The killing of a wounded, unarmed Iraqi by a U.S. Marine in Fallujah raises more than the obvious issue of whether it was justifiable ["Marines Probe Apparent Slaying of Wounded Iraqi," news story, Nov. 16]. The Marines who entered the mosque found insurgents who had been badly wounded the day before and had been left behind by other Marines after only cursory medical treatment.

Why are our soldiers leaving behind combatants who have been disarmed and will die without evacuation to field hospitals? This is Fallujah, an Iraqi city surrounded by our troops, not the march across Europe in World War II, when troops had to move fast and far and could not always send wounded enemy soldiers back for treatment. I fear this may be another example of the coarsening of our humanitarian values.

A second issue is whether NBC News should have rushed to release the video footage before the shooting was thoroughly investigated. As in the case of the photos of guards at Abu Ghraib prison, the damage to our country's image abroad and to U.S.-Iraqi and U.S.-Arab relations is large and lasting. In both cases, the pictures help breed the terrorists of tomorrow. Those in control of the video should have first shared it with U.S. commanders and asked for an examination of the facts. This was not responsible journalism.

CHARLES S. THOMAS

Arlington

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I am increasingly concerned about what we are seeing out of Iraq, even more so after the shooting of a wounded Iraqi by a Marine, caught on tape by a freelance correspondent for NBC News.

I was a Marine in the Persian Gulf War, and I saw a lot of horrible things done to civilians during Operation Desert Storm. But we accorded the Iraqi military every courtesy we could under the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war.

What I worry about now is the expectation that these terrorists and criminals in Iraq should be accorded the same courtesies as soldiers in the military. They are not military.

The Marines are not Boy Scouts, and they are not politicians; they are ordered to do terrible things all over the world. People pretend these things don't happen until they are forced to see for themselves. Then they complain. There is an old saying: "Freedom for those who fought for it has a flavor the protected will never know."

I am proud to be a former Marine and an American. Marines must be free to make the split-second choices that are necessary if they are going to come home again. The footage shot by news cameras should be screened, not to prevent all coverage, but because not all the damage done by terrorists is done with guns.

GARY F. DEJARLAIS

Tacoma, Wash.