July 26, 2007
Scott Thomas Comes Forward... And Answers Precisely Nothing
The New Republic blog The Plank is featuring an entry from disputed diarist Scott Thomas, who has now come forward as Scott Thomas Beauchamp, and now the fun truly begins.
There are two parts to this entry: a preface from "the editors," and then a statement by Beauchamp himself. I'll now discuss each at length, and in turn.
The Editor's Preface
They state in full:
As we've noted in this space, some have questioned details that appeared in the Diarist "Shock Troops," published under the pseudonym Scott Thomas. According to Major Kirk Luedeke, a public affairs officer at Forward Operating Base Falcon, a formal military investigation has also been launched into the incidents described in the piece.
Although the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published, we have decided to go back and, to the extent possible, re-report every detail. This process takes considerable time, as the primary subjects are on another continent, with intermittent access to phones and email. Thus far we've found nothing to disprove the facts in the article; we will release the full results of our search when it is completed.
In the meantime, the author has requested that we publish the statement below. --The Editors
First, I think it is a bit unfair of TNR's editors to claim that "some" have questioned the details of Beauchamp's three dispatches, including many active-duty soldiers in Iraq, and several at FOB Falcon in specific.
The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of those who have written about this subject at all are overwhelming critical of TNR, their editors, the apparent failings of their editorial vetting process, and their seeming unwillingness to address the substantive criticisms leveled at the accuracy of the accounts Beauchamp related in these stories.
This criticism comes not only from without, but from within: scan the comments on"A Note to Readers" by Franklin Foer on July 20, "A Note to Readers" by the Editors on July 24, and a substantial number of commenters on today's "A Statement from Scott Thomas Beauchamp," and many of TNR's own subscribers continue to heavily criticize Beauchamp's stories and Franklin Foer's supposed vetting process... and with just cause.
It gives me no joy to say this, but say this I must: Franklin Foer and the editorial staff of The New Republic are inaccurate—purposefully, I suspect—when they claim that the article "Shock Troops" was, "rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published."
If they had done their due diligence as editors, they would have discovered that outside of Beauchamp himself, no other soldier stationed at FOB Falcon—including both named and anonymous sources stationed at FOB in the recent past and present—have ever seen the mysterious disfigured female contractor Beauchamp claims to have so brutally verbally assaulted.
No Time for Fact-Checking
How easy would it have been for Franklin Foer to do a cursory fact-check to even see if a contractor matching that description has been on base in recent memory?
About this hard:
Dear Major Luedeke,
My name is Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic.
I've recently been submitted a story that mentions the existence of a female contractor that is said to have significant facial burns and scarring as the apparent result of an IED attack in the past. She was not recently injured, and is apparently healthy, other than the scarring. I would like to simply check to see if someone matching that description is presently at FOB Falcon, to make sure that this description is correct.
The New Republic
I didn't have Major Luedke's email address when I started composing this email containing just one of the questions Franklin Foer should have asked before going to press with Beauchamp's now heavily disputed accounts.
It took my a grand total of 29 minutes to get Major Luedeke's email address, within which time I was able to compose this fictitious email of Foer's, and a very real email that I did send with far more probing questions that I'd hoped to have answered.
Unfortunately, Major Luedke responded just 38 minutes later to let me know he could not respond to my questions, citing the "active, formal investigation on the allegations Pvt. Scott Beauchamp has made in the New Republic."
57 minutes... apparently that was too much time for TNR to invest in fact-checking Beauchamp's claim.
Rigorous Editing and Fact-Checking?
Nor do I think there is any way Foer can claim that Beauchamp's two previous articles could have been "rigorously edited and fact-checked."
In fact, the editors don't make that claim, which is a smart move on their part: I think I have proven beyond a doubt that Foer and his team didn't so much as crack open a Web browser window in fact-checking Beauchamp's second post, Dead of Night, or they would have known that there are no such things as a square-back shell casing, and that Glock pistols are common among all strata of people in Iraq, and not just the Iraqi police.
That Franklin Foer "and the Editors" at The New Republic did not do their jobs as editors in vetting the stories submitted by Beauchamp before publication seems readily apparent.
If they had done their jobs as editors adequately, TNR would not have needed to launch an investigation which has now stretched over a week, nor would they find a need, as they've phrased it, "to the extent possible, re-report every detail." This strikes me as nothing less than an admission that they did not vet these stories prior to publication.
Franklin Foer seems to be well on his way towards being known as the "Mike Nifong of Journalism," rushing to push a narrative before the facts have been established, based solely on the unverified claims of a witness who has, shall we say, "credibility problems."
Editors can't be disbarred, but they can be replaced, and I've yet to hear a compelling explanation from Foer or The New Republic explaining why that should not occur.
And now on to the statement of Scott Thomas Beauchamp:
My Diarist, "Shock Troops," and the two other pieces I wrote for the New Republic have stirred more controversy than I could ever have anticipated. They were written under a pseudonym, because I wanted to write honestly about my experiences, without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, my pseudonym has caused confusion. And there seems to be one major way in which I can clarify the debate over my pieces: I'm willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name.
I am Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.
My pieces were always intended to provide my discrete view of the war; they were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military. I wanted Americans to have one soldier's view of events in Iraq.
It's been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name.
Beauchamp claims he wants to "talk honestly about my experiences," and that his words "were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military."
A Purposeful Deception
In his alleged verbal assault on the IED-disfigured woman in the FOB Falcon dining facility (the one that no other soldier stationed at the base seems to have been able to see):
I saw her nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq. She wore an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn't really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor. The thing that stood out about her, though, wasn't her strange uniform but the fact that nearly half her face was severely scarred. Or, rather, it had more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head. She was always alone, and I never saw her talk to anyone. Members of my platoon had seen her before but had never really acknowledged her. Then, on one especially crowded day in the chow hall, she sat down next to us.
Not just any day, but an especially crowded day. Beauchamp then goes on to describe how he and his friend verbally assaulted this disfigured woman:
...loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables.
According to his story Beauchamp and his friend loudly abused a burn victim during "one especially crowded day" in the chow hall, loud enough "for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables" to hear them, with no registered response from the surrounding soldiers, and that is not meant as a reflection of every soldier stationed there?
In his claim that a fellow soldier wore part of a child's rotting skull on his head, he indicts his fellow soldiers by stating:
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.
Again, how is this not an assault on the integrity and basic humanity of his entire unit?
Once more, waxing poetic about the dog-murdering Bradley driver:
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.
I didn't see the third kill, but I heard about it over the radio. Everyone was laughing, nearly rolling with laughter. I approached the private after the mission and asked him about it.
"So, you killed a few dogs today," I said skeptically.
"Hell yeah, I did. It's like hunting in Iraq!" he said, shaking with laughter.
"Did you run over dogs before the war, back in Indiana?" I asked him.
"No," he replied, and looked at me curiously. Almost as if the question itself was in poor taste.
Again, he implicates everyone in his unit as being a sadist or a sociopath, and that is not meant as a reflection of everyone around him?
Far from being accidental, I think that implicating every soldier he is serving with as an accomplice to sadism is his express intent in "Shock Troops," in every line of florid prose.
But he isn't quite done yet:
It's been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq.
This might come as something of a shock to Private Beauchamp, but it doesn't take combat experience to spot suspicious stories based upon even a rudimentary knowledge of human nature.
Few men, military or not, are going to stand idly by while a couple of punks publicly berate a burn victim. Few men, military or not, are going to find a man prancing about with a rotting section of a long-dead child's skull on his head entertaining, and no matter how entertaining a single sociopath or even a pair find it to be, I strongly doubt than anyone wants to wear rotting flesh in the hot sun for his own amusement.
Nor does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that the commander, crew, and soldiers riding in a Bradley IFV would not appreciate being thrown about the cramped metallic interior, and would not allow such events to occur repeatedly, much less find themselves "nearly rolling with laughter" as a sadist allegedly repeats attempts at canine murder and smashes through the corners of buildings and market stalls.
No, I've never served in the military, but I've done several tours in upper-level undergraduate and graduate level writing courses including several creative fiction courses. In each one, peer review was a staple. The subject matter was different; but the lack of ability of some writers to tap into the humanity of others in any meaningful way is remarkably echoed here.
And Scott just for the record: civilian or not, I suspect I know far more about firearms than you do, but at the very least, I know that the square-backed 9mm pistol cartridges you claim to have found does not exist, and I also know that your claim that only Iraqi police have Glocks is likewise laughably false.
I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join.
Interestingly enough, his blog entries seem to indicate a rather different mindset, from his stating that he feels "retarded for joining the army" to the statement he is "getting more liberal each day."
Beauchamp, at some point, established contact with Franklin Foer and The New Republic.
Beauchamp established a relationship with the magazine—one that, if Ace's tipster is correct, one that will end in a wedding to a TNR staffer this October—and decided to write articles for them.
Not only was Beauchamp willing to join an ideological battle; he had to go out of his way to join it.
Ain't That a Kick in the Head
That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name.
The laughable irony of all this? It was Beauchamp, and Beauchamp alone, that called his fellow soldiers' character, integrity, and basic humanity into question.
Even though the author is finally revealed, Scott Thomas Beauchamp remains unconvincing as a probable fabulist, and Franklin Foer and The New Republic have thus far provided no evidence corroborating the claims that they have promised that they "rigorously edited and fact-checked."
They keep telling us that Beauchamp's story is true, and yet to date, they have utterly failed to come up with the facts that support their claims.
I suspect that the reason for this is that the facts simply aren't there.
Update: I screwed up and impropery cited Beachamp is belonging to the 4th ID a couple of paragraphs up. As he clearly states, he is a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.