Kevin Sites Speaks

First, let’s briefly recap the Kevin Sites saga: A freelance cameraman and journalist covering the Fallujah offensive, he videotaped a Marine shooting a wounded, unarmed Iraqi insurgent in a mosque. The tape was shot on a “pool” basis, so eventually it was fed not just to the company that Sites is under contract with, NBC, but to other outlets, too. Predictably, the image and the unclear context of the shooting — was the insurgent armed? was there an immediate threat there that could not be seen in the video? — have touched off a controversy. The video is the latest helping of anti-American fodder for broadcasters in the Arab world. In the United States, the main reaction to the video has come from the right: The video serves as further proof that the mainstream media is only interested in undermining our war effort and support for the troops. Sites has been the target of especially vicious commentary online, with many accusing him of trying to score a prize-winning scoop at any cost and some suggesting he ought to be physically harmed for reporting the incident.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been checking Sites’s blog daily to see if he’d post his account of the shooting and of the afternath. Of course, I hadn’t checked today,and then I got an email from my brother John saying there was a new post there. It’s titled “Open Letter to the Devil Dogs of the 3.1” — the unit he’d been accompanying during the fighting. He tries to explain to the Marines he’s been covering (in a sympathetic way, I’d add) exactly how the event unfolded before, during, and after the shooting. And he does his best to explain to the guys what’s at stake in reporting what’s going on over there:

“I interviewed your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, before the battle for Falluja began. He said something very powerful at the time-something that now seems prophetic. It was this:

” ‘We’re the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman’s war here — because we don’t behead people, we don’t come down to the same level of the people we’re combating. That’s a very difficult thing for a young 18-year-old Marine who’s been trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy with fire and close combat. That’s a very difficult thing for a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with 23 years experience in the service who was trained to do the same thing once upon a time, and who now has a thousand-plus men to lead, guide, coach, mentor — and ensure we remain the good guys and keep the moral high ground.’

“I listened carefully when he said those words. I believed them.

“So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera — the story of his death became my responsibility.

“The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.”

From reading this guy’s stuff since early last year, I believe he’s impeccably honest. I think he explains what happened and the bigger issues he was thinking about as well as can be expected. I’d love to know how the Marines he’s addressing react to what he says. I expect that few of people who’ve been screaming that he’s subhuman and a traitor will be mollified.

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