July 25, 2007

House of Glass

Incredible Claims
It was precisely one week ago yesterday that Michael Goldfarb focused the blogosphere on the third in a series of dispatches from a U.S. Army soldier in Iraq, posting under the pseudonym "Scott Thomas" in the magazine, The New Republic.

The name of third dispatch was "Shock Troops," (subscription apparently no longer required). In it, Thomas showed a callous and shocking disregard for a series of brutalities. These included a vicious verbal assault on a woman for disfiguring facial injuries she sustained as the result of an explosion of an improvised explosive device, or IED. This assault allegedly occurred in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Falcon.

Thomas maintains that during the construction of a combat outpost southwest of Baghdad, soldiers constructing the outpost uncovered the bones of children, and a fellow soldier wore part of a skull he found that "...even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt," on top of his head for the rest of the day and night, and even wore it under his helmet. Thomas further claims that:

No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.

The third story Thomas relays in "Shock Troops" was of a sadistic Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) driver who liked: run things over. He took out curbs, concrete barriers, corners of buildings, stands in the market, and his favorite target: dogs.

In his blog entry entitled "Fact or Fiction?," Goldfarb, asked the milblogging (military blogging) community to investigate the veracity of Thomas claims.

Doubters—including active duty U.S. Army soldiers currently or formerly posted at FOB Falcon and nearby areas—immediately began to deconstruct and dismiss Thomas' claims as probable works of fiction.

Soldiers stationed at FOB Falcon in the recent past and present deny ever seeing a burned woman such as Thomas described as being on the base. To date there has been no corroboration that a wounded woman matching this description has ever been at FOB Falcon.

Other soldiers have cost doubts on whether there was ever a grave full of children's remains uncovered while constructing a combat outpost southwest of Baghdad, though others find it plausible that an unmarked cemetery—apparently not all that uncommon in the area—may have been found and moved. Regardless of whether or not a cemetery may have been uncovered, other soldiers flatly deny that the close-fitting modern Army helmet has enough room for anything other than the wearer's own skull.

Soldiers and military vehicle specialists intimately familiar with Bradley IFVs have flatly stated that these vehicles cannot be driven as described in Thomas' account due to their construction and the limitations of the laws of physics.

In all three examples cited by Thomas in this third dispatch, the behavior of the actors and the apathy displayed by apparently dozens of soldiers during each atrocity has been heavily criticized by military veterans who flatly deny that such events could take place in a military culture where such inaction can be a criminal offense for those who refuse to report it or intervene.

Absolutely Fabulist
Elements of Thomas' two previous dispatches have also come under fire for being very unlikely.

In "War Bonds" (subscription required), Thomas claims that:

In Baghdad, a busted infrastructure has left entire neighborhoods navigable by vehicle only. The sector we soldiers patrol is known unaffectionately as "Little Venice" because of the dark brown rivers of sewage that backwash from broken pipes. The biggest fear in these parts isn't sniper fire or IEDs, but a flat tire that forces you to wade through the reeking fluids.

The brief amount of information allowed outside the New Republic subscriber firewall neglects to mention the specific kind of vehicle in question, but as only wheeled vehicles have tires, the description weeds out both Bradley IFVs and M1 Abrams tanks. That leaves us with HMMWVs (Humvees) and eight-wheeled Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs) as the two most-common wheeled vehicles used on patrols. Both of these vehicles classes are equipped with run-flat tires designed to go for miles before needing to be changed. That intentional design detail engendered into both vehicles would make changing a tire in a river of "reeking fluids" a very unlikely event.

Sandwiched between these two increasingly suspect stories was Thomas' second dispatch, one that I think should have sent up a red flag to the editors of The New Republic.

In "Dead of Night," (subscription required), Thomas made an embarrassing gaffe, followed by a potentially defamatory charge:

Someone reached down and picked a shell casing up off the ground. It was 9mm with a square back. Everything suddenly became clear. The only shell casings that look like that belongs to Glocks. And the only people who use Glocks are the Iraqi police.

Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of modern firearms knows that no pistol, rifle, submachine gun, or machine gun deployed in the world today uses ammunition "with a square back," in 9mm Parabellum, or in any other caliber. For feeding reliability, all currently used ammunition has tubular cases with a round rim. But past this wildly inaccurate of description of the recovered casing , Thomas went on to defame the Iraqi police, inaccurately stating as fact that, "the only people who use Glocks are the Iraqi police."

That statement is so astoundingly incorrect as to be laughable. While Glocks are carried by many Iraqi police officers, Glocks are among the most common handguns in Iraq, easily found and purchased, and carried by those on each side of the conflict and Iraqi civilians alike.

A Pattern of Failed Editorial Oversight
All three stories sent to The New Republic by the soldier writing under the pseudonym "Scott Thomas" has elements that may have been worth questioning by an alert editor.

I honestly doubt that most editors would have known that many American wheeled combat vehicles have run flat tires, and so I can readily forgive them for not making that particular catch. I'm still left to wonder, however, if having a sharp editor with a military background might have been able to deflate Thomas as a fabulist in advance of the publication of his very first post.

But even without a military background, I'd expect for most editors to recognize the red flag present in his second post--when he makes the claim of a "square back" cartridge casing--just from watching the occasional episode of CSI. I'd also expect them to make at least a cursory attempt to check Thomas' inflammatory claim only the Iraqi police carry Glocks, and recognize all the political undertones that such a loaded charge implies.

It would have taken very little effort—no more than several minutes on Google with any variation of "iraq" and "glock" as the search terms—to note that these pistols are very popular and quite common in Iraq, being coveted by soldiers, police, militiamen, insurgents, criminal gangs, contractors, and civilians alike. These few brief moments un-taken would have shown Thomas' claim and implication to be flatly wrong.

The editors at The New Republic did not bother to take that time.

TNR editors apparently did not bother to challenge Thomas to provide support for the verbal assault he claims to have committed again a disfigured woman on FOB Falcon. There is no indication that they ever made the attempt to contact the Public Affairs Officer at FOB Falcon to see if such a woman even existed, even though I've found in my experience PAOs are typically far more likely to respond to requests from journalists—and even bloggers—in a more timely manner than would an infantry soldier on extended patrols.

TNR editors apparently failed to ask the common sense questions about the desecrated bodies claim. Why would any soldier subject himself to wearing a section of a human skull covered with rotting flesh both day and night? Even if the audience did find it uproariously funny, what sight gag remains entertaining for hour after hour? Why would any group, no matter how jaded, be "folding in half with laughter" at the sight of a man parading around wearing a portion of child's rotting skull as a cap? Could a soldier even get a piece of skull into an Army helmet and wear it?

There is no evidence that TNR saw fit to question any of this story at all.

Likewise, either through carelessness or laziness, Franklin Foer and his editorial staff never apparently made the common-sense connection that Bradley drivers do not have the latitude to joyride alone through the streets of Iraqi towns, randomly and sadistically destroying infrastructure, buildings, and stalls in crowded markets, while swerving recklessly to attack dogs. The unlikelihood of this story being true, again, apparently went unchallenged until after publication.

Picking Up The Pieces at The New Republic
So what becomes of Franklin Foer and the now twice-fooled New Republic? We'll know soon enough if there are any jobs lost as a result of this scandal, but I would opine that if dismissals do result, there is certainly enough justification for them.

One thing I would hope that TNR and other news organizations might now consider is hiring military veterans to vet stories coming out of combat zones for obvious inconsistencies. It would, at the very least, provide a more contextual, experienced layer of fact-checking to flag stories that may not be accurate.

And What of Scott Thomas?
The New Republic has an interesting decision to make regarding Scott Thomas. While I'd generally consider advising against "outing" lairs hidden by pseudonyms, Thomas apparently created stories that were little more than defamous fiction.

They owe Scott Thomas nothing for his treacherous deceit of both TNR and the U.S. Army. Publicly publishing who he is—or at least communicating his name to his commanders—might be the first step in recovering from this debacle.

It's time to pay the piper. I wonder how many people will share paying the bill.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at July 25, 2007 12:29 AM


Actually it's far more than that.

Unless TNR can substantiate every allegation made by "Thomas" then TNR has an **obligation** to out "Thomas".

And if "Thomas" really is a serving soldier then that person absolutely must be held accountable under the UCMJ.

Posted by: memomachine at July 25, 2007 09:52 AM

Re: the "square back" shell casing

The firing pin (technically a "striker") of a Glock pistol has a rectangular face. This results in a rectangular imprint on the fired primer. It is a very distintive mark, if you know what to look for. There are a few other pistols with rectangular strikers, but none are as ubiquitous as the Glock.

This is not to say that the TNR piece wasn't incorrect or falsified. I'm only offering an explanation for what could have been a poor case of editing. Non-gunnies may read "square primer strike" and substitute "square back".

The "back" referred to in this instance seems to mean the case head, and there are no square 9mm Parabellum cartridges, by definition. However, the slide of a Glock pistol does look square when viewed from the rear.

All of this leads me to believe that the 9mm casing anecdote is fiction with bungled details thrown in for flavor.

Posted by: Mark Mogler at July 25, 2007 11:49 AM

Even if we buy the statement that Scott
Thomas is a soldier, did anyone think to
ask which side he's on?

Posted by: Don Zimmer at July 25, 2007 11:49 AM

>> The only shell casings that look like that belongs to Glocks.

Umm, it's even simpler. Glocks don't use distinctive ammo - you can't look at an empty case and figure out what kind of gun shot it.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 25, 2007 12:10 PM

BTW, the TNR "firewall" is more like the Maginot Line.

Wanna read "War Bonds" in its entirety?

Posted by: Karl at July 25, 2007 12:19 PM

>> you can't look at an empty case and figure out what kind of gun shot it.

Actually, several models of H&K rifles have fluted chambers and quite violent extraction/ejection mechanisms ... it's possible to look at mangled and striped spent casings and determine with a fair degree of confidence that they came out of an H&K rifle.

Posted by: iohk at July 25, 2007 12:29 PM

I served 1964-1970, back in the Dark Ages. When I served most of us considered battle scars as a badge of honor.
While there might be a small minority that would ridicule a person with bad burn scars anyone over the rank of E-4 would call them on it and a large percentage of the rank and file would stomp a mudhole is "Scott Thomas's ass.
Now I haven't kept track of how the military is these days, Hell I still don't own anything OD Green, but I can't imagine that soldiers would put up with this nonsense.

Posted by: Peter at July 25, 2007 01:08 PM

My gut says that Scott likely is in the service. Perhaps he has heard the scuttlebutt with the inevitable exaggerations added for effect. Perhaps he witnessed some or all of the base events and added this own embellishments. Maybe he is in combat arms, or maybe he is a REMF. Not sure it matters.

In any event, I still conclude he uses artistic license to deliver his own 'Full Metal Jacket', and isn't concerned that the intended 'shock effect' comes at the expense of the reputations of far better people than himself.

If TNR proves these events occurred, I think it goes from bad to worse...he transforms from lying dirtbag, to someone who seeks to profit from these foul acts, rather than have the courage to correct them, as he is duty bound. Or worse yet, he performs and encourages more of them to continue the script.

For the sake of his comrades, I hope he is just a liar.

Posted by: mike at July 25, 2007 01:28 PM

This is why the Weekly World News has gone belly-up: They can't compete with the armies of fabulists--I mean fact-checkers--at the New Republic, CBS, New Yorker, PBS, and so on.

Posted by: pst314 at July 25, 2007 01:31 PM

"... I ... conclude he uses artistic license to deliver his own 'Full Metal Jacket'...
Posted by mike at July 25, 2007 01:28 PM"

Oh great, now you've made me realize that in a few years we'll see a book/movie deal from this liar.

Posted by: DoorHold at July 25, 2007 02:20 PM

"Scott Thomas", by his own account, is in multiple violations of the UCMJ. By keeping his true name confidential, TNR is protecting him from prosecution. That makes them his accessories.

If "Scott Thomas" is lying, then he is defaming the US Miltary and the Iraqi Police, and giving the enemy propaganda assistance. Which I would call "aid and comfort to the enemy"

Posted by: LarryD at July 25, 2007 04:33 PM

Well, which is it, LarryD? Is he a figment of some TNR editor's imagination, or is he a real guy who is giving "aid and comfort to the enemy" and thus needs to be drawn and quartered before being broken on the wheel?

Posted by: Doc Washboard at July 25, 2007 05:22 PM

Is he a figment of some TNR editor's imagination, or is he a real guy who is giving "aid and comfort to the enemy" and thus needs to be drawn and quartered before being broken on the wheel?

I see no requirement for mutual exclusivity here.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at July 25, 2007 06:19 PM

"Scott Thomas" is evidence that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The "Square Back" thing is evidence of his/her profound ignorance of firearms. He read something somewhere about the Glock firing pin, and, not knowing what a firing pin is, or does, misunderstood it, and then magnified his/her misunderstanding in writing this piece of nonsense.

Everybody here is bending over backwards to give this creep the benefit of the doubt by using words that allow that perhaps it's all true, if highly unlikely,

Cut it OUT! What he/she wrote is OBVIOUSLY, UTTERLY FALSE! And we all KNOW it.

We're in a WAR folks! People who defend the enemy, talk like the enemy ARE the enemy.

We didn't go looking to get indictments against each surviving Japanese pilot who attacked Pearl Harbor. We just shot down ANY Jap plane we saw until they signed their surrender. That's how it works in a war.

"Scott Thomas" is the enemy. Tokyo Rose served seven years in prison after WW II for playing American popular music, and spouting Japanese propaganda over the radio to our troops. Seven Years. The charge was Treason.

Better think about that, Scott Thomas. This war will get ugly. Think about that, and whom you are supporting.

Posted by: Bill Smith at July 25, 2007 11:18 PM

Something tells me that if a group of TNR reporters and editors went to lunch in DC and someone with AIDS sat at the table behind them and one of the TNR folks started making fun and jokes about the person with AIDS, the staff wouldn't feel the need to keep that persons identity secret. Why is the disfigured women treated differently by TNR? Would TNR still keep his identitty secret if he had admitting to following her back to her barracks and raping her? Just how far does TNR let their writers go with abusing people to make good war stories? Sexual harrassment, public embarrasment, disgusting jokes addreessed to the women is OK by TNR, but rape wouldn't be OK? Or would it?

Posted by: Poppy at July 26, 2007 05:52 AM

My bet is that this 'Scott' is a REMF sitting inside the green zone with internet access, regretting joining the military, and far too much time on his hands. If the Army tries to find him, they should start by checking the commo techs- seriously.

- Jon C., ex Army satcom tech.

Posted by: Jon C. at July 26, 2007 06:27 AM

TNR has now issued its first substantive response. Scott Thomas wrote in to identify himself as Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.

The important questions about the veracity of Beauchamp's accounts should now be answered in fairly short order. The "Who," "When," and "Where" are, obviously, narrowed down a great deal.

The issues centering around whether TNR Editor Foer (and readers like me) were pwned will probably take somewhat longer to be illuminated. At this writing, Mr. Foer is stil standing behind the "Baghdad Diarist" accounts.

Posted by: AMac at July 26, 2007 08:40 AM

OK Vanguards, one of your teammates has accused some of you with some serious UCMJ violations. What you gonna do?

Posted by: David at July 26, 2007 09:52 AM

According to the Dept of Defense public info website...

There is NO Scott Thomas Beauchamp in the US army as of when I write this.

Posted by: Jeff Slaton at July 26, 2007 10:36 AM

Actually, that is not a DoD website. And, according to the AKO white pages, there is most definitely a PV2 Scott Beauchamp currently serving in 1/18IN.

Posted by: Jonathon at July 26, 2007 10:44 AM

The most shocking aspect of this whole story is that those writing in find the accounts of the TNR diarist so unbelievable. Has anybody writing on this and other blogs actually ever hung out with Joes in Iraq? These are teenagers. Yes they wear the uniform, but they aint angels people.

I spent nearly five months at Falcon in 2005 and saw some outrageous behavior. The unit I was with RIP’ed with 1st Cav., those guys were out of control when we got there. The sergeant major banned soldiers from going to parts of the T building because of the late night sex parties going on. Everybody knew which door to go knock on for entertainment. Then he fired all the Iraqi female terps because some of them were turning tricks with the Joes. And the Joes porn collections, some guys brought external had drives loaded with nothing else. Not to mention the very brisk trade in adult DVDs carried on between Joes and the locals.

Is it so hard to believe that your little angel soldiers are not? These are red blooded American youth, spending more than a year far from home, in a hostile country with very little diversion and not enough adult supervision. Mixing male and female soldiers, what do you think is going to happen? I spent some entertaining hours watching on the JLENS infra-red camera couples hooking up around the base in places where they thought were hidden. It’s not just Iraq either. Everybody on Kandahar base knows SF gets the best booze (Turkish vodka), that female foreign contractors on base moonlight as prostitutes, and that the Joes party when they can get away with it. What do you expect?

The fact that you find it incomprehensible, (against the laws of physics?!!) that Bradleys run into things is laughable and betrays your complete ignorance of the reality in Iraq. Big tracked vics, Abrams included, accidentally run into cars, curbs, market stalls, dogs all the time. What, do you think Baghdad has wide open boulevards devoid of traffic? People, the often narrow city streets are choked with cars and everything else. Someone wrote in saying American vics don’t swerve in Iraq because of IEDs, that its not SOP. They swerve all the time! They swerve to avoid potholes in the road that may contain an IED, they swerve when they go under overpasses, they swerve to avoid other cars, people in the road, sacks of garbage. Yes, it’s possible to swerve a Bradley or run over a curb without throwing a track, I’ve seen it done, many times.

Did you hear the time an Abrams rolling down Route Irish at speed accidentally ran over an Iraqi mini-bus, crushing a half dozen of its occupants? No, of course you didn’t. But it happened. Don’t think just because you didn’t hear about something back here in the states that it didn’t happen?

Dogs in Iraq run out in front of the vics, they get run over. SOP. BFD.

And the changing a tire in sewage. Look, much of West Rashid in southern Baghdad is a sea of sewage. Anybody who says otherwise has never been there. Yes the Humvee has run flat tires. Does that mean you don’t get out and change the tire when you get a flat? No. Because the vehicle doesn’t operate so well when it has a flat, you’re not going to cancel mission and go back to the FOB because of a flat. No, you’re going to change the tire and continue mission. Do you choose to change it in the sewage filled street? No, you pull the Humvee to a spot of high ground or paved road out of the sewage to do it. You people have obviously never been to Iraq.

And to think that some field grade PAO claims he knows what the Joes are doing and not doing, what a joke. You betray your ignorance by talking about these things of which you know nothing. You have no idea what goes on over there.

Posted by: JD at July 26, 2007 11:04 AM
These are teenagers. Yes they wear the uniform, but they aint angels people.

There was a big hooraw at this site not long ago over this very concept. Those who suggested that some soldiers might be human rather than angelic were, if I'm remembering correctly, called "traitors" and accused of "smearing the military."

Posted by: Doc Washboard at July 26, 2007 11:26 AM

one of your teammates has accused some of you with some serious UCMJ violations. What you gonna do?

Since the incidents likely never happened, or were grossly exaggerated, the correct response would be, ummm...nothing at all.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at July 26, 2007 11:31 AM


No one is saying that soldiers are angels. Rather, what I hear is that these incidents are obviously embellished. The big kicker is how public they are. Doing stuff in public would get the attention of a authority figure to bust them. Sure people were having sex and jacking off on base, but were they doing that on missions or in the DFAC? There is a huge difference between the two, as public acts imply general acceptance. Running over a dog when it's in the way is a far cry from keeping score over a long period of time.

One last thing, JD - when have you heard any criticism regarding soldiers' sexual escapades here? I've read material from all over the blogosphere on this topic, and I've not heard a peep about sex or porn.

Posted by: OmegaPaladin at July 26, 2007 12:51 PM

JD, there's a huge difference between the ususal "Privates do the craziest things" and the stories of PFC Thomas. There's crazy and then there's sociopath and these are the latter. This PFC and his friends have some serious mental issues, or he wants us to think he has serious mental issues. "Don't mess with me man, don't you know I'm loco, ese?"

Posted by: BohicaTwentyTwo at July 26, 2007 01:27 PM

The story's now moving at warp speed... I'll step back for a while. But take a look at Marine Lt. Col Matthew Jones' post over at The Plank, comment #108, for a thoughtful perspective from a serving officer.

Posted by: AMac at July 26, 2007 03:18 PM

I have a question for anyone who might have an answer:

Did Jamil Hussein wind up being real or fake?

I frankly lost track of what the hell was going on near the end of that whole process.

Posted by: Doc Washboard at July 26, 2007 03:30 PM


Jamil Hussein is a real Iraqi police captain who proffered fake stories to the AP.

So it's one of those true & fake things.

Posted by: memomachine at July 27, 2007 09:48 AM

The first guy who posted about the casings is correct, and the subsequent posters missed the point. I've got two glocks, and it is very easy to identify when the casings came from a glock. The firing pin is recangular, with the actual punching surface of the pin being circular in the center, when the pin hits the primer it leaves an indentation kinda like this [*] , except its a more pronounced, raised retangular pattern with a deeper round indentation in the center. If the guy that fabricated this story has any sense about him, this is what he was referring to, and just picked up a line about glocks having distinctive marks off an episode of CSI.

Posted by: James at July 30, 2007 04:44 PM