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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Tale of Two Stories

The Blogosphere is abuzz over the New Republic’s story “Shock Troops” which depicts American soldiers committing various atrocities (and just atrocious behavior) in Iraq including

  • soldiers in a forward operating base mess hall openly mocking a female (soldier or contractor) who was disfigured by an IED
  • desecrating human remains found in a mass grave including wearing part of a human skull like a crown
  • a driver of an IFV who would go out of his way to use the armored vehicle as a monster truck to run over walls, markets stalls, and dogs lying in the street.

The net result of the article is to make American troops in Iraq look like Tamerlane or Genghis Khan, reminiscent of John Kerry’s Winter Soldiers testimony.

A second story was posted a few weeks ago by Web journalist Michael Yon who accompanied American and Iraqi troops as reoccupied a village abandoned by Al Queda. The village was deserted, though the streets were strewn with livestock and farm animals that were killed, presumably, by Al Queda, before it evacuated. Later soldiers found a mass grave containing women and children in a nearby palm grove and by the end of the day, at least ½ dozen bodies were uncovered with more digging to be done.

What makes Yon’s story interesting is the fact that the media, who were busily covering the battle in nearby Buqubah, hardly picked up the story of how Al Queda devastated a local village in a cold-blooded and barbarous fashion.

Now for my 2 points.

First, the story of American atrocities and atrocious behavior is attributed to an American soldier whose identity is shielded by the New Republic. Despite this anonymous sourcing, the story is picked up and printed in a highly respected magazine. Yon’s story of the Al Queda village massacre is documented by pictures and on-site reporting and yet went largely unreported.

Second, when Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard smelled a rat in the New Republic story he posted a plea on the Web for commentary by those of military experience. What flooded in was a list of people who either served at the forward operating base in question over the past 18 months, were expert IFV drivers, or had experience as senior NCO within combat units.

While they said depraved behavior was not unknown in the military, these commentators pointed out that:

  • of those who served at that base, they had never seen a woman who fit the description in the article.
  • As to the soldier who wore human remains for an entire day, numerous respondents, Iraq veterans included, were incredulous that somebody could do that without being reprimanded by an officer or senior NCO
  • People with experience driving the Bradley IFV stated that only did the IFV not have the turning capabilities stated in the article but that the driver would not be able to view dogs to his right as he claimed due to his view being obscured by the engine. Also one commentator pointed out that it was highly unlikely that a dog would lie down in the street in the face of a 23-ton armored vehicle

In other words within a few days using public resources, Mr. Goldfarb cast considerable doubt on the New Republic story. You wonder if TNR's editors and fact-checkers exercised similar due diligence.