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. Bob Gravina

    Unfortunately she should be punished for her actions. We are accountable for our own actions whether in war or peace. She had choices to make every time she was told to execute a defenseless prisoner. She should be tried as a war criminal.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. raven

    The Nazis were all on the same side. It would be more like a French resister saying the Nazis forced her to kill American soldiers.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. raven

    And only one soldier did time for My Lai. In his home .under house arrest .

    August 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      No. He didn't. It was for only 4.5 months. At Ft. Benning. Still a light sentence for what happened. Why are we typing this way.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff G

    Remember Nueremberg's defendents who said they were only following order? She's a war criminal.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Thomas, Baton Rouge, LA

    She made a choice, true. But I would not judge her too harshly.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gregorious

    Those weeping for her should consider that she is probably at a minimum embellishing the truth, if not outright lying, to save herself. She was caught trying to flee. And her excuse was no excuse at Nuremberg, as others have pointed out. To validate the excuse would exonerate anyone fighting for an oppressor. She is a war criminal for summarily executing others. Period.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MM

    She should be tried as a war criminal. She didn't "just" shoot rebels, she shot rebels who were prisoners. Life is about choices. She had the chance to try to escape I'm sure many times, but chose not to do it. Now that she has been caught, she feels bad and wants to be viewed as the victim.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. IO

    I agree Bob. Some of the Nazi's at Nuremberg would have been shot had they not followed orders. I think the bigger questions here are two fold. If she is not punished, then every war criminal out there will simply say "I had to do it, they would kill me if I didn't." Who will decide who is punished and who is not? The second is a bit deeper. When people are willing to kill in order to themselves survive, it shows a selfishness that is unparalleled. There are some things worth dying for in this world. That is what will eat and torment her for the rest of her life. No matter how long that is.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • paul1121

      Just a side note, the suicide rate, alcoholism and mental illness among Einsatzgruppen as a result of their actions were very high.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. George

    It is easy to sit safey in your home in the United States and pass judgment on this girl. It is easy to say that you would act differently if a gun were placed to your head or the head of a family member. When faced with a choice between life or death, it is amazing what people will do to live just one more day. Judge not lest ye be judged.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. IO

    Raven,

    Many Nazi's were not truly dedicated to Hitlers madness. Some were average military folk caught up in a bad situation. That still does not excuse their actions. In the end, we must answer for what we have/haven't done.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • paul1121

      Agreed. The big excuse at the Nuremberg Trials was "I was just following orders". Part of me feels sorry for her as a human but as a militia member, she must pay for her crimes.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    Post-World War II tribunals didn't think it was enough for Nazi soldiers to say, "I was just following orders" when they murdered Jews during the Holocaust. So, why is it OK in this instance? Jeez, have people forgotten already?

    August 31, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Following Orders

    Funny, during the Nuremberg Trials, we didn't accept "I was just following orders" as an excuse. Now its ok because she is a young woman.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. END IS NEAR

    She killed people to save her own skin, for that she must face punishment. God will be her final judge.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. karnak

    The problem I have is that there is no one to collaborate her story. I cannot help but wonder if this is merely a cover story in case she was captured. Time will tell, but it could be that she is not telling the truth about what happened.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Guilty Liar

    She is a liar, she enjoyed the lifestyle while Gadhapi held power, now that he has fallen she is trying to play victim so as to not have to be held accountable for her many attrocities. If this was a 40 year old man there would be no sympathy for her and her arguement that she was forced.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
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