.
In video that has now been broadcast around the world, Marines approach several men inside the mosque still lying injured from the previous day's shootout.
Some of what the Marines were saying as well as gunfire in the background is heard on the tape.
"We had two in here. Did you shoot them? Any weapons on them? These are the wounded that they never picked up. He is moving."
Then, Marines are heard shouting that one of the injured was pretending to be dead. A few seconds later, a single gunshot is fired and then one Marine is heard saying 'He is dead now'.
Under investigation is whether that Marine used legitimate force by acting in self defense, or whether he violated military law or failed to comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict under the Geneva Conventions.
"If there is a general sense that perhaps these rules can be trampled, whether it is this case, whether at Abu Ghraib or in a different context at Guantanamo, in all of these places we see rules being ignored," said Steve Crawshaw, who is with Human Rights Watch.
But if the Marine had reason to believe an injured insurgent was armed and posed a threat, use of force could be justified. Just a day earlier, the American reporter embedded with these troops reported a Marine with the same unit was injured when he approached the body of a dead insurgent that turned out to be rigged with an explosive device.
But if the investigation finds the Marine did use deadly force against an unarmed enemy combatant who posed no threat, he could face a court martial. The Marine in question has now been taken off the battlefield while the inquiry goes forward.