Army Officials: Soldier's Accounts of War Inaccurate
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now, the dispute over the accounts of blogger and army Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the so-called Baghdad diarist. When the New Republic published several of his pieces about troubling experiences and atrocities in Baghdad, it caused an outcry. Conservatives say the young soldier made things up. And the U.S. Army has concluded that his stories are untrue. That is one of the nation's oldest political journals defending the veracity of its articles.
NPR's David Folkenflink is following this story, and he's with us now. David, first, what did Private Beauchamp write that was so incendiary?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, he wrote a number of things. He wrote three stories between February of this year and last month. He had blogged a little bit on the side, privately. But the New Republic, he wrote of episodes that include the discovery of mass graves of children's bodies and skeletons, and an episode in which a soldier played with a remnant of a skull, putting it on his own head. He wrote of a small child who had deigned, sort of befriend him and talked to him and who had his tongue later cut out by insurgents for having the audacity to speak to American soldiers.
He told of a body of a slain man in a street devoured by dogs, finding certain kind of bullet casings from glocks, which he reported could only have come from the gun of Iraqi - excuse me, police officers. And he wrote of an episode that was troubling in essentially, a mess hall in which he and another soldier had mocked a woman whose face had been severely scarred and disfigured. And he sort of talked about he was sexually turned on by the idea of a woman who had burned or disfigured, particularly by IEDs. And he wrote about his own, sort of horror at the fact of his own cruelty and the - in some ways - pleasure that he had been horrified by it, that he had some remnants of his humanity left.
NORRIS: These stories appeared again in the New Republic magazine. How were questions raised about what Private Beauchamp wrote?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, in mid July, Michael Goldfarb, in particular, of the conservative Weekly Standard, a somewhat similar opinion journal, but from a slightly different ideological position, started to raise questions. I talked to him and in his writings as well. He said this didn't really pass the smell test. There were too many pat anecdotes that tended to reflect badly on both individual soldiers and on, sort of the overall question of what they were doing there. This continued in a blogosphere, you know. The U.S. Army ultimately was provoked to do what it calls an investigation, and it did. It said it talked to a major from the Army earlier today who said they could not corroborate his accounts, and that the Army officially has concluded they were not true.
NORRIS: So what's been the response of the New Republic? It seems like there's a lot at stake there. They've dealt with cases of false reporting before.
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. If you go back 1990s, Ruth Shalit, and even perhaps more starkly, Stephen Glass, fabricated and made - mostly at a whole - (unintelligible) several dozen stories giving the New Republic a terrible hit to its credibility. It's been building back since then.
The New Republic's editors - Franklin Foer and others - have attempted to verify what he had written. He's married now to a New Republic reporter/researcher there. And they tried to talk to people both to see if things were possible and if things were true. They say that they've corroborated largely the anecdotes with the exception of the event in the mess hall, where the woman was mocked, apparently occurred in a mess hall in Kuwait and not one in Iraq.
NORRIS: So the New Republic stands behind the stories - they say these stories are true. The Pentagon says they're not. Who's right?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's very hard to tell. Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard is saying that he has a source who tells him that Mr. Beauchamp - Private Beauchamp has recanted entirely his three articles. People at the New Republic say that the private, in fact, says he did not recant. If you take the Kuwait episode, it's hard to understand exactly how somebody could have gotten a country wrong. And it's hard to understand exactly how one has those questions about the reactions one has in a time of war when you haven't been there. Yet, you've been in Kuwait, which is, of course…
FOLKENFLIK: …where you'd go first. But…
NORRIS: Sorry to cut you off, David. But we're just out of time. So sorry. That was NPR's David Folkenflik speaking to us from New York.
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