Thursday, March 01, 2007

End of story says the military and look who rushes to agree

The report sounded horrific. A suicide truck bomb set off in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim stronghold, targeted children on a soccer field, killing at least 15. The story was repeated by wire services, newspapers and television newscasts. Political figures and humanitarian groups alike condemned the attack.
The only problem: it didn't happen, a senior military spokesman said Wednesday.
"There were no children killed," said Rear Adm. Mark Fox, spokesman for the multi-national forces in Iraq. "The allegation was false."

So writes Richard Mauer in "Widely circulated story about suicide bombing turns out to be false" (McClatchy Newspapers). Now if you're thinking "Bad headline" and that somewhere in the article Mauer does anything other than swallow what he is fed, you are mistaken. US military says it and, like Dan Rather show boating on David Letterman, that's good enough for Mauer. Tina Susman's "No bombing of Ramadi soccer field, U.S. says: The dismissal of reports of 18 boys being killed in the city, where GIs had set off a controlled blast, points up difficulty in arriving at the truth" (Los Angeles Times) follows a similar (party) line and probably needs to be co-credited to McClatchy (not just for the strangely similar opening sentence).

So the US military feeds a line and the press swallows. They swallow so damn well that they don't even ask about the Tuesday incident to read their reports. That's when, the US military says, US forces detonated weapons of some sort (to get rid of them) and, depending upon the military flack, as many as thirty Iraqis were injured. Susman and Mauer tell you the military told them it was just minor injuries -- for which some were sent to the hospital.

All this time later, you're trying to tell readers that the US military doesn't know how to safely get rid of weapons? And you expect readers to believe an official US military issued "Oopsie!" makes a wounded Iraqi feel better?

It's also real cute how eye witnesses (Iraqis) are mocked and apparently too stupid to know what they themselves saw. No reporters were there but the two above are happy to repeat what the US military said not as a claim, but as a fact -- one they can't verify but that doesn't seem to trouble them anymore than the conflict between the reports.

Now I realize most outlets with reporters stationed in Iraq (full time) are losing people. (Their outlets have begun shipping reporters to Iran -- think Bully Boy's not serious about a war there? The media's taking it seriously enough to start cutting back on a war that's ongoing to ship reporters off to Iran). But the way it's supposed to work when you have conflicting reports that you can't verify (or don't try to verify) is that you don't give greater weight to one side. In the two stories cited above, it's not just greater weight, it's saying "This is true and I know it to be true because a US military spokesflack told me so."

Martha notes Ernesto Londono and Naseer Mehdawi's "Local Sheik In Ramadi Adds Detail On Attack: U.S. Military Says There Was No Blast That Killed Children" (Washington Post):

A community leader in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi provided additional information Wednesday about a deadly car bombing earlier this week that U.S. officials said did not occur.
Raad Sabah al-Mukeilef, a sheik who said he lives about 500 yards from where the bomb exploded Monday, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he believes members of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq set off the bomb near a playground after being unable to get past a checkpoint that leads to his house, which is near a government building.

Children, ages 4 to 17, were playing soccer when a man at the wheel of a small truck pulled up next to the checkpoint, he said.
"He came in a pickup," Mukeilef said. "Instead of coming in my street, he did it in a small park for children." Mukeilef said he has participated in a U.S.-backed group of sheiks opposed to Sunni insurgents.
Mukeilef's account corroborated information provided Tuesday by Col. Tariq al-Alwani, the security supervisor in Anbar province in western Iraq. Both men said the blast killed 16 children and three women, one of whom died Wednesday from her wounds. Ramadi is the provincial capital.

The above is the opening and it's a short article so that will have to be it for the excerpt. But what it really reminds me of is the lie that the AP was attacked awhile back by the right-wing for reporting an incident (that turned out to have happened). Were they attacked by the right-wing? Well the Editor & Publisher commentaries said so it must be true! But left out of the equation was the fact that other outlets (including the New York Times) were knocking the legs out from under the story from the start (again, the AP was correct).

If the story turns out to be false, Londono and Mehdawi have no egg on their face. They've noted what eye witnesses say and what the US military says. The other outlets, rushing to repeat the US military's claims and making 'sport' of eye witnesses? They seem to have forgotten whom journalists are supposed to serve. Hint, journalism isn't supposed to exist to make those in power feel comfy. (The comments re: the Post are rather obvious -- or should be -- to anyone paying attention. I avoid making editorial comments re: the paper due to conflicts of interest. But this is so basic and so obvious that I don't feel I've underscored anything that wasn't already easily noted.)

Dana notes Justin Ward's "Fighting the War: Wilkerson sentenced, activists press Congress" (Austin Chronicle):

Spc. Mark Wilkerson faced a choice between his freedom and his conscience. He chose the latter, and now he's paying the price.
Last Thursday, Feb. 22, a Fort Hood military court sentenced the 23-year-old soldier to seven months in prison, with a bad-conduct discharge, for going absent without leave from the Iraq war. He will join more than 25 other soldiers nationwide who are incarcerated or facing prosecution for refusing to redeploy to Iraq, including Lt.
Ehren Watada of Washington, who will return to court in March after his first hearing was declared a mistrial.
Wilkerson went AWOL while on leave from Iraq in November 2004, after the Army denied his application for conscientious-objector status -- a legal exemption from fighting based on religious, moral, or ethical grounds. After spending 19 months as a fugitive, Wilkerson decided it was time to accept the consequences of his actions; without a plea agreement, he could have been sentenced to seven years in prison. In September 2006, he told a crowd of anti-war protesters at Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey that he planned to turn himself in. In order to avoid a costly legal battle, Wilkerson declined a trial by jury and pled guilty to desertion.
On the eve of Wilkerson's sentencing, more than two dozen supporters gathered at South Austin's Cafe Caffeine. Wilkerson was scheduled to spend his last night as a free man speaking at the event but could not attend due to last-minute meetings with his lawyers. Ann Wright, a former Army colonel and State Department official who resigned in protest of the Iraq war, addressed the crowd and called the actions of Wilkerson and other soldier resisters an important "stand of conscience." "They are the ones that are willing to put their bodies on the line – not on the line for murdering or criminal activity," Wright said, "but on the line for conscience and morality and to hold accountable an administration that is putting our nation at risk."
Kelly Dougherty, co-founder of
Iraq Veterans Against the War, echoed Wright's comments and underscored the difficulty of the decision faced by soldiers who choose to refuse. Soldiers are financially dependent on the military; not only do they lose their income if they go AWOL, but they face the likelihood of high legal costs. A strong military culture of camaraderie also causes soldiers to hesitate. "When you join the military, you become a part of a new family," Dougherty said. "IVAW members who have returned home and oppose the war often think of re-enlisting, because they don't want to leave their brothers and sisters in the military to fight the war alone."
Another speaker, Hart Viges, an Iraq veteran and a conscientious objector, stressed the need for more education about the war to young people, including counter-recruitment in schools. Adapting the language of combat, Viges said, "If we want to stop this war, we have to hit their supply line."

On the subject of Ehren Watada, Joan notes Gregg K. Kakesako's "Next Watada court-martial set for July" (Honolulu Star-Bulletin):

The second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who is being tried for refusing to deploy to Iraq, is scheduled to be held at Fort Lewis, Wash., in July, about the same time his unit is expected to return from its combat deployment.
Eric Seitz, Watada's attorney, said yesterday that he plans to file motions before then to dismiss all charges against the 28-year-old Army artillery officer, because the first court-martial ended in a mistrial on Feb. 7. He contends that Watada cannot be tried again because it would be a case of "double jeopardy."
Seitz also said he will ask that Lt. Col. John Head, who presided over the first court-martial, be recused. Seitz said he believes that Head was "out of line" when he declared the mistrial.
Those pretrial motions are expected to be taken the week of May 20, Seitz added, with the court-martial slated for July 16-20.

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