August 31st, 2011
12:12 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Female forced executioner a war criminal or victim?

CNN's Arwa Damon reported from Libya on the story of a 19-year-old girl who became an executioner for Moammar Gadhafi's forces. She admits that she murdered 11 rebels, all prisoners of the Gadhafi regime. (CNN is not identifying Nisreen by her full name because of her experiences in Gadhafi's all-female brigade.)

The story was one that clearly struck a chord with our readers. It brought up a lively debate in the comments about people's thoughts about the girl herself and some thought-provoking questions: Is this woman responsible for the actions she took based on the position she was put in? How does someone in this position respond? And what does this all mean for the fight for freedom in Libya?

"She was following orders. In war you really don't have an option to what you want to do. Is it horrible? Yes," MyDogLue wrote. "Should she be punished? Possibly if incriminating facts come up, but probably not. Should her commanding officers be punished? Yes."

Other readers sympathized with that idea, wondering how they would respond in the situation this 19-year-old says she was put in.

"OK – so it was kill or be killed. I don't know what I would do in that kind of situation, and I doubt many could really be sure, unless it actually happened," talkiseasy wrote. "If her story is accurate, I don't know if I can blame her. It is a natural inclination to self-preserve."

Others said they couldn't judge at all; they have no idea how they would feel if put into such a horrible position.

"Unless we have been in this kind of position, not one of us knows how we would respond. I have a 17 year old son. This girl is just a few years older than him. I can't imagine him being anything but terrified of losing his life or losing his parents," IdleHands wrote. "It appears this young woman had no choice, she either did what she was ordered to do or face her family being killed and her own life taken. Like the poster said, I would like to think I would not take a life, but I really don't know."

Dinkydo wrote that they believed this was a woman compelled to do something without any say.

"This is terrible................just a young girl required to do such terrible things.....to kill for a dictator..........I feel sorry for her...........she was not compelled....she was required to do this," the user wrote.

MightyMoo agreed, saying: "It doesn't matter if she pulled the trigger or the man who would kill her did.

"Those rebels were dead men and she may have done it under duress," MightyMoo continued. "Not everyone follows a tyrant happily some just want to survive and hope to get out of a bad situation."

Many readers were struck by the emotions the story left them having.

schmeddles wrote that the story was "one of the saddest stories I have ever read. I wish I could hug her, and the families of the young who were killed, too."

Other commenters spoke about the use of a regime that thrives on using fear to intimidate their people.

"What strikes me as so sad here is how these young women were taken against their will, indoctrinated, taught to fight/kill, and then raped as a way of being kept under control," TaWeaver wrote. "The rape is all about asserting power or dominance over the victim. It is as if the men in command were showing the women that they had no control over anything, even their own bodies or personal space.

"There are the emotional effects as well... fear, uncertainty, pain, anger, worthlessness, sadness, hopelessness... One feeling so demoralized would not question the authority of her rapists. She would do as they say, even executing another. Perhaps if some people here had an ounce of compassion, they would be able to see the horrible situation this girl was in with a little more clarity and a little less judgment."

Others couldn't fathom what the woman had gone through and said there shouldn't even be a discussion of judgment.

"Sounds like this woman is already in a prison..... for the rest of her life....regardless if they put her in a real one..." GatorALLin wrote. "Those male guards could have done the killings faster or easier themselves, but they chose to have someone else pull the trigger (was that to avoid possible prosecution later? or to try and turn non killers into killers? or just to be evil?).... really sick any angle you look at this from.

DRinNC agreed, writing: "This poor child has already suffered like most of us never will. Even sadder is the fact that she is only one of many."

Many others commenting on the story questioned the legitimacy of her story and whether things went exactly as she explained them to CNN.

"Her story may well be just as she gives it," js555554 wrote. "But she might also be just trying to save her own life with this act. Most likely will never know for sure."

Others pointed to the story as a reason for why the Gadhafi regime needs to be one of the past.

"The regime needs to be wiped out," darren27 wrote.

Quabbin13 wrote: "Thank God for the defeat of Gadhafi."

Another commenter simply wished for a positive outcome for this woman.

"I hope they let her go home," ridey wrote.

soundoff (185 Responses)
  1. Laurence C

    It is what the brigrade was created to do. "The devil made me do it" defense is nonsense and like the German guards in WWII they did not kill peole under threat of harm, they too were hand picked and had no problem gunning down whomever. The woman should be hung!

    August 31, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jazz

    How convenient now that you have been caught and attempt to be the victim. BS!

    August 31, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JSL

    She's a young girl with a sweet face...how could she be a cold-blooded killer.?
    (sarcasm) There are MANY who'd kill the captures than turn the guns on inocent people.

    August 31, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. wake up

    nazis who ran concentration camps said the same thing if i didn't kill the thousands of jew i would of been killed. If you let people get off the hook for this, then it will only encourage them to kill scores of people just because there life could be endangered. There is no excuse for killing innocent people she is just as bad as Gaddafi!!!

    August 31, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. J Tripper

    its seems alot of the comments are focused on "what would we do in the same position?". Probably the wrong thing, same as the female in question. Self preservation generally means putting yourself first. If Jesus had done that, we would have no savior. Granted no one is perfect, but it takes a strong individual to go into a burning building and save a life or throw himself on a live grenade or any other sacrifice to save others. What should she have done? wieghted her life compared to those to be executed. she allowed herself to be a tool of the regime. She knows her guilt, and her soul WILL pay the price.

    August 31, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pete

    "Following orders" is not an excuse to murder eleven people. More importantly, the manner in which this and other situations are handled sets a precedent: if "Following orders" becomes a viable defense in war-crime trials, then what incentive to future would-be executioners have to say "no" to their commanding officers? None. It is an unfortunate situation all around, but one must still be held accountable for one's own actions.

    August 31, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hairybean

    She's just as guilty as those who issued the command. Why is her life worth more than the eleven people she murdered? Yes, it's very difficult to place oneself in this girl's shoes and I have no idea how I would react in such a situation, but every individual is responsible for his or her actions and possesses the ability to consciously reflect on the impact. The Nuremberg trials held Nazi officers accountable for following the orders of their superiors; I don't see a difference here except for the scale.

    August 31, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. James

    If she refused to obey orders from the superior officers, then she would be executed by them. And other thing is that if she did obeyed orders to execute, then she will be tried as a war criminal and be punished for this.
    The Nuremburg trials did held officers and soldiers accountable for obeying orders to execute POWs and death camp prisoners for following orders from their superiors.
    She may gave you a sob story but she did knew that what she did is wrong for killing, so there is a good chance that she might serve her time in prison or perhaps be hanged for this. She will not get away with this massacre she've committed.

    September 1, 2011 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. Lyn S

    The more sensational a story, the less CNN investigates it.

    September 1, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. oneoutDC

    Yes it is sad to say that a child was put in that situation. Look if you were so sad about doing it. why take a life to save your own> Personally if I do not choose to kill they kill me and move on to the next person. When they refuse it continues until they are so consumed with getting people to kill that the their enemies would have taken over their empire.

    September 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bin bashal

    let her live a new life style no need of ounishment we should not judge her because no one was around while she was receiving orders from above

    September 7, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. Erico

    We all know how the military works and what will happen if the lady refuses order albeit under a dictator like Gaddafi the brute. The lady should be set free and made to undergo reorientation.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
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