The New Republic Smears the Troops – With a Hoax?

Is Stephen Glass writing for The New Republic again?

An incendiary hit piece in The New Republic's July 23 issue smearing American troops in Iraq has provoked serious challenges to its accuracy, bringing to mind Glass's smears of conservatives a decade ago that proved to be made up of whole cloth.

Shock Troops purports to the recollections of a soldier serving in Baghdad and writing under the pseudonym “Scott Thomas.” The article relates three incidents of grotesque misconduct involving American troops serving in Iraq.  “Thomas” describes American troops cruelly mocking a disfigured servicewoman, wantonly running over dogs with a military vehicle and wearing a child's skull like a crown for an entire day and night.    

The New Republic does not provide further information on the author of the piece, and it provides no avenue to verify his tales.  Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard contacted The New Republic last night for more information, but the magazine only provided two place names after claiming that it had “promised to protect the identity of the author to shield him from retribution by the military.”

The first incident in the article allegedly took place at a chow hall at the FOB [Forward Operating Base] Falcon Base.  The author and several soldiers supposedly jeered repeatedly at a civilian contractor or a soldier wearing an “unrecognizable uniform,” with a face “more or less melted, along with the hair on that side of her head” by an IED. 

Thomas assures us that “I saw her nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq.”  Thomas reports himself saying to a comrade, in front of the woman: “I love chicks that have been intimate--with IEDs. It really turns me on--melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses ...”

Were these GIs genuinely unable to tell the difference between the uniform of a “soldier” and that of a civilian contractor?  Are we to believe a soldier so horribly wounded would remain in service in a combat zone?

An officer from the FOB Falcon Base wrote to the Mill Blog Black Five last night raising even more questions:

“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.  Gallows humor jokes do get told, but extremely seldom and never about anyone they actually know or are in the presence of.”

Another U.S. service member who contacted the Weekly Standard, requesting anonymity, reports that the FOB Falcon Base is “not large” and that he “cannot remember eating a meal without having an officer or a senior NCO in earshot -- none of whom would tolerate such cruelty for a moment. Moreover, Falcon isn't that large and the faces become familiar quickly. One gets used to and comes to know everyone pretty easily.”

Major David James Hanson, a military lawyer serving in Iraq, believes that the soldiers in question would have been immediately disciplined and that he would have heard of the incident if it had really taken place.   

Another incident involved a private who enjoyed driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles because he like to run over dogs and destroy property. 

“Occasionally, the brave ones would chase the Bradleys, barking at them like they bark at trash trucks in America--providing him with the perfect opportunity to suddenly swerve and catch a leg or a tail in the vehicle's tracks. He kept a tally of his kills in a little green notebook that sat on the dashboard of the driver's hatch.”

The Weekly Standard posted a response from Ian Kress, a former Military Occupational Specialist who served at FortHood for four years, who raises some more questions:

“How does a dog sit in the road and get run over by an armored vehicle? How many dogs have you ever seen run over like this? Dogs aren't dumb, they get out of the way of a 23 ton armored vehicle. The Bradley is not a Formula 1 race car either - the usual rolling speed is about 20-30 MPH. The article makes it sound like the BFV (Bradley Fighting Vehicle) is some sort of Klingon warship with a cloaking device and a sound silencer, capable of sneaking up on sleeping dogs and running them over before they can get up and move the 2 feet they'd have to get out of the way.”

Lieutenant Colonel Kurt A. Schlichter also asserts that the Bradley is not nearly as maneuverable as Thomas' account makes it sound and that swerving to the right to run over a dog is not possible given the vehicle's visibility limitations. 

Dean Barnett, writing on talk show host Hugh Hewitt's blog, claims he has received emails from soldiers who note the lack of technical military terminology in the Thomas piece.     

Another supposed incident has U.S. service members digging up a mass grave of Hussein victims, with one soldier fitting the top of a child's skull over his head and wearing it for a day.  Also improbable, say military members.  Schlichter writes: “The skull skull-cap? From a little kid? Walking around with it on for a day? Nonsense - sounds like that scene in Jarhead with the corpses. And apparently there were no officers or NCOs around for over 24 hours. Right. Most of my junior enlisted boys would have slapped him silly.”

Even if true, should The New Republic be reporting only the most unflattering stories about U.S. troops during a war?   And why does The New Republic offer an indictment against the U.S. military while providing no way for readers to corroborate it? 

Does The New Republic think the American public trusts journalists to treat the military fairly? 

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.