WASHINGTON (CNN) — Navy investigators have determined a U.S. Marine acted in self-defense when he shot an apparently wounded and unarmed Iraqi inside a Falluja mosque in November, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.
The Marine corporal, who will not face charges, was under investigation in the shootings of four enemy combatants as part of an operation during the siege of Falluja on November 13, 2004. The mosque shooting was captured on videotape by an embedded reporter.
An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service determined that the Marine acted in self-defense, within military law and the law of armed conflict.
Although that Marine has been cleared of wrongdoing, the investigation remains open because autopsies of some of the bodies found in the mosque turned up bullets that were not from his gun.
The incident occurred during house-to-house fighting in southern Falluja, less than a week after U.S.-led forces launched an offensive to rout insurgents from the restive Iraqi city.
The corporal said in a sworn statement that he opened fire at the people because he thought they were threat to the Marines in the mosque, according to a military news release.
The investigators who considered the facts of the incident agreed.
“The evidence indicates that based on the actions of those AIF (anti-Iraqi forces), the corporal reasonably believed that they posed a hostile threat to him and his fellow Marines and justifiably fired in self-defense.
“The enhanced videotape of the shooting supports the corporal’s claim that the wounded AIF was concealing his left arm behind his head,” the Marines said in a statement.
The report said that while it isn’t “clear” whether insurgents in the videotape “made any overtly threatening gestures, it is clear that the Marines “were aware that feigning death was a common enemy” tactic.
“Accordingly, it was reasonable to believe that the corporal fired on the AIF after reasonably believing that the individual was committing a hostile act” by feigning death and subsequently moving his concealed arm.
Investigators weighed “multiple witness accounts, close review of video showing the incident captured by an embedded reporter and review of detailed ballistics and forensic evidence.”
The incident was recorded by a television journalist embedded with the Marines. The Iraqi was among several wounded men found in a mosque that Marines said had been the source of small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire the previous day.
The Marine approached one of the men against a wall, saying, “He’s [expletive] faking he’s dead. He’s faking he’s [expletive] dead.”
The Marine raised his rifle and fired at least one shot into the wounded man, at which point a companion said, “Well, he’s dead now.”
When told on the tape by the reporter that the men were among those wounded in an earlier firefight at the mosque, the Marine who fired the shot said, “I didn’t know, sir. I didn’t know.”
At the time, U.S. commanders said they were concerned the video might encourage more insurgents to fight to the death rather than surrender, and Iraqis who watched the scene on television said they were stunned.
The Marine seen on the videotape was part of a squad from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.