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The New Republic's Correspondent a Fake?

Posted By Blackfive • [July 18, 2007]

A mission from the Weekly Standard - or more accurately, this is a "Bust Their Chops" opportunity to debunk some letters that are just too much "exactly what the left wing wants to hear" for me to take at face value. If you can help, email the Weekly Standard. Or, if you'd feel more comfortable contacting me, I'm at blackfive - AT - gmail - DOT- com.

Fact or Fiction?

A mission for milbloggers:

The New Republic runs a piece in this week's issue titled "Shock Troops" (sub. req.) and authored by Scott Thomas--described by the magazine as a "pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Baghdad." "Thomas" is the author of two previous dispatches from Iraq for the New Republic, both of which recount deeply disturbing anecdotes (in one, an Iraqi boy who calls himself James Bond has his tongue cut out for talking to Americans; in the other, dogs feast on a corpse in the street). His latest piece is even more disturbing. It recounts several instances of gross misconduct by the men in his unit, some of which are, to echo the title of his piece, deeply shocking--If they are true--a big if, according to several people with experience in Iraq. One described it to me as sounding like a "pastiche of the 'This is no bullshit . . . stories soldiers like to tell."

The first episode puts "Thomas"'s unit at a "chow hall" at an unnamed base. A woman eating there is wearing "an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor." The woman's face is described as having been "more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head," by an IED. She sits down for lunch next to the men. Here's how "Thomas" describes what happens next:

We were already halfway through our meals when she arrived. After a minute or two of eating in silence, one of my friends stabbed his spoon violently into his pile of mashed potatoes and left it there.
“Man, I can’t eat like this,” he said.
“Like what?” I said. “Chow hall food getting to you?”
“No—with that fucking freak behind us!” he exclaimed, loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables. I looked over at the woman, and she was intently staring into each forkful of food before it entered her half-melted mouth.
“Are you kidding? I think she’s fucking hot!” I blurted out.
“What?” said my friend, half-smiling.
“Yeah man,” I continued. “I love chicks that have been intimate—with IEDs. It really turns me on—melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses . . . .”
“You’re crazy, man!” my friend said, doubling over with laughter. I took it as my cue to continue.
“In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? ‘IED Babes.’ We could have them pose in thongs and bikinis on top of the hoods of their blown-up vehicles.”
My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground.

Is it possible that American soldiers would be so sadistic when confronted by a badly burned woman, who may be a fellow soldier? Well, yes: Anything is possible when it comes to human depravity. But consider: these are enlisted men who, by the author's own account, don't know who this woman is or what rank she might hold. (Incidentally, wouldn't soldiers be able to distinguish a soldier from a contractor--especially if she is a regular at the chow hall?) Would they really ridicule her with raised voices in a public place, on "one especially crowded day"?...

There's a lot more - both quotes and questions - at the Weekly Standard.

Update July 18:  A trusted source says that the FOB in question, FOB Falcon, was turned over to the IA/IP a year or two ago.  (Incorrect info.  There is a IA battalion but the rest of the FOB is USA.  Updated from a source on Falcon, see below.)

Another states that the driver in the article would have been beaten by his own troops for putting them in danger of IEDs.

Another from an Infantry Sergeant: 

I just read this story, Major, and it's bullshit, sir. Nobody that would have been melted by and IED would be alive. No way. I've SEEN IED victums, remember, [redacted] was killed by an IED, face blown off and feet gone. [redacted] did not live. If need be I can provide more than one witness to the event. I know of two Soldiers that were burned to death by propane IEDs , [redacted] and [redacted], both died a horrible death. This story is bullshit at the least and the worst fiction at the best.

Update 0h-Dark-30 July 19: An Army Officer on Falcon emails this note:

I am and have been an avid reader of your milblog for many years and wanted to answer your request for help with the entry about the TNR article 'Shock Troopers'.

I am one of the many thousand American soldiers at FOB Falcon.  We do have an IA Battalion here, but they are on a completely isolated portion of the camp.  I don't mean to contradict your trusted source about the ownership of this place, but I'm sitting in my barracks right now typing this email here on the FOB.  Without naming units or giving specific personnel counts, I can assure you this is definitely an American post.

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.

Given the friends in the S-2 shop of my battalion and how often I talk to them about what's going on in our AO and AI I can also tell you no reports whatsoever have been sent up - or down from MNCI - about a mass grave of any kind.  We find bodies all the time, sure, but graves?  None.

The part about running over the dog, in my opinion, is somewhat plausible, but I doubt the PL or CO of that individual would let them do it more than once if they valued the lives of their men at all.  The vehicles we drive are all top heavy and violent swerving to hit a dog is not advisable.

As for the human skull bit, I know that any NCO worth his salt, and most certainly a PSG or higher, would literally crush a Joe for taking his ACH helmet off in the middle of a mission only to put a portion of human skull on his head.

You've probably received multiple emails about all this already, but I just wanted to help crush the bullshit surrounding this story.  Thank you for your milblog and for all you do for us overseas.

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