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. LisaDe

    I believe she will kill again if she is not de-programmed by professionals. The kind of training this woman received is like brain-washing, e.g. female Tamil Tiger fighters in India, Vietmanese female fighters during the Vietnam war, brainwashed to respond to certain emotional triggers to make them highly suggestible to killer on command (literally a killing machine). Unless she is goes into de-programming treatment she is likely to repeat killing when exposed to whatever emotional stimuli was used to program her.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcus

      Not true. If she were truly brainwashed to kill, there would have been no need for two guns to be on her to force her to kill.

      August 31, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      "Following orders" was not a defence at Nuremberg. It should not be a defence here.

      August 31, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Hoofleau

    This is what it has all come down to. Governments and their armies bomb and kill innocent people all the time now. Death is nothing new to any of us. Conscience is what takes hold here. If you value and hold life sacred, then you have a conscience. If you kill on order by your Government, then you are forfeiting your conscience out of fear of personal jeopardy to yourself. This is what makes up WAR! Do what you are told or...rise up and object. Either way, you are a goner. I am sick of the death and violence. But, I guess, it thins the herd. War sucks!

    August 31, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. IO

    Life in prison sounds like a pretty safe bet to me. If you think she can be de-programmed then she can live next to you. I wouldn't take that chance with my safety, and thus wouldn't ask anyone else to live next to her. If she spends the rest of her life in prison, then she gets what she was trying to protect by killing those people, her life. She can live a long time and spend that time thinking about why her life was more important than the 11 she took.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pirate

    Victim, obviously! Do the math – 11 dead or 12 dead? She did herself and the Libyans a favor, herself, by staying alive for herself and her family, for Libyans, so she would live to tell the story!

    August 31, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Alpha

    Sorry to amaze you but I wouldn't have done the killings, regardless of being in the situation or not. There is absolutely no excuse for taking an unjustified life. It's about ethics – what's right and what's wrong. Had she been ethically passionate, she would have preferred her life taken. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. I would do anything to help her recover if she is truthful, otherwise she's a disappointment. I hope she honestly deal with her ordeal.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. She is no victim

    What a BS double standard people attach to this story, all because she is 'female and young".

    So, does the same 'oh feel sorry for an executioner logic apply' to young males? Circa 1940's Poland, a young German soldier ordered to 'shoot' unarmed civilians in the head, or place them in a locked barn, dousing it with petrol, and watching humans burned alive (yes, this did happen).

    The fact is, whether a gun was held to her head, to her side, whatever, or not, this woman repeatedly murdered 11 human beings in cold blood. She thought only of her own survival at the expense of eleven others. At that point, you are no longer a freaking human being but a ******* animal.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dome

    Well, it's just like the Nuremberg trials. People said they were ordered to kill, but that didn't work and they were still found guilty. I don't see how things should be any different now, even if the killer is a woman.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. epicjourney

    So what do you expect her to say?? There is nothing else she could possibly say about her actions. Who knows if she was impressed into service or not – that argument did not work at the Nuremburg trials after WWII why should it matter now?

    August 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    string her up with the rest of the war criminals!! Whether you do it because you were ordered to or you did it for fun you are still a cold blodded person. Go a head and blame the superiors... but you can't blame them because they were following their orders to order her to execute people so they can't be to blame. A war crime is a war crime... whether you gave the orders or are the one who executed the crime.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. epicjourney

    btw – the soldier who kills is not guilty of murder – you have to look at who gets the gain here. Usually the politicians who started it.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob Rock

    Same old lame excuse. Didn't the Nazis say they were not at fault for all those massacres as they were under direct orders?

    August 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Claus von Stauffenberg and other Germans tried to resist Hitler and kill him with a bomb: the resisters were hanged with piano wire on meat hooks.
    I believe that the girl in Libya had no choice but to kill.
    Hitler's resisters would have lived had they not opposed him.
    I knew Aryan Germans who did escape Hitler's Reich. Their escapes made terrifying stories.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. airwolf

    First, where is the proof that she was forced to do those killings? She might only be 19 and when she killed the first rebel, from her perspective, perhaps her life was either equally or more important to her than the other person's life, but what happened after that? She killed 10 more. She still thought that her life was more important than 11 other lives? She would surely say yes, but it does not justify it. If what she says is true, I would surely sympathize for the reason that she was in a position to make that toughest choice ever of " to kill vs. get killed"; a choice that none of us have ever had to make or might never have to in the future, but no matter how you put it, it does not justify the killings she did.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. steve

    Hard one, isn't it?

    Who is responsible? IF she isn't then is her imemdiate superior? Of course not, it climbs all the way to the top. Or does it?

    JOhnson at the tiem of my lai, wasn't really responsible for the actions of Lt. Calley, or is bush/Cheney actually responsible for the atrocities committed by US solders in Iraq (al graib, et al)?

    Who is culpable? Rememebr the game where you wisper in to the ear of the person next to you.. and that person does likewise.. as it moves further fromt he source, the story becomes so distorted, it os no longer the same.

    That is the reality.. as prers are interprested down the line, each "link" either adds or subtracts the intent.

    For example, Good meaning People at the top can e made to look like demons.. becuase of the demons in their chain of command. Specifying who those demons are is a very difficult thing to do.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Linda

    Victim. She did what she had to do to stay alive. You can not begin to know what you would do in her place. When death comes for you...you will do anything to survive.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • airwolf

      Just as an example, if you were in her position and if you were forced to kill one of your own dear ones, would you still kill them because you would do anything to survive?

      August 31, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      I don't know what I would do and neither do you. Until you are in that kind of situation.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • airwolf

      Yes, I have not been in that situation, but I know I wouldn't do it for living the rest of my life with the guilt of killing someone who didn't deserve to die.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
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