Over at the Weekly Standard, Michael Goldfarb continues to do yeoman’s work tracking down that very suspicious looking New Republic story from "Scott Thomas", a man purporting to be a soldier in Baghdad. Goldfarb’s doing such a good job, if he keeps it up through the day I may consider having him on as a guest this evening when I’m pinch-hitting for Hugh
The New Republic dispatch from the pseudonymous soldier related several horrific tales, all of which seemed too horrifically perfect to check or corroborate:
Goldfarb reports: "The first episode puts 'Thomas’s' unit at a 'chow hall' at an unnamed base. A woman eating there is wearing 'an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor.' The woman's face is described as having been 'more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head,' by an IED. She sits down for lunch next to the men. Here's how 'Thomas' describes what happens next:"
We were already halfway through our meals when she arrived. After a minute or two of eating in silence, one of my friends stabbed his spoon violently into his pile of mashed potatoes and left it there.
“Man, I can’t eat like this,” he said.
“Like what?” I said. “Chow hall food getting to you?”
“No—with that f**king freak behind us!” he exclaimed, loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables. I looked over at the woman, and she was intently staring into each forkful of food before it entered her half-melted mouth.
“Are you kidding? I think she’s f**king hot!” I blurted out.
“What?” said my friend, half-smiling.
“Yeah man,” I continued. “I love chicks that have been intimate—with IEDs. It really turns me on—melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses . . . .”
“You’re crazy, man!” my friend said, doubling over with laughter. I took it as my cue to continue.
“In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? ‘IED Babes.’ We could have them pose in thongs and bikinis on top of the hoods of their blown-up vehicles.”
My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground…
Goldfarb again: The next episode is every bit as shocking. Indeed, the behavior it describes is a clear violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The author claims that his unit stumbled across a mass grave filled with the remains of Iraqi children, and, rather than report the find, chose to desecrate the corpses:
"About six months into our deployment, we were assigned a new area to patrol, southwest of Baghdad. We spent a few weeks constructing a combat outpost, and, in the process, we did a lot of digging. At first, we found only household objects like silverware and cups. Then we dug deeper and found children’s clothes: sandals, sweatpants, sweaters. Like a strange archeological dig of the recent past, the deeper we went, the more personal the objects we discovered. And, eventually, we reached the bones. All children’s bones: tiny cracked tibias and shoulder blades. We found pieces of hands and fingers. We found skull fragments. No one cared to speculate what, exactly, had happened here, but it was clearly a Saddam-era dumping ground of some sort.
"One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.
"The private wore the skull for the rest of the day and night. Even on a mission, he put his helmet over the skull. He observed that he was grateful his hair had just been cut—since it would make it easier to pick out the pieces of rotting flesh that were digging into his head."
The third episode?
"I know another private who really only enjoyed driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles because it gave him the opportunity to run things over. He took out curbs, concrete barriers, corners of buildings, stands in the market, and his favorite target: dogs. Occasionally, the brave ones would chase the Bradleys, barking at them like they bark at trash trucks in America—providing him with the perfect opportunity to suddenly swerve and catch a leg or a tail in the vehicle’s tracks. He kept a tally of his kills in a little green notebook that sat on the dashboard of the driver’s hatch.
"One particular day, he killed three dogs. He slowed the Bradley down to lure the first kill in, and, as the diesel engine grew quieter, the dog walked close enough for him to jerk the machine hard to the right and snag its leg under the tracks. The leg caught, and he dragged the dog for a little while, until it disengaged and lay twitching in the road. A roar of laughter broke out over the radio. Another notch for the book.
"The second kill was a straight shot: A dog that was lying in the street and bathing in the sun didn’t have enough time to get up and run away from the speeding Bradley. Its front half was completely severed from its rear, which was twitching wildly, and its head was still raised and smiling at the sun as if nothing had happened at all."
Aside from the manifest implausibilities in these accounts, the story seems a little too perfectly calculated to tug at our hearts and provoke outrage. Note that the victims are women, the disabled, children and house pets. Perfect. Or certainly too perfect to fact check. And given the fact that the soldier/author needs anonymity to tell his tales out of school, fact checking would be impossible anyway.
PERSONALLY, I FIND THIS TO BE ONE OF THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS incidents of the war. I’ve spent much of the past couple of weeks speaking to men who have served in Iraq to prepare a piece for the next issue of the Weekly Standard about what I call the Next Greatest Generation. These are amazing men, doing amazing things. The TNR piece has maligned every individual who is serving our country in Iraq, including all the men I’ve spoken with.
So what exactly happened here? There are three possibilities, and none of them paint TNR in a flattering light:
a) The soldier is not a soldier at all, and made up stories out of whole cloth.
b) The soldier is a soldier, but made up stories or embellished them to such an extent that they ultimately bore only a passing resemblance to reality.
c) The soldier is a soldier, and what he said is completely true.
Let’s start with the last one. Even if everything happened exactly as TNR’s pseudonymous scribe relayed it, running a story like this one is astonishingly unfair. The story’s publication, without rebuttal, redress, comment or any attempt to put into context of the tens of thousands of soldiers who are serving their country honorably is unconscionable. The obvious desired effect of the article is to paint our soldiers as a roving band of sociopaths and lunatics. It remains an oddity that despite how much the media and the press support the troops, they still revel in stories like this one and rush to print them.
The other two possibilities are close enough together that I’ll take them on as a package. Given TNR’s responsibility to protect its brave truth-teller’s identity, we can safely posit that at the very least the stories ran uncorroborated. According to every letter that I’ve received from either active duty or retired military personnel, there are numerous incidents in the piece such as improper diction and basic unfamiliarity with Army protocol and equipment that give the author away as a fabulist. (For much more on this, check out Goldfarb’s post at the Daily Standard.)
SO WHY DOES THIS MATTER? It’s a common trope on the left that they support the troops. Those of us who have read the leftwing blogs and the New York Times editorial page the last four years have found it impossible not to get the sense that even though they purportedly support the troops, they sure do seem to relish every setback the troops incur. Some members of the American left have conjoined every car bomb and every casualty with a tiresome political agenda.
With this piece, you have one of the most respected bastions of liberal opinion bending journalistic rules to publish a story that paints our soldiers as sadistic sociopaths. If TNR had run the story by a single person familiar with the military situation in Iraq prior to publication, that person would have called into question their correspondent’s reporting. And yet a story like this one was apparently too delicious to subject to any intellectual or factual scrutiny.
For what it’s worth, I sent an email to The New Republic’s online editor last night asking what TNR had by way of corroboration for its story. I’ve gotten no response. I’ve also invited The New Republic’s editor-in-chief, Franklin Foer, to come on the show tonight and defend his magazine’s publication of the story. I’ll keep you apprised.
During Vietnam, the left famously turned on the military. With the military still determined to fight even though the left wants to see “our children” come home, is a sequel to that sorry drama perhaps in production?
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