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. worldshift

    If I were in her shoes first I would have thought shoot myself instead of them. Then someone else would be the executioner and I would be dead. Instead, I would keep myself alive so this story could be told and the world could know what this regime did. Now in the hospital if I was her I would accept whatever happens to me. If I was put on trial I would accept it. If I was given my freedom I would be forever grateful and serve people the rest of my life. These atrocities are often unknown because of no survivors willing to tell the truth. The story here is bigger than this one girl.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frostiken

      Worse things are done in Africa, where children are used who don't even understand the value of a human life. This is an adult woman. This story didn't need to be told, it only is told because she allegedly let it be told, with the blood of 11 men being used as the ink.

      She deserves to hang, no less.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaN

      She should be held accountable or no one should ever be held accountable. There was a group of people who followed a lot of illegal orders and they were call Nazi's.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • worldshift

      If she is sentenced to hang she should go peacefully and accept it. It is what it is.

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

    Of course she should be punished, I mean- after the good ole US decides we have t oget involved and fly 17,000 sorties. (yes folks that's right 17,000 missions to drop bombs, on a country having a civil war that has nothing to do with us). How many, innocent people did the bombs from our 17000 sorties kill? oh we won't talk about that right?- we only do things for good motives. Now that the damage is done, our next gig is to, play judge on all the people who didn't behave under our 17000 sorties. I tell you, sometimes not easy to be proud to be american.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Your Name Here

      Then move to anywhere else and be proud there!

      August 31, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Merkin

      Uhh 17000 sorties is what NATO flew as a whole. And, FYI, not all 17000 were COMBAT sorties – most are in fact support. Heck, a strike sortie doesn't even mean a bomb was dropped – it just means people went out there either looking for targets or scouting for targets. Actual bombs dropped are far less.

      Sorry, I know facts can be inconvenient to your biases

      August 31, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kai

    I find it absolutely absurd how many hypocrites walk amongst us. War brings out the very worst in people, we throw morality out the window and fear is the weapon of the government. When you don't know if you'll live to see another day, when you don't know if your actions could very well lead to your death. At the end of the day, we don't know what will happen when we die...so we do whatever we can to preserve our lives. If Gadahfi had won this war, and this woman defied his orders...realistically, where would she be? THIS is precisely how Hitler controlled Germany, through fear...the people who say, "this poor woman should be freed." see this. Germans were told if they harbor Jews, they'll be killed. Whose life is more important? Yours or someone elses? The many instruments of hitler to manipulate and control his people is no different than this. Maybe we should look back at how we judge people...fear is a far greater weapon than any of us can possibly imagine. The difference between right and wrong doesn't matter, we're all irrelevant...if she hadn't acted out this horrendous act somebody else would have, or one of the soldiers would have.

    Fear. Have someone put a gun to your head and see what you'll do.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frostiken

      "Germans were told if they harbor Jews, they'll be killed."

      That didn't stop countless people from putting their lives, their livelihoods, and the safety for their families at risk to hide or help the Jews escape.

      A great number of people would chose to die on their feet than to live on their knees. I made that decision myself once and am prepared to do it again. That you are even supposing it is impossible for people to think otherwise simply shows how weak of moral integrity you are. Do not put us on your level, we are all not like you.

      It isn't simply that eleven people died who were going to die anyway – it's that this woman decided that her life – even stained with the blood of eleven countrymen who were fighting for a better future – was still worth more than theirs.

      It doesn't matter if she or they would've died anyway – what matters is that she is the one who took their lives, not someone else. She chose to live as a coward and a murderer.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ryan

    Actually, we have an answer to this question. We established it back in the Nuremberg trials. As a soldier, you are expected to disobey an illegal or immoral order, which most certainly includes orders in violation of the laws of war. There are multiple international accords, such as the Geneva Conventions, and the Law of Land Warfare, that dictate how wars are fought. Now clearly Gadhafi and his units do not adhere to those, but the international courts can and certainly do hold a soldier accountable for their actions in violation of those accords.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Frostiken

    Test – Why won't my post show :/

    August 31, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. searchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    The most fundamental flaw here is the question as it was posed...assume everything she claims is true – it simply means she is both a victim and a war criminal. Jeffery Dahmer was both a murderer and a victim of murder. The fundamental question is really not anything to do with whether killing another human being is murder or not...its always murder. The real question that these arguments arise from is based entirely on people's personal feelings about if they find murder justifiable or not.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. outawork

    The "I was just follows orders" defense didn't work a Nuremberg and hopefully it work here either.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ComedyBoot

    Should she be punished? If her accounts are true, and it was an order to kill or be killed, in addition to having your family killed – what choice did she have? At 19, she has a very long life ahead of her, full of sleepless nights in which she will no doubt remember the faces of the innocent men/women she killed. No matter what the direction or threat was, she'll likely never get past the memory of having been the one to pull the trigger. She'll be dead inside in the next few years regardless.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Frostiken

    If I pointed a gun at a Royal Marine and ordered him to start gunning down unarmed English civilians, would he comply? He wouldn't.

    If I pointed a gun at a constable and told him the same thing, would he? He wouldn't.

    If I then did it to random people on the street, would they comply? A great many wouldn't.

    The reason for this is because the sense of moral righteousness and integrity that police and soldiers have isn't because they swore some silly oath or because they were brainwashed – that sense of morality is something that they've always had, you're born with it and you develop it. It's having faith in your convictions, and it means being able to mentally prepare yourself to set up a moral barricade that you will not cross.

    Many of you saying that none of us could decide unless we were in that situation are clearly of weak moral conviction, do not try to put those of us who have chosen to put others ahead of ourselves into the same shallow pool of failure that is your own life. You may be weak, but do not try to pad your own self-realization of total lack of integrity by assuming everybody is as pathetic as you are.

    Eleven times this woman decided that her life was worth more than someone else's. It doesn't matter if the men would've died anyway, or if she was threatened with death. She was an adult human who understood morality and the value of human life.The ends do NOT justify the means.

    She deserves a trial as a war criminal, the same that was offered to the Nazis.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael L

    I agree with Ryan and others that the "I was just following orders" defense cannot be a sole reason for killing others. If that were the case every Nazi war criminal would have been set free (all those below the officer ranks anyway). She does deserve a trial. Whether or not the rebels give her a fair trial or not is left to be seen. Remember, the victors write the history books and they also decide the fate of the losers.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jim

    as written previoiusly, she is an adult, if she cared she should have faced death rather than kill the innocent, she is no better than Germany's Gestapo, prison guards who executed the Jews for the fun of it. Truth is she is a war criminal, forget about he being so young, I cannot stand stupid liberals who feel sorry for her, ok, how would they feel it it were theri brother, or father etc whom she executed?

    August 31, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Frostiken

    What I find even more ridiculous is that she's a Muslim. Faith is extremely important in that part of the world.

    As I have said, I have put my life on the line for others before the barrel of a gun, and would do it again. I can safely answer the question that if I were in her situation, I would refuse and accept that if I died, I would die with honor. The irony is that I'm a god-hating atheist – the people who Christian extremists accuse of having 'no morals'.

    Anyway, she is a Muslim, and faith is even more important in that part of the world than in the United States, and I would imagine given the Quran's stance on murder and faith in an afterlife of Paradise, she should be more willing to die than me.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Darlene Buckingham

    I wonder how she killed them with the first shot if she wasn't looking at them according to CNN reporting. This whole story smells fishy to me. The real story here is going to be hard to find out. Truth is the first victim of war. PEace to ALL.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frostiken

      Whoever said she killed them with one shot? She said she would close her eyes and shoot. Seeing as how it was an AK-47, I'm guessing that means a full-auto spray with a weapon she was trained to use, and they were probably only about ten metres away.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Matt

    simple case of kill or be killed.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frostiken

      Remember that if someone breaks into your house and is endangering you and your family – that the police shouldn't endanger their own lives to help you.

      Sorry we're not all cesspools of morality like you are.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ldean

    I truly don't believe this is OUR call. I believe it is for the citizens of Libya to decide.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
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