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. Victimsadvo

    If she was put in a kill or be killed position, she had no real choice. Only she and those around her that gave the orders and others that were in her position will really know how culpable she is in the death of these men. Eyewitness accounts of individual cruelty are what convicted many guards and nazi soldiers after WWII.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      This is murder under duress, and if you do a google search you'll find that it's not a new topic. You always have a choice. The choice was to kill, or face the likely consequence that she would be killed. She wasn't under the influence of drugs or mind control. You may think that someone with perfect moral character would choose to die in the face of that decision rather than kill someone else to save themselves. It may not be the smart choice, but I think it's the moral choice. In legal systems, they often acknowledge instances murder under duress by excusing the person, but they certainly do not justify it.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • SAB

      I read news all the time over last so many years but this was the first time I had tears in my eyes while reading this news. I can't believe what she was put through at this young age. Even if she gets punished for this `so called' war crime, I don't think that punishment could be more severe than what she has already gone through. May God bless this little girl (Amen).

      August 31, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BOB

    She is a murderer just like that Mexican-american kid who killed 14 people for the drug cartels.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • rickygf

      She acted for her country, some drug cartel

      August 31, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Schoolgirl

      One needs only see what happened when she did disobey (beating and burning with boiling water) to confirm that this was kill or be killed.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linanunez

      I live in Colombia, and its sad to see that kids are lured into doing such violent acts but it's happening everywhere. These kids are in utter poverty, and if someone, whether it be a dictator or a drug cartel member, goes up to these kids offering them a life of luxury and gives them millions of (pesos) to committ a violect act, they'll most likely accept it and do it. It's a sad reality, and it simply just sucks that there are kids in the world who has nothing more in life than to be a part of violence.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Darkstarr

    I see avery distinct difference between the desired treatment of this young woman who actually killed some prisoners but the 19 year old kid who was forced by the Nazis to guard (not kill) prisoners is classed as a war criminal, deported and usually sentenced to jail.

    Is it because she is a she or is it the political correct view that you cannot say anything that could even remotely be seen as negative to the muslim people of Libya.. Seems a bit of a double standard here.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • sgarner

      I agree with what you said. If this story was about a 19 year old german youth who did this during ww2, i doubt there would be nearly as much compassion.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RYS

    19-YEARS-OLD IS A TEEN?

    August 31, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • rickygf

      Yes it is a teen,I was a teen,I wish it all didn't happen, but it did, I haven't slept good since

      August 31, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      hence the nine-teen......moron.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rickygf

    I was 19 when I went to Viet Nam, I did what I was told, There wasn't the fanatics she had to deal with, cut her some slack

    August 31, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. leeintulsa

    @taskmaster: that's because the winners are busy writing history books.

    Hopefully, we can at least, with international support, finally get that asterisk next to W's name.. If nothing else..

    Is cheating on your wife really worse than directly causing hundreds of thousands of deaths? All over the world?

    August 31, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Lane

    I think she cannot be held responsible for her action, unless it can be shown that she had an opportunity to escape and/or help the prisoners to escape, and did not use that opportunity. By the same token anyone who is following orders with a gun to their head, or similar compulsion, cannot be held responsible (by human beings) for their actions unless it can be shown they had an opportunity to escape. However, their actions will be judged by God for better or for worse.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Pkelly

    Really?!!!! Our 18 year old servicemen and women are afraid of being prosecuted by our own JAG CORPS for defending themselves and you are having this conversation? Try supporting your own troops before a foreign murderer, by the way she lived pretty good prior to the uprising, where was her conscience then?

    August 31, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hez316

    Maybe Patty Hearst wasn't guilty?

    August 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jazzzzzzzz

    Omg, Looking back on the Patty Hearst deal, It could very well be that she was weak, coming from a rich afluant family and all... So maybe the worst thing she was guilty of was lack of (strong will)

    August 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Saltyflats

    So why do we arrest 90yr old NAZI soldiers?

    August 31, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Trina

    How many of the soldier's stories will be the same: kill or be killed? Are they all to be treated as victims? Do we look the other way for all them? They were ALL just following orders from Gadhafi, after all.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Will

    The rebels have also executed lots of innocent Gaddafi's supporters as well, it's the war and both sides are losing lives. 50,000 civilians died from this war..mostly got killed by the NATO bombs, so basically NATO, The rebels and Gaddafi are all war crimes.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Amanda 14

    What is the difference between this happening and the gards at the prison camps for Hitler? They had to be gards and kill people or be killed and theirr families, too.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. shanna

    people are horrible however, LIBYA IS NONE OF OUR AMERICAN BUSINESS AND NEITHER IS NATO!

    August 31, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
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