A US Marine who appears to shoot and kill an unarmed and wounded Iraqi prisoner in an NBC News video was not aware that the incident was being recorded, and moments later approached the cameraman with seemingly remorseful words -- "I didn't know, sir, I didn't know" -- according to the first public description of the events by the cameraman, Kevin Sites, since his brief and somewhat ambiguous initial report.
There were no visible weapons inside the Fallujah mosque where the shooting took place, on Nov. 13, and the wounded Iraqi made no sudden or threatening moves before the Marine shot him, Sites writes on his Web site, kevinsites.net, in an entry posted Sunday night.
Sites, a freelance photojournalist who had been hired by NBC News, made it clear that as a veteran of covering wars around the globe, he understood the ugliness and complexity of battle. Nevertheless, he said of the incident in the mosque, "it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right."
His account also raises new questions about another group of Marines who had entered the mosque just before Sites and fired on the prisoners -- they had been left there, already wounded, after a battle the day before. Sites was so surprised that the prisoners he had seen there the day before had been attacked again that he informed a Marine lieutenant of the fact before the final shooting -- the one he captured on tape -- took place.
The video obtained by Sites has received sensational play around the world, particularly in the Arab news media. Sites calls the posting on his Web log an "Open Letter to the Devil Dogs [a nickname used since World War I, when the Germans dubbed the US Marines teufelhunden] of the 3.1," or the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.
"Since the shooting in the mosque, I've been haunted that I have not been able to tell you directly what I saw," he wrote, "or explain the process by which the world came to see them as well."
But despite his attempt to be fair, he said, since the Fallujah video was broadcast on Nov. 15, he has been "shocked to see myself painted as some kind of antiwar activist." Sites has received abuse and death threats on some Web sites, and has shut down the discussion section of his own. He said that the Marines he was embedded with arrived at the mosque on Nov. 13, and after a series of other events, he heard shooting inside. The other set of Marines emerged and were asked by a lieutenant, "Did you shoot them?"
"Roger that, sir," a Marine responded. But when the lieutenant asked, "Were they armed?" the Marine just shrugged, Sites wrote.
He was videotaping some of the wounded men when, in the background, a Marine yelled that one of the others was "faking he's dead."
"Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi," Sites wrote. "There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging."
Then the Marine fired.
"There is a small spatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down," Sites wrote, in what was apparently a suggestion that the man had been alive.
"Well," another Marine said, "he's dead now."
Sites wrote that he could feel "the deep pit of my stomach." The shooting Marine, who had been angrily shouting, suddenly changed his tone.
"The anger that seemed present just moments before turned to fear and dread," Sites wrote.