The photographer whose videotape of what appears to be a Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi is generating a storm of outrage in the Arab world maintained his steadfast silence on Wednesday, saying he wanted to continue reporting on the incident before commenting.
"As sensitive as this is, we want to make sure the world has an accurate picture of the events," said the photographer, Kevin Sites, an American freelance cameraman working for NBC News, to a reporter at the military base near Fallujah where he is staying.
The videotape shows a group of Marines entering a mosque in Fallujah, where several wounded Iraqi prisoners lay on the floor last Saturday. One Marine is shown shooting and apparently killing one of the Iraqis. The Marines were members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, with whom Sites was embedded.
An unedited version of the videotape, which was distributed to other news agencies as part of a pool report, was being aired several times an hour on Arab satellite television stations on Wednesday, and US commanders have said it has already yielded a huge propaganda victory for the anti-American insurgency. Some Arab commentators have even compared it to the scandal surrounding mistreatment of detainees earlier this year at Abu Ghraib prison.
Yet many questions about the shooting remain unanswered, human rights advocates and senior military officials agree. In the videotape, the soldier can be heard yelling that the Iraqi prisoner was only pretending to be dead before firing at the prone body, suggesting that he may have believed he was acting in self-defense. It is unclear from watching it whether the prisoner was moving before the shot.
Sites would appear to be in a unique position to shed some light on what happened, but he declined repeatedly Wednesday to comment.
Sites did say he had received hate mail and threats since the footage aired, in edited form, on the initial NBC report. A comment section on a Web site he maintains has been shut down because of death threats.
A lanky man with shoulder-length hair and a goatee, Sites has maintained a low profile since emerging from the fighting in Fallujah, avoiding the area where other reporters on the base are billeted. Several other reporters said they believed he might be concerned about legal or other complications stemming from the shooting, and was staying silent for that reason. Agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are conducting an inquiry, and the Marine who fired the shot has been removed from the battlefield.
A spokeswoman for NBC, Allison Gollust, said by e-mail: "Given that there is an investigation on behalf of the Marines into this incident, it just doesn't make sense for Kevin to be commenting on it at this point."