August 7, 2007

TNR and the Case of the Anomalous Anonymity

Hatched by Dafydd

Too much has been written about the follies and foibles of Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his handlers at the New Republic, especially including editor Franklin Foer. So much verbiage, in fact, that I think we're in danger of missing the forest for the fires.

There are a number of elements of Beauchamp's fabulism that, had they actually occurred, would be easily verifiable -- here's the important point -- by people completely unrelated to the incidents themselves... and who therefore would have no reason to demand complete and total anonymity.

Beauchamp told three tales in his "diarist" "Shock Troops":

  • He claims that he and some squirrely friend of his in the mess hall at "[his] base in Iraq" mocked a woman disfigured by an IED, and did so deliberately loudly enough that she could hear them. She became so upset that she ran off, leaving her meal uneaten.
  • He claims that he was present when his unit uncovered a previously unknown mass grave from the Hussein era; the grave contained mostly children. Beauchamp claims that someone in his unit put part of the skull of a child on his head and danced around, then wore it under his helmet for a couple of days.
  • He claims that he knew someone who, when he drove his Bradley Fighting Vehicle around Baghdad, would deliberately use it to run over dogs and smash through stores.

Eyes without a face

Let's start with the first, so you can see what I mean. Beauchamp describes the woman as having half her face "more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head" by an IED attack. Originally, he claimed this occurred at a forward operating base in Iraq, later identified as FOB Falcon; later he changed his mind and decided it had actually happened at Camp Buehring, in Kuwait, before Beauchamp ever went to Iraq or heard a shot fired in anger.

I won't rehash how this destroys the point of the story (which was about the dehumanizing effects of combat). I'm more interested in the verifiable claims.

Confederate Yankee has done bravura work trying to establish whether any such woman was ever at Camp Buehring; he spoke directly to the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) of the camp, who thought it was an urban legend. To counter this, editor Foer at TNR claims to have spoken to people who had direct knowledge of the woman at Buehring, but who insisted upon remaining anonymous.

But this makes no sense whatsoever. If such a woman with a half-melted face had been at such a large facility in Kuwait, virtually everybody there would know about her, the same way they would know about a guy who was seven feet tall or a contractor who weighed 400 lbs. Even people who came after the woman had left would know about her, because others would still be talking.

Why would any of these "background witnesses" demand anonymity? Suppose somebody's "corroboration" was simply, "yeah, I was stationed at Buehring a couple of months before this Beauchamp guy was there, and I remember Helen distinctly. And you know what? If I'd been there when he said that stuff about her, he wouldn't have left vertically!"

If all a person says is that he or she actually knows that such a woman existed -- he saw her, maybe knew her, or at least heard lots of people talking about her courage and whether plastic surgeons could restore her face -- why on earth would that person demand that his or her name not be used? There is no reason for secrecy... all they're saying is that so-and-so existed. They can even be disgusted by Beauchamp; they can even disbelieve that he and his simian friend actually did what they claim... why demand anonymity? It makes no logical sense whatsoever.

There would be numerous people coming forward, even without searching, openly saying that yes, they knew that woman and she really did exist.

Not one single person has done so. None. How can that be, if there really were such a woman?

The mass children's grave

Once again, there are several elements of this story that could be corroborated publicly, by anyone who had any knowledge of the environment, even if that person had no personal knowledge of the skull-dancing. For example, if anybody in the unit reported finding a previously unknown mass grave, there must be a unit tasked with exactly that responsibility: investigating mass graves, disinterring and reinterring the bodies, determining how and when they died, trying to identify them and contact the parents or relatives, and so forth.

And if not a single person in the unit reported finding the mass grave -- not even the NCOs or the officer in charge -- then still, weren't there other units in the area? Wouldn't at least one person with knowledge of the mass grave tell a friend in another company of the same brigade combat team? It strains credulity to imagine that with so many people, not a single one would mention finding something as spectacular as a mass grave... particularly since most had no reason to believe there was any reason to keep mum about it.

I think there is no question; word would have leaked out and eventually reached the ears of those whose job it is to investigate mass graves.

I have no personal experience with such affairs; but from my personal experience with the service, I would guess that such a report would spawn an investigation that would last many weeks, if not months. Hundreds of people would ultimately be involved, at least to the extent of knowing that such a mass grave was found, approximately when it was found, and what happened.

Any one of these people could at least verify that such a mass grave was found around the time Beauchamp was there, even if they had no idea whether anyone ever engaged in the war crime of desecrating the graves... and none of these people would have any reason to demand anonymity. Embedded reporters would probably have covered it -- and done so under their own bylines. Soldiers who handled the paperwork and have since been honorably discharged would have no reason to fear corroborating that such a grave was found. Even some Shiite Iraqis would probably have helped dig up and lay to rest the victims of Saddam Hussein's brutality; why would any of them demand not to be named, simply for saying that there was a mass grave found?

And of course, records would exist to show whether Beauchamp's unit -- Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division -- was in that area at that time.

None of these people would demand anonymity, nor would the records be classified. We find mass graves all the time.

So why cannot TNR release a single name? We're not even talking about named witnesses to the events described in the "diarist"... how about named witnesses simply to the basic environmental questions that the diarist assumes?

Does anybody remember such a woman existing at Camp Buehring? Does anybody recall excavating a mass grave discovered around that time in that location?

Bradley canicide vehicles

And does anybody anywhere remember even hearing about a Bradley driver -- even if he were in a different unit -- deliberately targeting dogs and storefronts? Why would somebody demand not to be identified, if all he were saying is, "I heard stories about some jagoff in another unit who had a thing about killing dogs with his Bradley. What a creep!"

I cannot think of a single reason why every, single person who heard rumors or legends about such a sadistic twit would be in such terror of being identified that he would only talk to TNR under the rose, in absolute secrecy. Every military person I have known loves to tell tall tales about things he heard happened somewhere. Can't Mr. Foer find even one?

The "curious incident"

Let's see what Mr. Sherlock Holmes has to say. Dr. Watson begins the conversation:

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time."

"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

-- Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur, "Silver Blaze," the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1893.

The "curious incident" in the Baghdad diarist -- which should have leapt out at Franklin Foer even if he were seduced by how well Beauchamp's stories meshed with Foer's own prejudice -- are the witnesses who did not bark in the night-time. Had any of this actually happened, it should have been a piece of pie to find dozens of witnesses... at least to the background questions, if not to the incidents themselves.

Even assuming Foer is telling the truth, and that several people (pals of Beauchamp) "corroborated" his stories, the fact that not a single one of these corroborators was willing to talk except under absolute guarantee of journalistic secrecy should have set off alarm bells in the editor's head. That it didn't makes me believe that Foer was not a victim; he was a co-conspirator.

I believe the reason he did not care that his sources all demanded anonymity, even to say something as innocuous as that there was some woman in Kuwait whose face was disfigured, was that he knew all along that he was publishing a fairy tale. He didn't bother fact checking because he didn't need to: He knew they were false. He's not surprised that those "corroborators" (if they actually exist) demand anonymity; they know they're lying and they don't want to be caught, and Foer knows they're lying and don't want to be caught.

Frankly, it's the only conclusion that would explain all that has happened. Far from having been suckered or snookered by Scott Thomas Beauchamp, I believe Franklin Foer actively conspired with Beauchamp -- probably through Beauchamp's wife, who I believe is employed by TNR as a "fact checker" -- to concoct this series of fake stories slandering the troops. I see two motives, though there may be others that elude me:

  • Money, of course; with the readership that TNR has, such lurid, comic-book attacks on the troops sell magazines;
  • Ideology; if one opposes the war, one good way to fight it is to claim that it turns young men into absolute monsters. After all, we don't want that, do we?

If I am right, look for several things to happen. First of all, Foer is not going to "fess up," and he's not even likely to admit that the stories were false... ever. Rather, he would more probably try to claim that Beauchamp was "pressured" to recant, perhaps comparing Beauchamp to Galileo being tried by the Church in 1633. Foer may even claim that Beauchamp was tortured by the Army to force him to recant (maybe he'll compare Beauchamp to Joan of Arc instead of Galileo).

Beauchamp, caught between Scylla and Charybdis, will have to choose between disavowing his sworn statement -- or disavowing everything he wrote in TNR. The path of least resistance is the latter, of course, since it's not illegal to lie to Franklin Foer and the readers of the New Republic.

But how will he play it? Will Beauchamp claim that he, personally, tricked the magazine (and his wife) into believing his story? So far as I have seen, that is not his personality type. Beauchamp is a whiner and complainer, not a bold and courageous alpha male. I think he would be more likely to claim that he, himself was the victim... that Foer was the "ringleader" who recruited and "bullied" him into making up horror stories about Iraq.

So I wouldn't be surprised if, in fairly short order, Beauchamp and Foer end up at each other's throats over this -- the proverbial "falling out among thieves." So let's sit back, pop some corn, and see whether that happens... or whether I've completely misread the parties.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 7, 2007, at the time of 5:06 PM

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The following hissed in response by: camwg


Really enjoy the way you think.

Time to sit back and watch to see if the weasels turn on each other.

The above hissed in response by: camwg [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2007 6:11 PM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

Dafydd, it wasn't hard to figure out the story was BS just the way you did, by applying a little logic. The thing is, the left is incapable of using logic and instead uses emotion. This is just another in a long string of lies that prove they can't think logically. Stories such as the nice neat hole in the roof of the ambulance with no hole in the bottom, or the Qur'an and how does it go down a toilet have long since proven my point. They simply are incapable of critical thinking.

As for how it plays out from here. Since there are already some on the left claiming Beauchamp was forced to change his story, not sure but what they both won't let that stand. If they had any brains that's how they would play it because it gives both of them some cover. It all depends on how Beauchamp acts. However, if he gets a few people confronting him over lying, then the feeding frenzy will be on with both sides claiming they were tricked and used. Were Beauchamp not in Iraq and fairly safe from such confrontations, I would almost guarantee that is the way it would play, but it may quite down before he returns.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2007 4:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive

TNR and Franklin Foer, despite their intellectual pretensions, appear to be so dumb that they think they can pull off a successful version of Dan Rather's indefensible mendacity about a certain President's National Guard service.

Motive? It goes beyond mindless intellectual antimilitary hate. They've seen that public opinion is beginning to creep upwards toward support for the 'surge' and the successes of the Army in iraq. To them, this is a crucial moment, and something must be done to reverse the trend. They feel themselves qualified to lead public opinion in a more correct direction. Hence, Foer encourages his mole-in-uniform to pull out all the stops and write up a story in which the US military are beasts - surprisingly like John Kerry's televized description to the Senate of US military behavior in Vietnam. The MSM seized on that lie and trumpeted it abroad, why should they not do the same with that of 'Scott Thomas'? All Foer had to do was to loudly proclaim that the story was 'verified', and the MSM would swing into action on his behalf.

Bloggers, that's why. Too many ways for mendacity to be exposed in real time.

The above hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2007 7:13 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

Here is what I find funny.

The "sensational" claims above - all they seemed to prove was the general assholishness of a few people. Make fun of a disfigured person? Run over a dog? Laugh at the dead? People do that, and even more loutish behavior, all the time. People do stuff like that who aren't even in the military. Next they'll tell me that some soldier, some time, used the dreaded N-word. Oh the humanity!

Printing such claims only paints Foer and company as elitist, effete, losers. Now that they are demonstrably false it just adds the word "untrustworthy" to that description. But then again, I never assume people like Foer are tell the truth, so I am rarely disappointed.

"Your honor, not only is the accused a murderer...but he is a liar as well!" Gasp.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2007 9:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: baldilocks

The "sensational" claims above - all they seemed to prove was the general assholishness of a few people. Make fun of a disfigured person? Run over a dog? Laugh at the dead? People do that, and even more loutish behavior, all the time. People do stuff like that who aren't even in the military. Next they'll tell me that some soldier, some time, used the dreaded N-word. Oh the humanity!
The thing that you're failing to take into account, Big D, is the context: 1) the proscription by the UCMJ of all of the loutish behavior specified (Beauchamp's and yours), 2) the fact that Beauchamp's imaginary GIs supposedly committed these acts while in a foreign country, and 3) the fact that, in all the scenarios spelled out by Beauchamp, an NCO/commissioned officer would have corrected such behavior(under all the circumstances specified by Beauchamp, there is no way that an officer/NCO would not have been present).

People may do such things all the time, but if said people are in the military, they won't be for long.

The above hissed in response by: baldilocks [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2007 11:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mikey

Here is something that TNR and Mr. Foer are not taking into account. Beauchamp said he saw this woman at every meal when he was at the camp in Kuwait. From the records of A Co., 1/18 Infantry the army knows when Beauchamp was at the Camp in Kuwait; they know what DFAC he ate in; and they know the name and serial number of every person, male, female, military branch, or contractor who ate there. You see, you have to sign in or check your name off when you eat.*

It would be very easy to run down the list of names from the DFAC at a certain period of time, find the females, locate their unit or employer, and find out if they were the disfigured woman.

The paperwork and administration of the military is a most awesome/awful thing.

*I'm Coast Guard Auxiliary, and when I eat at a station I sign in and provide my i.d. number; the regulars and reserves do the same thing.

The above hissed in response by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2007 1:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mikey

And another little item that is likely true for the army. When I worked for the city of Dearborn in the summer the vehicles were checked in and out. Any repairs need a reason for the repair and an accident report. When the vehicle was fueled the driver signed the list, noted the vehicle number or liscense plate, the amount of gas and oil, the odometer reading. I can not imagine the army doesn't do the samething. When I rode in a Coast Guard vehicle the driver signed the vehicle in and out and noted the condition. I would guess that any AFV that takes out walls and the corners of buildings is going to get damaged, and the damage has to be repaired, and that will require a reason for the damage. Any vehicle that is in need of repair everytime it goes out is going to tick off the mechanics, and result in that driver no longer driving. (I heard once that a CG utility boat struck an underwater obstruction, damaged the prop, which caused the boat to be pulled, the prop replaced, and the boat's driver was not driving for a long time afterwards. The damage reflected on the boat's driver, the petty officer in charge of the boat, and the boat station's commander.) Equipment is not to be damaged - period. It can't be hidden, it will go up the chain and butt-chewing will go back down, and if it continues, more serious consequences are going to follow. Few are going to risk that just to give Mr. "Death Race 2007" his jollys from driving into things.

More damage will be forgiven in war, but wanton damage is going to be stomped on because no one wants the extra work fixing the damage, and no one wants to be answering the question "WTH are you doing out there?" from above.

The above hissed in response by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2007 2:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: DaveR

Many of the commenters above make the same point in different ways: military discipline and standard procedures make such behavior difficult to credit, and even more difficult to hide.

The strange thing is that eveyone who has served knows this almost instinctively, and most who have NOT served DON'T - they get their ideas about the military from M.A.S.H., and for some with more refined tastes, Sgt. Bilko!

This to me indicates Foer and TNR might have been had just a bit by Beauchamp. Beauchamp himself could not have thought that anyone who was actually in the military would believe him for a second. These tales were written for a lefty-pacifist-only audience.

Once again we see the bloggers connecting things that would not have been connected in years past - and almost certainly allowed "heroes" like John Kerry to get away with telling lies secure in the knowledge that the voices who would know they were lies could be drowned out by the official controllers of the news.

That's really what the "Swiftboat Vets" was about - the emergence of evidence that had always been know by a few, finding voice in a new era when even a few truth-tellers can find a voice.

The above hissed in response by: DaveR [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 10, 2007 10:03 AM

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