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. Jim

    If her story is true, she is a victim.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. john1066

    Its the same defense the Nazi's used after WWII in regards to the Holocaust. "I was forced to do it", "I had no choice", "They would have killed me if I hadn't done it". Those excuses did not save them from war criminal court, and they should not save her as well. Its a tragic story, it is, but she must be put on trial.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • LADYDI

      off with her head!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      August 31, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fiche

      What You are saying is outrageous, If You where in the situation of soldier/executioner and You are ordered to kill a Christian guy if not You will be killed, would You do it? Or You will die to save momentarily that prisoner? You know that eventually will be executed...
      But what happen here is that You want to seed in the hole world that German lives where nothing compared to Jewish lives.
      All lives a precious, and none have priority over others, Those poor guys that You call War criminals had a family, Mother, Father, Children. They had no choice, Why We all have to die to save the Jewish People? is it that We are worth Nothing???

      August 31, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Whome

    I saw the story the other day how a three year old girl was shot in the head by a sniper, could it have been a stray bullet from one of these fools shooting in the air celebrating?

    August 31, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe, Louisville, KY

    The 'I was only following orders' excuse was tried at Nuremburg and failed. She should be executed as a mass murderer.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy©

    War doesn't determine who is right...only who is left.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Take Flight

    In the Nuremberg trials "I was just following orders" was not allowed as justification. It would be very difficult to judge this young person. At 19 young people are very susceptible to influence and short on reflection. De-ideologization and several years of work in hospitals or the like would probably be more appropriate than imprisoning or even executing her too. In a cultural context, it would be consistent with the behavior of willing regime followers to order a young women to execute rebel prisoners. Being killed by a woman is one of the most degrading things that could happen to a Bedouin warrior and as such would have a discouraging and demoralizing impact on the surviving rebels. The givers of such orders are the real criminals, they have to be found and without further ado treated as war criminals and preferably hanged.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MattyD

    I truly empathize with her situation, who knows what any of us would do unless we are actually in the same spot. But how is her argument any different from any Nazi soldier, camp guard who was saying the same thing in the war trials after WWII... I was under orders to do it and I feared for my life what the reprisals might be if I didnt. I belevie all of them were found guilty for the most part too.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bilbo

    Let's see...if she was getting orders from a commanding officer of the legitimate government and the rebels were the enemy...how is that any different one of our uniformed soldiers taking orders from an officer. Point being..rules in war are stupid. It's when people try to make rules and sanitize killing that they then can tolerate prolonged war games in foreign lands. War should be so hideous that no one ever wants to fight one..then and only then will it stop...either that or we all end up dead.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jim

    There is a gross factual error in this report, as there is no such thing as a 19-year-old GIRL. It's 19-year-old WOMAN, Where the hell did you go to learn journalism, Arwa Damon?

    August 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      My journalism professors would have deducted fifty points and I would have gotten an F on any news story about a 19-year-old GIRL upon their first glance. What are they teaching in those colleges???

      August 31, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Krusatta

      The word you are looking for is "spin".

      August 31, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Big Paulie

    It didn't work when the Nazis claimed it, it didn't work when the Abu Ghraib soldiers claimed it, and it won't work now. She is a murderer who cares who told her to pull the trigger?

    August 31, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David O-2

    From the story: 19-year-old girl who became an executioner for Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

    We in our military had the same question from an event in Vietnam called the My Lai Massacre. What was good for us should be good for them. How did we prosecute our solders? Do you remember. If not pull your head out and go look!

    August 31, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. steve

    How many soldiers of any military know anything about the people they kill?

    Do certain leaders deserve death? Probably.

    But is it just to kill conscripted soldiers egged on with lies while the leader lives? Why do people consider this appropriate, but frown on assassinating people who actually deserve it?

    Are the soldiers on either side of a war personally any more guilty than those on the other side? They intentionally kill people they do not know anything about based on potential misinformation they are fed.

    War itself is a crime! There is no such thing as a just war – justification of war is just a part of the mob mentality.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WDinDallas

    Behead her, let God sort it out.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Krusatta

    The Third Geneva Convention says, in part, that prisoners of war (as defined in article 4) are protected from the time of their capture until their final repatriation. It also specifies that when there is any doubt whether a combatant belongs to the categories in article 4, they should be treated as such until their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

    The Nuremburg trials affirmed that it is an individual soldier's responsibility to refuse an illegal order. There were 18 and 19 year old Marines at My Lai, there were 19 year old SS soldiers in concentration camps. Many were tried and convicted. "I was only following orders" is not, and has not been a valid excuse for committing an atrocity. The fact that she is female is irrelevant, the fact that her officers were part of a corrupt regime is also irrelevant. She was a soldier, she had a responsibility, she did not live up to it. There are consequences.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jen

    How is there even a question about this? If you are going to hold the Nazi guards responsible, you must hold her responsible too! She had an opportunity to say no... She is not different than many others... she has a free will. She is a killer and should be dealt with as such.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
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