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. Tapa Ding Dong

    i'd would blame her if she lived with her own free will and the capability to decide and distinguish right from wrong .. but that is the purpose for the fight in libya .. to get their freedom and for every individual to think for herself .. but since their dictator was thinking for them and programming them, we cannot really hold anyone accountable .. only the big guys are .. they didn't know better ..

    August 31, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • ARMYofONE

      Funny how our soldiers are convicted of murder etc for "following orders" and a poor female who executed people should be considered a victim? How do we know she was forced into anything??

      August 31, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • ARMYofONE

      TAPA, so we let ALL convicted terrorist go than since they are doing as they are told and programmed using religion?? So when do we hold someone accountable for executing people? She said she was forced..........how many convicted criminals said other things as well?? Get evidence and convict. Nothing more, noting less. Or just give her to the families of those she killed and let them decide her fate.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      The real question is not whether she was forced to execute prisoners. The real question is, "Did she volunteer to join that all female brigade?" If she did, then she made her bed, so let her sleep in it. All of us ultimately have to be responsible for our own actions.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • following orders

      "following orders" is not a defence to war crimes. never has been never will be

      August 31, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shinea

      army – apparently, you would be OK with any American solder being executed, by the families of civilians killed as "collateral damage", in retaliation for "doing his duty"?? Technically, that and what this girl did, are both acts of "murder" outside the rules of war.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shinea

      A lot of you people apparently have no concept of the difference between "following orders" and being COERCED by being threatened with death. Whether she was a "solder" or not has nothing to do with her defense. Most of you BOZO's have NO IDEA what it's like to live in a totalitarian state like that, much less the intelligence to have survived such a thing.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I don't know what happened around this girl when she killed. I don't think that anyone posting here knows whether she is lying or not.
    I know that if I were put into a position of having to kill others or be killed myself, I would choose my life over their lives without hesitation.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • BldrRepublican

      I doubt it.

      I highly doubt it.

      Easy to say when you're safe at a desk behind a computer.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Following Orders

      yeah right Ghandi... I highly doubt it, unless you're just suicidal

      August 31, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shinea

      Unless the OP changed his post, I believe you two have misread the comment.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. taskmaster

    This is the same defense the Nazi butchers tried at Nuremburg at the end of W.W. 2. It didn't work then and it shouln't work now.There were war crimes commited on both sides. ALL should be tried in an internatioal court.Too many times only the losing side is accused of war crimes.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alejandro Dron

    'Flipped Arrow'
    http://www.zoharme.com
    Graphic Commentary on Ultimate Direction

    August 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Matt

    Evil occurs when good people refuse to act. The fact is had she refused she may have been killed... had the person who was ordered to kill her refused she might have been killed and so on until you reach the leader. The problem is if everyone, or almost everyone, refuses to follow orders like that the crimes will not occur. She was an actor in the crimes and as such she must be brought to justice.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dk

    Kill or be killed.....wasn't that the same line all the Nazi's used? Now, one will never know the truth of that statement. Interesting though, history showed not one single Nazi was ever disciplined for not carrying out death orders.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Following Orders

      really?? were you in Europe observing? stop making claims you pull out of your a$$ – it's idiots like you who throw out conjecture like it has merit and try to revise history...idiot

      August 31, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Keith

    Only because she's a woman. Why is she different from the Nazi's just following orders. And they are hunted like dogs, even today. If she were a man, or she did this to another religion, she'd be done for, but since neither of those are the case, everyone want's to excuse her and feel sorry for her. What a joke.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Following Orders

      agreed

      August 31, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. instentKarma

    Why did CNN turn of user comments on this story then, if the user comments were so "thought-provoking"?

    August 31, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      CNN censors because the power of the media is the power to control the message.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. us1776

    It's for the war crimes court to decide.

    .

    August 31, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. thefungus

    The tolerance for "wrong" actions depends on our environment. She is neither criminal nor victim...just another product of a dysfunctional and socially destructive environment.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Someone asked a good question: "what if you were commanded to kill a loved one or die yourself?"
    That is easy. I would shoot myself instead of my loved one, knowing that the loved one would then be killed by someone else.
    I would not kill someone I loved to save my life.
    However, it does not follow that I should love every stranger in the world enough to commit suicide to save a stranger's life.
    Now I know that somebody may say, "Jesus did that."
    Well, being God and omniscient, Jesus knew everything about every one of us, and loved us one and all.
    That goes right along with my thinking.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rick1948

    An easy answer for the headline – WAR CRIMINAL.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pepe Marino

    What horror.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sylvia

    This woman had no excuse for murdering these rebels. She probably enjoyed every minute of her role as executioner. SHE IS A MONSTER AND SHOULD BE EXECUTED.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tom

    A criminal is someone who has broken a law.

    Has this girl broken your law? Then she is a criminal relative to your law.

    If you don't want her to be incriminated by your law, change or clarify your law.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
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