Monday, May 02, 2005

Would you rather be killed once, or killed 40 times?

Fred Schoeneman left a very thoughtful comment on the Pantano case in my blog's comments below, and he has an even-handed post of his own on the affair. I disagree with his conclusions re: Pantano and Coburn, but there's no question that he's trying to throw light, and not heat, on the issue.

There is one point he makes that I do think is simply wrong, though, and it's a common meme that surfaces whenever somebody gets shot multiple times by soldiers or by the police. It's the idea that somehow shooting a dozen or forty or sixty rounds is prima facie, or at least presumptive, evidence of excessive force or brutality. It happened in the New York City case where police officers fired 41 rounds at Amadou Ahmed Diallo, and now it's being raised in the Pantano case.

Even though the legal and moral framework that soldiers and police operate under are very different, they do share one common principle: If you're justified in shooting once, you're justified in shooting as many times as you think it's necessary to end the threat. Shooting two full magazines, or shooting forty one times, is no more right or wrong than firing a single round.

When you shoot someone, you're not shooting to wound, but neither are you "shooting to kill." What you are doing is shooting to end your opponent's capability to take action - whether he lives or dies is irrelevant. If you shoot someone, you accept that the outcome will likely include their death - that's why they call it deadly force - but the outcome you want is their immediate and total incapacitation. Whether your opponent dies thirty seconds or six hours or two weeks later is meaningless if he gets the chance to return fire, or detonate the IED, and kills you or one of your comrades. On the other hand, it doesn't matter if he survives and recovers, either, as long as he's rendered incapable of action then and there.

There are a number of physiological and psychological reasons that it may take numerous rounds to incapacitate an opponent, or at least to be sure that he is incapacitated. There are examples of people taking many rounds before being "shut off" - that's especially possible in the case of drugs or, I suspect, religious fervor. In addition, an individual being shot will likely flail around, reacting to the impact, and under conditions of stress, it's difficult to distinguish that from purposeful action. Combat shooting isn't like the Sprint commercial where the guy takes a few steps between asking "Can you hear me now?" "Is he down yet?" is an immediate, binary, yes or no, black or white, question. You don't take a few shots, pause to see what's going on, and then take a few more shots - you shoot 'til the shooting's done, unless a higher priority threat comes into your sector.

Also, firing a large number of rounds in an encounter is made much more likely given the technology and training in use today. For example, the M-16 family of rifles (except for the asinine M-16A2) is capable of firing thirty rounds very quickly with a single trigger pull (that's not usually the preferred technique, mind you, but I won't second guess Pantano on that decison either.) Also, I've seen some comments that suggest that, since Pantano "took the time"to change magazines, he had time to deliberate before resuming fire. That's nonsense, too. To a well-trained, well-drilled combat marksman, changing a magazine when the gun runs dry is just as automatic and reflexive an action as aligning the sights and squeezing the trigger.

Too, the choice of round for the US military's rifle exacerbates the need to fire a large number of rounds to incapacitate an enemy. I've heard several explanations for the choice of 5.56mm NATO (Remington .223 - think a .22LR on steroids): one is that a lighter round means that more rounds can be carried for the same weight. Another is that the round is meant to wound instead of kill - the theory being a wounded man ties up more enemy troops to care for him than a dead man does. Whatever the reason, the standard military rifle round is not a decisively instantaneous man-stopper. (Hell, as I've indicated in some past posts, it's not even a reliable dog-stopper.) You simply cannot depend on one or two rounds of .223 ball delivered center mass to incapacitate an opponent. And remember, that's the name of the game - you don't want him to die later, you want him to stop trying to kill you now.

In short, while it's possible to disagree on whether 1LT Pantano was justified, how many times he shot has nothing to do with it. I will be disgusted and infuriated if that is raised as an issue by the prosecutors.

(Parenthetical Footnote: We do have more reliable rounds we could choose from, by the way: 7.62mm NATO (the tried and true .308 Winchester round) and of course, the .30-'06), both of which have proven themselves in combat; but the .30-'06 isn't used by the Army anymore, and the .308 is only used in machine guns and sniper rifles.)


Blogger Petro said...

The M16A1 was full auto, the A1 refered to the "forward assist" knob on the right side that was used to force the bolt home against the carbon and other grit.

The M16A2 was the one with the "3 round burst" (or more accurately the up to three round burst).

1:43 AM  
Blogger Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

You're right - I should re-read these things after I post them.

Corrected in the main copy and thanks.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

"Keane (the prosecutor) said: "We know the accused shot these people 50 or 60 times. We know he shot them so many times because he intended to send a message."
(HT: Blackfive)

Let the disgust and infuriation begin, eh?

I guess this Marine JAG is a lawyer first, and a Marine second...if he is even a Marine.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Snake Eater said...

In addition to all of the above, I've heard that it's not uncommon for people to "freeze" on the trigger in stressful situations (in other words, virtually any time that you feel the need to shoot). As I recall, it takes an M-16 (or M-4) all of 2.5 seconds to empty a magazine on full auto. I can certainly see him freezing on the trigger then slapping in a second magazine to ensure that he gets to see his family at Christmas.

3:16 AM  
Blogger gonorr said...

nice to hear a voice of reason explaining these things, ie shoot to stop the immediate threat.
True enough about the 5.56 round also.
I feel however, that the voice of reason won't be heard in the trial, which is a damn shame.

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Fred Schoeneman said...

Good points, all of them. In partial rebuttul, though, I'll offer these:

1) The two alleged terrorists had been flex cuffed and, presumably, searched by Pantano and Coburn and the medic dude. Therefore I doubt Pantano still believed they had a weapon. Consequently, I don't think the comparison to those New York police officers is apt. But even if it is apt, I think it's a good thing those officers were tried (and acquitted) in court. trials keeps the conspiracy theories down and show that our police aren't above the law. And the same goes for Pantano and the Marines. There's definitely enough here to go to court martial, where a panel of officers with all the evidence should be able to make a fair decision.

2) Unless I'm mistaken, the prosecuter said that the two bodies had been shot 50-60 times, not that Pantano simply fired 50-60 times. It's an important distinction. If there were two magazines of 30 rounds apiece, and both magazines were emptied with each round finding a human target, that would argue Pantano was firing single, aimed rounds (at least 85% accuracy). From my own experience with the CAR-15, it would have been difficult to put more than a few rounds onto a man-sized target when firing on full automatic. I wouldn't say that I'm an amazing shot, but I did shoot expert every time I had to qualify. I also remember reading that at least some of those rounds were in the back, though am not sure where.

3) I'm not arguing that Pantano should have shot to wound or anything like that. That's asinine, you're right. But in the Fallujah video, where that one Marine killed that wounded "insurgent," he only needed one round. Actually, seeing that video made me all warm inside. Anyways, when I was at 2/75 (17 months) we were taught to use a double-tap to ensure a kill, not to empty our magazines.

Anyways, like I said: I think there's enough here for a court martial. I hope Pantano's not guilty. And I doubt any of those officers who'll be deciding his fate give a shit about our opinions one way or the other, so in the off-chance, infinitesimally small, that Pantano is found guilty, I hope Coburn's reputation isn't destroyed. Because this country needs it's warriors, yes; but sometimes it also needs whistle blowers.

So let's be fair to both.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Big D said...

I can't speak to most of the piece; however, I can at least hazard a guess as to why reloading is perceived as a sign of malice.

In far too many shows and movies, characters on both sides blaze away with little regard for ammo conservation. Only *after* the active part of the engagement is over do they discover they are low/out. I've seen quite a few instances from Hollywood where bad guys then slowly reload in plain sight of the wounded victim, march up, and riddle them with bullets at close range. I think this mis-identification between reloading and deliberate targeting of the already incapacitated is probably affecting public perception.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

I don't know that the weapon was on full auto, but it seems extremely unlikely that one man could empty two mags worth on semi in the time that the descriptions I've read indicate the incident took. If he had been taking slow aimed shots, either somebody in his unit would have said something to him or somebody would have joined in. I'd agree that if it comes out he was on semi, it changes the tenor of things a bit.

Also agreed that the preferred method would be to stay on semi and double or triple tap in most cases - but I don't think I'm in a position to second-guess his tactical decision.

But, to your other points: in an environment where the major threat is an suicide bomber with an IED - which can be detonated by the push of a button or the flip of a switch - it doesn't matter if somebody is flex-cuffed or not. Maybe the two Iraquis were just trying to get away; but the real possibility exists that they were moving to recover a detonator - if they weren't under positive control, they were a legitimate threat.

I'd say that, in this case, the TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) the insurgents employ, ended up getting those two guys shot. By employing suicide bombing as a tactic, they've made it impossible to trust their surrenders, so, absent having them by the neck, they're legitimate targets.

And, as for some of the shots impacting in the back - that's typical in multiple impact shooting cases. As the rounds strike, the natural reaction of the target is to turn and twist in response, which often puts their back to the shooter. And keep in mind that the shooter's OODA cycle is going to be lengthened by the stress of a deadly close quarters encounter. It's not uncommon for several rounds to impact the back before the shooter recognizes the threat is going down, even in police shootings with semiautomatic weapons. On full auto, you can empty a 30 round magazine in 2-3 seconds, so the likelyhood of rounds hitting the target's back is increased.

Neither point - the flex cuffs or the shot placement - says anything about whether it was a good shooting. Like the number of shots, they're illegitimate distractors the prosecutor is using to try to buttress what looks like a very weak case.

But I'll agree to reserve judgment on Coburn until the conclusion of the proceedings - but if it turns out that -as seems likely from what's come out so far - he's not acting in good faith, he should really get it in the shorts.

And I'm really much more annoyed with the Marines than Coburn over this one, especially since it's come out that the prosecutor has trotted out the multiple shots thing in his presentation. Bottom line is, if Pantano was justified in shooting one time, he was justified in emptying a double basic load, if that's what it took to resolve the threat.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

I’m hesitant to jump in here, because I’m sure that a civilian viewpoint is of limited interest to all of you. But I’ll throw in my opinion for what it’s worth.

I have a lot of appreciation for those in society who take up the difficult tasks, like policing and soldiering. I have very little inclination to second-guess them when they are in the heat of battle and under pressures that most people will never know. But...soldiers can’t be immune from judgment. We all have to be responsible for our actions and decisions, and people who carry guns have to be trusted to use them judiciously. I thought that was the whole purpose of having a separate military justice system, so soldiers too can be judged by their peers. I’d trust the chain of command, which presumably does have a better understanding of conditions in the field than the average civilian has, to make the decision about what is excessive.

What bothers me more than what this Marine did, or the Marine in Fallujah, is the action taken by the Army Captain. The two Marines were reacting to ongoing and dangerous situations. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Army Captain. I can hardly bear to think that Americans execute prisoners in cold blood. If the prisoner was in terrible pain, morphine would have been a better solution than a bullet in the head.

3:39 PM  
Blogger KeithM, Indy said...

As a civilian with some firearms training, I can tell you the instructor I had told us the same thing, keep shooting until the threat is eliminated. Probably helped that he was also a trainer with the Indiana State Police.

It could be one shot, it could be several magazines, but if you are truly in fear of your life, a justified shooting is the same whether 1 or 30 shots are fired. Now, a prosecutor could bring that up, but a good defense attorney can handle that.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Fred Schoeneman said...


Like I said, I hope Pantano is acquitted. And he should be, if there's any reasonable doubt. And thanks for keeping an open mind on Coburn; I'm sure you've seen guys get the shit end of the stick in situations like his before.

As long as we trust the court martial to do the right job, or at least not to be affected in its decision by public opinion, then what we're doing in the blogosphere isn't going to be helpful to anyone. If Pantano is acquitted, we will have helped create a cloud over his name. And if Coburn isn't lying, then we've done the same to him.

What would Aaron Bank do?


7:01 PM  
Blogger Synova said...

In my mind, fewer shots would indicate a deliberate killing.

Anyway... on a tangent...

My husband and I were watching (flipping) a show about police officers being hit by motorists while doing traffic stops. (They had film from the squad cars of it happening... ow ow ow.) and one segment the cop asks the lady to stand away from her car, off to the side, away from the road. She moves back over and leans on the car. He comes from checking her license and says, "Please move away from the car, I don't want you getting hurt if it gets hit, so stand over there." She moves over and not two seconds later a van strikes her car, totalling it, and shoving it over where she had just been standing, spraying car parts all over the place.

Then the cop, before the wrecked cars even settled, said, in a completely unemotional voice, "See, that's what I was talking about."

Obviously, the cop didn't plan on the car getting hit, but after the fact and (had to be!) in shock he supresses his reaction and what comes out of his mouth is this reflexive total inanity of pointing out the lesson learned. (The people in the car were belted and uninjured, but he didn't know that yet.)

For whatever it's worth and however you want to apply it. People in sudden and stressful events don't always react the way that a person would consider logical so using logic to reconstruct motive doesn't always work.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Major Mike said...

This is what I like about most blogs, sane, rational discussion on complex issues...nice job.

Now my two cents. Background...I have been removed from two GCMs, after voir dire, because the perception was that I would be too harsh. I have held out for brig time in a case were no other officer thought any was initially called for. So, I can be pretty harsh.

Here goes...It is impossible for me to visualize a college educated officer emptying an entire magazine, possibly two, into an enemy likely out of the fight...regardless of if they were bound, wounded, whatever. This action is demonstrative of a loss of control, and it must be dealt with. What will keep this officer from overreacting in other circumstances where there is no enemy involved and only his men? Any assurances that he will remain cognitive and in control? None. On the mental stability level alone, he needed to be removed from the battlefield.

If this case made it past the Article 32, then the Marine Corps is obligated to bring this to Courts Martial. Once in court, then the proof should carry the day.

This is where I hope the Marine Corps carries the day...regardless of the verdict. I hope they did not give into those who prejudged the Lt guilty and followed through for political reasons. On the other hand, I hope they can stand by the outcome and the evidence, quilty or innocent. If found innocent, the evidence must support it...if the institution is perceived to be taking care of one of its own, then the Corps will suffer.

Bottom line...I have no problem with this being in court, and I don't care about prosecution or defense tactics, as long as the Corps can say that justice was served, not political expediency or commradeship.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Fred Schoeneman said...


You wrote: "What bothers me more than what this Marine did, or the Marine in Fallujah, is the action taken by the Army Captain. The two Marines were reacting to ongoing and dangerous situations. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Army Captain. I can hardly bear to think that Americans execute prisoners in cold blood. If the prisoner was in terrible pain, morphine would have been a better solution than a bullet in the head."

That Army Captain (Captain Maynulet?) seems to me like he was just doing what he saw as the decent thing, a mercy killing. In his situation, I probably wouldn't have done the same thing, but that's not because I'm a better man, it's because sometimes I'm a coward. I might not have even cared about the dying man's pain; I might have just stood there like an idiot, in shock, with my thumb up my ass. If I did think about the guy's pain, I might have thought to hunt down some morphine from one of the medics -- if they had it -- But secretly, I'd probably just be hoping the guy would hurry up and die, so I could avoid responsibility and not be confronted with him bleeding all over the place.

So respectfully, I'm going to disagree. Captain Manulet is a good man, and the Army is worse off without him.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think some clarification is in order.

In the two accounts that I have read of this event, both accounts stated that the two Iraqis had been flex-cuffed and cursorily searched by the medic. The car was also given a cursory search. Then Lt. P. ordered that the two men be uncuffed and that they were to begin dismantling the interior of the car so that the LT could satisfy his suspicion that they might be hiding something in the seats or door panels. The other two Marines were facing outward providing perimeter security at the time of the shooting. LT P. did not shoot two men who were flex-cuffed.

For what it's worth.


7:34 PM  
Blogger KeithM, Indy said...

The point really has to be made that the "eyewitness" didn't see what happened, and even states so.

He had his back turned, and so could not have seen what initiated the incident.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

60 rounds fired by one man is easy to believe, if he had the full-auto version rather than the 3 round burst version of the M16. 40+ rounds hitting the target is much harder to believe. As I understand it, the reason for the 3-round burst is because most men can't keep the muzzle pointed at the target for much longer than that. (But what do I know - I was an Air Force repair tech, and I never got to move the select lever past single-shot.)

So if Lt P kept the gun on the enemy for long enough to put 20 out of 30 full auto rounds on target, changed magazines, and did it again, he's a hell of a soldier. If he fired 14 or more 3 round bursts, either those bastards were incredibly tough to keep moving after the first 39 shots went in, or the Lt got somewhat overexcited. I can see shooting them until you are darned sure they won't move, and I wouldn't say a thing about a private who used one magazine more than necessary. I'd hope an officer was more level-headed. But I suspect this was the first time facing a live enemy for all of them...


9:41 PM  
Anonymous VERN said...


1:28 PM  

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