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. MikeNews

    She's a war criminal. If she weren't young, cute, "innocent looking" and female would this be an article worthy of discussion at all? If instead, this was an 80 year German male who killed Jews in a concentration camp, under threat of his own death, would we be having this discussion? You either do the right thing or you don't. You can't have it both ways. Killing helpless shackled prisoners is a crime. Period. Whatever the "reason"! She did it, and so she is a criminal.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • lorne

      The problem here is that the Germans were not coerced under threat of their own execution. They were willing murderers who, if they refused, were simply sent to other duties. In the same way, many civilians from various European countries in WW2 were quite willing to turn their Jewish populations over to the Nazis. Nobody forced them to do so.
      In the case of this Libyan girl, there is not enough evidence to know whether she was a willing executioner, or coerced.
      Since she was in Gaddafi's female militia, my guess is that she was from Gaddaffi's tribe and was very well indoctrinated to follow her orders without complaining, otherwise she wouldn't have been in this particular part of his army.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. searchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    Following orders – such a cop out. The people who flew the planes on 9/11, the Nazi's, the Abu Garhib torturers and so on and so forth. Committing the act is committing the act. Take a bullet or take responsibility for your actions. No sympathy from me. I don't view murderers veiled with uniforms as heroes and I never will.

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

    "Shoot him or die" is not an order it is a threa. An order would only have happened if she was told to do it and was under no threat

    August 31, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mary

    How could anyone trust her?
    Thats the problem, how can anyone know if she is a "victim" or just trying to save her behind now?

    August 31, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. George

    Those people who reference the Nuremberg trials should remember that ordinary soldiers were not on trial. They were the leaders of the Third Reich. They gave the orders. Also, the Nazis forced many prisoners to aid in the killing at the death camps. They were given a choice help or die. Not one person who was forced to help and survived was tried.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunflower

      Good Point!!!! the comparison by others was so misguided... Glad someone finally stated the facts plainly.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. SteveOttawa

    Guilty until proven innocent?

    August 31, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dan

    Doesn't society assume that someone who kills innocent people is not going to be able to change?

    August 31, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. SteveOttawa

    Walk a mile in her shoes-

    August 31, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sharon Thomas

    She is still responsible for her actions. The conditions under which she committed the crimes should be taken into consideration during the punishment phase of any trial.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. IO

    OK, George,

    Be careful there. That verse goes on to state that we are to judge. Only to make sure that we are not judging unfairly.
    In fact if you're looking for a biblical defense, you will not find any. Religions around the world praise self sacrifice. Especially Christianity.

    John 13:34
    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

    Which is further backed by Romans 13:10

    Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dj

    The question isnt if you wouldent do it. The question is would you have the guts to go through it. Most people would like to believe they would have taken the high ground...and you can talk about instinct and self all you want, ive seen hunted animals lay down and die, just give up. Shes strong, to do what she did...lets see if shes strong enough to live now.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jose Lopez

    This is a crime gainst humanity as the bombing of civilian By OTAN is a crime too.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SteveOttawa

    Wow talk about misinterpreting scripture. God calls us to judge other believers because the non-believers will judge themselves.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. IO

    OK, Steve,
    Why don't you explain scripture to all of us who can't read it for what it is? Note: I pointed out that self sacrifice is a wide spread belief not only dealing with Christians. And Please note that I'm not interpreting any of the scripture I posted. They can stand alone. Merely backing up my earlier statement.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteveOttawa

      No need to be rude. What you are doing is called prooftexting. You can't just take text out of context to prove your position. I was just trying to point out that any bible text can be used to support any idea but only if the meaning is clear given the context. Eg. "Money is the root of all evil" is not true even though it is in the bible. The quote in context says "The love of money is the root of all evil" The spirit of my comments was to explain to people what the text was trying to say. We are not called to judge everyone – that is the job of the courts.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CR

    Is it really any different than SS soldiers killing "in the name of duty" in World War 2?

    August 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
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