July 23, 2007
Doubting Thomas: Simple Questions for the New Republic
As time wears on, it seems increasingly unlikely that the writings of the pseudonym-shielded soldier "Scott Thomas" in the New Republic are anything other than works of macabre creative fiction.
"Thomas" has written three "dispatches" for the New Republic thus far, but once the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb began questioning the veracity of claims made in Thomas' third story, experienced military veterans and observers in the blogosphere who read the account began to doubt that these claims took place.
In his third dispatch, Thomas claimed that he and another soldier openly, verbally assaulted the appearance of a severely burned woman who had survived a prior attack by an improvised explosive device, or IED. The alleged attack took place at the dining facility of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon.
Presumably, this episode was meant to show the brutality and inhumanity of soldiers thoroughly desensitized to basic human decency and dignity because of the on-going violence of the Iraq War.
It is perhaps a "larger truth" that war does horrible things to the psyche of those who experience it. That some do and say horrible things as a direct or indirect result of their experiences during such turbulent circumstances, and sometimes for years afterward, is beyond dispute.
But though strong adverse reactions may indeed be true for some veterans who experience such brutality, it is by no means true for all.
It is also equally true that there seems to be very little concrete support for this specific allegation, and significant anecdotal evidence against it.
Major Kirk Luedeke, the Public Affairs Officer at FOB Falcon, categorically denies the presence of a woman with these unmistakable severe burns at the base. Another man who claims to be a soldier currently deployed to FOB Falcon states that:
In the 11 months I've been here I've never once seen a female contractor with a burned face. In a compact place like this with only one mess hall I or one of my guys would certainly have noticed someone like that. There are a few female contractors, I think maybe a dozen, but none fit the horrific description given in that article. Further, I've personally seen guys threatened with severe physical harm for making jokes of any kind about IED victims given the number of casualties all the units on this FOB have sustained. It is not a subject we take lightly.
I was based at Falcon last year for six months with the 101st Airborne. I never saw a woman who fits Thomas's description. That's not conclusive since I haven't been there for almost eight months.
Another soldier (an officer whose ID I have positively identified but whose name I do not have permission to publish) who has been at FOB Falcon since March describes the claims of Thomas as "total nonsense."
The New Republic must establish the following if they intend to continue claiming that this story of abuse by Thomas is true.
They must produce the year, month, and week that this attack took place, and make this time public knowledge.
If the New Republic cannot or will not release the time-frame during which the claimed assault took place, then there is no way for the military and agencies employing contractors at FOB Falcon to check their logs to prove or disprove the existence of a severely wounded soldier or contractor matching the description provided by Thomas.
The only reason for the New Republic not to release this information is to cover up the distinct possibility that Thomas' claims is false.
If the New Republic wants its readers to believe it is operating honestly and ethically, they cannot refuse to release the date of the alleged assault as precisely and as soon as possible.
Tuesday, July 24, while an arbitrary date, is a reasonable release date for this information, as the New Republic claims to have been investigating the claims made by Thomas for nearly a week, and they should have already acquired this information prior to the story's publication.
Another claim made by Thomas in his third dispatch to the New Republic is that his unit, while spending several weeks building a combat outpost southwest of Baghdad, uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of children, presumably from the time of Saddam Hussein's reign. Thomas then claims that an extended desecration of the bodies was perpetrated by a fellow soldier, without fellow soldiers, more senior enlisted men, of officers stepping in.
Returning once again to the blog of combat correspondent Matt Sanchez, we encounter the claim from FOB Falcon PAO Major Luedeke there were no mass graves uncovered during the construction of any combat outposts in the Rashid District, at any time.
This strong refutation is a definitive statement by a U.S. Army soldier, for the public record.
If the New Republic wishes to continue to stand behind this Thomas claim, they have no choice but to publicly publish the name and location of the combat outpost where the mass grave is supposed to exist.
I am fairly certain that if the New Republic were to make this information available, that the United States military would be very interested in exhuming those who fell at Saddam's brutal hands so that they could be given a proper, dignified burial. Further, I'm reasonably confident that the military would allow the media to document the exhumation and reburial... if such a mass grave exists.
Once again, the only plausible reason for the New Republic to not release the name of the combat outpost and the location of the mass grave in question, is to obfuscate whether or not Thomas is providing the New Republic with an accurate account, or a clever work of fiction.
As the New Republic should probably have already obtained the name of the base and the location of the alleged mass grave prior to publication, and would certainly ask for this information during the course of their investigation into Thomas' claims, a Tuesday, July 24 deadline to publish this information seems quite reasonable.
In my mind, Thomas' third claim, that a private took great joy in smashing a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) through curbs, concrete barriers, and market stalls, along with using the vehicle to deftly attack and kill dogs with the vehicle's tracks, is too absurd to even need further refutation.
While apparently a claim that the New Republic was willing to publish based upon Thomas' credibility, it ignores the fact that Bradley drivers are not left unattended to use their vehicles as destructive playthings as they see fit. A driver follows the orders of his vehicle commander, who must protect the lives of his crew and the soldiers in the fire team the IFV carries. Further, Bradley IFVs rarely, if ever, operate alone.
Bradleys typically operate in the support of larger American formations involving other Bradley IFVs, American Abrams tanks, Stryker armored vehicles, Humvees, other medium and heavy trucks, and squads, platoons, and companies of soldiers.
For Thomas' claims to be true regarding this driver, it would probably require that dozens of soldiers and their commanders repeatedly allow their lives to be needlessly risked and their mission subverted, so that one sadistic, destructive driver could attempt canine homicide.
Thomas' story would also require that the driver and vehicle perform at or beyond a Bradley IFV's upper limits of performance, stealth, vision, maneuverability, and structural strengths.
There is no evidence that the New Republic can produce to substantiate this claimed series of atrocities short of unedited videotaped footage showing the vehicle and driver performing these incredible acts.
And so we we are left asking the New Republic to answer two very basic, very simple questions that any journalism student should have been able to answer before publishing a similar story:
- When did the verbal assault take place on the badly-burned woman at FOB Falcon?
- What was the name and location of the combat outpost where a mass grave was discovered?
If the New Republic cannot or will not specifically answer these quite reasonable and very basic journalistic questions, then we will be forced to ask the magazine's senior editors and its publisher far more probing questions in the near future.
Update: Via Sitemeter, I noticed three different visitors from the New Republic dropped by early this afternoon in the span of half an hour. Obviously, they got the message, and it only remains to be seen whether or not they will provide a response.