The killing of a wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi by a US
marine, videotaped by an embedded reporter from NBC on Saturday and
broadcast around the world, is stirring anger in the Middle East and
That anger, reminiscent of the outcry that followed the release
of torture photos from Abu Ghraib prison, is the latest upsurge in a
propaganda war that the US has been embroiled in from the get-go in
Iraq. US officials say an investigation has begun.
The act itself, perhaps a result of the fog of war, perhaps an
act of revenge, represents a key challenge for the Marines. Keenly
aware that US excesses in the past have turned global opinion
against the war in Iraq, and thereby threatened US strategic
objectives, commanders repeatedly have warned their subordinates not
to shoot unarmed or seriously injured men.
The notion that armies are only as good as their least
disciplined soldier in the media glare of modern warfare has become
almost a matter of doctrine, given the need for enlisted men to
think quickly in stressful situations.
"They call it the 'strategic corporal,' " says Lieut. Michael
Aubry, a vehicle commander from Arlington Heights, Ill., with the
1st Light Armored Reconnaissance company in central Fallujah.
"[Lower ranks] are seeing stuff and reacting to it without guidance"
from higher authority.
In a 1999 article, Gen. Charles Krulak, then the Marine
Commandant, coined the term. In the 21st century, he wrote, young
marines would need "to confidently make well-reasoned and
independent decisions under extreme stress - decisions that will
likely be subject to the harsh scrutiny of both the media and the
court of public opinion. In many cases, the individual Marine will
be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy."
Yet in the heat of the moment Saturday, a young marine did severe
damage to the image of a precise and clean assault that the US had
hoped to project from Fallujah. The footage has already become more
fodder on jihadi websites peddling the conspiracy theory that the US
is on a crusade against global Islam. It also caused cringing in the
capitals of US friends and allies. Tuesday, UN Human Rights chief
Louise Arbour called for an investigation of alleged US abuses in
Charles Smith, a professor of modern Middle East history at the
University of Arizona, says the military triumph in Fallujah could
be undermined by global anger at how the victory was achieved. In
the coming weeks, he says, observers are likely to see "the Bush
administration trumpeting 'victory' and much of the rest of the
world, including Europe, considering some of our practices as war
Fallujah has long been a center of Iraq's information war -
whether it was video of the four mutilated US security contractors
there last April that insurgents hoped would demoralize the US, or
the pictures of the women and children severely wounded in the
retaliatory American assault that followed.
"This incident hasn't elicited the type of shock that Abu Ghraib
did - that set a bar in a way, and lowered expectations,'' says Toby
Jones, who tracks Islamist trends for the Brussels-based
International Crisis Group. …