Thursday, October 25, 2007

 

Leaks and Recriminations

Someone yesterday leaked documents of interviews between “Shock Troops” diarist Scott Thomas Beauchamp, editorial and legal representatives of The New Republic (TNR), as well as excerpts from the official Army investigation into Beauchamp’s conduct in publishing his “stories” at TNR.

As soon as these leaked documents appeared at the Drudge Report, conservative bloggers with long-time interest in the controversy and scandal jumped all over the story. Many bloggers on the right echoed Matt Drudge’s claim – apparently since retracted – that the documents constituted evidence of a complete retraction by Beauchamp, and included an admission by Beauchamp that he had fabricated the hoariest details of his discredited accounts.

Left leaning bloggers, either supportive of TNR or highly suspicious that MILBLOGGER and other objections to the original diary entries were unfounded or politically motivated, likewise either assailed the new leak of documents or dismissed them as either forgeries or not containing what Drudge and other critics claimed.

No and yes, yes and no. From both sides of the argument.

First, some observations about the original piece from Drudge. The headline exaggerated the significance of these documents, which are damning in their own right and most probably authentic. The text of Drudge’s report suggested that the leaked documents show evidence that Beauchamp completely retracted or disowned his reports, which they do not. They suggest, on the other hand, a lot of things, far more damning of the behavior and conduct of Foer and TNR than the hapless Beauchamp.

I think it entirely likely that upon complaint and objection, and possibly an Army request, Matt Drudge pulled the documents. I think he now knows that whatever else the documents might show, whatever their provenance or authenticity, they aren’t quite the “smoking gun” or the final story to tell on this story about story telling.

Now about those documents. For one thing, the documents purport to be of a particular origin, but headings, dates, and a recurrent footer on the documents don’t jibe. I don’t suggest that this means there inauthentic, but I do think they need explaining if one is going to draw meaningful conclusions.

Each page of the leaked documents contains a footer, “Misconduct_4/1ID_Beauchamp_17 Jul 07.” This appears to be a footer entry, apparently auto-inserted into the PDF file when the documents were scanned. I suppose if an HQ or admin or legal section were tracking disciplinary paperwork, and saving scanned copies, they might include a “date of offense” in the filename. July 17, 2007 was the date TNR published “Shock Troops.”

They appear to be separate documents that have been scanned together, and if the dates on the documents are accurate, the interview pages from September are scanned along with selected pages from documents produced in July.

The Memorandum pages appear authentic, properly formatted, without any obvious discrepancy. I do wonder why all of the referenced exhibits – including two statements from Beauchamp – weren’t included when the documents were scanned. They would certainly be the more conclusive or explosive of the contents, rather than the more formulaic officer prose of the Investigative AR 15-6 Report. If the individual(s) leaking these documents sought to offer up “convincing” proof that Beauchamp had lied or admitted fabricating his stories, why have these particular segments of the report been leaked, with all the really damning evidence withheld?

Sure, I want to see what the investigating officer has to say, but I’d really want to see those exhibits.

Included in the back of the scanned pages is a “Memorandum of Concern’ from 1/18th Battalion Commander LTC George Glaze, and constituting an “administrative action,” but formal counseling, versus “punishment.” (The distinction is perhaps only significant to those in the military, but is one of those gray areas of discipline between a “stiff talking to” and real punishment like extra duty, confinement, or forfeiture of pay. Again, this reads as authentic.

If authentic, a Memorandum of Record shows a signed acknowledgment from Beauchamp that he received the Memorandum of Concern and counseling from LTC Glaze on September 1, 2007. It clearly does NOT show, as some have suggested and perhaps Drudge mistakenly assumed, that Beauchamp in any way acknowledged or admitted the findings of the AR 15-6 investigation. Again, what I’d really want to see are his sworn statements, DA forms 2823.

There would be no way to tell whether the “interview transcripts” are authentic, as they don’t contain headers or footers (other than the footer apparently from the scanner), or even page numbers, nor are they self identified as to source or scribe.

There us an entry at the top of the first page, “Transcript of Conversation,” with a second line reading “Scott Thomas Beauchamp and The New Republic, 061945SEP07.” This is to mean that the interview took place at 7:45 pm (unknown time zone), September 6, 2007, for those unfamiliar with a military style date-time group.

The next few lines identify the participants in the interview as Beauchamp, Foer, and Peter Scoblic, TNR Executive Editor, and “Gene,” a lawyer engaged for Beauchamp by TNR. Also present are SSG Preiszler, Beauchamp’s squad leader, SPC Ben Washburn, a soldier of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) Public Affairs Office.

The documents themselves show very little formatting, the first lines are indented but with no bolding or raised fonts. The transcripts, if they are authentic, give the appearance of somebody’s best guess at how to document such an interview. They suggest a verbatim transcript, rather than hand scribed meeting notes. There are occasional tags of “unintelligible,” which suggests that a clerk may have been handed a recording and asked to transcribe.

What the documents do show is that the Army investigation gathered a rather full and incriminating collection of evidence that Beauchamp fabricated the warp and woof of his accounts. He spun elaborate war stories out of shreds of experience, and manufactured the grittier and more outrageous elements of his accounts – in particular, the ones that have so infuriated his critics in and of the military.

The interviews in particular reveal some clues that may explain why this scandal occurred, and why it continues to play out the way it has. Beauchamp’s Squad Leader sits in on the interview with Foer and Scoblic. Rather than intimidating Beauchamp, as Juan Cole and others are suggesting, it seems a lot more likely that Beauchamp really is trying to make amends for his fable-telling, following his Commander’s instructions to seek approval from his immediate supervisor, and just trying to concentrate on doing his job.

For one thing, Foer and Scoblic give Beauchamp all kinds of opportunity to throw them a bone and back up his stories, which he refuses to do. They also put a lot of pressure on him to give them cover, and even use the emotional (and perhaps financial) pressure implied in suggesting that Beauchamp’s wife, still a TNR employee, really wants him to back TNR up.

By my admittedly jaundiced reading, I think Foer and Scoblic are a lot more intimidating in these interviews than Beauchamp’s squad leader (only a Staff Sergeant E-6) and a Specialist from the PAO. If Beauchamp’s unit wanted intimidation, Beauchamp’s Command Sergeant Major (CSM), First Sergeant, or at least Platoon Sergeant would be there, along with the actual PAO, a Major or thereabouts, not a junior enlisted soldier. (Was he the one who would later scribe the interview?)

I think Beauchamp, being a kid with dreams beyond his (at least current) capabilities, screwed up in something he thought he could play at, not reaizing the immediate and explosive effect it would have on his immediate unit and fellow soldiers. I think he knows now. I think he sincerely wants to get away from the whole mess, salvage what honor and respect he can from his comrades by concentrating on the job at hand. Oh, and staying away from the media, or any attempt to revisit his daydreams of being a writer.

For another, deeper insight into this assessment of Beauchamp and his fate, see some serendipitous reporting from Michael Yon.

Yon describes a chance meeting with Beauchamp’s unit and former commander:

I was at a reconciliation meeting between Sunni and Shia in the West Rashid district of Baghdad on 24 October, and it happened by complete coincidence that I was with Beauchamp’s battalion. In fact, I was with his old company commander for much of the day, although I had no idea for most of it that I was with Beauchamp’s old company commander.

At the reconciliation meeting, Beauchamp’s battalion commander, LTC George Glaze, politely introduced himself and asked who I wrote for. When I replied that I just have a little blog, the word caught his ears and he mentioned Beauchamp, who I acknowledged having heard something about.  LTC Glaze seemed protective of Beauchamp, despite how the young soldier had maligned his fellow soldiers. In fact, the commander said Beauchamp, having learned his lesson, was given the chance to leave or stay.

The reality of war is hellish enough: the IED that left this massive crater in the road in Mosul also killed five soldiers.

It can be pretty tough over here. The soldiers in Beauchamp’s unit have seen a lot of combat. Often times soldiers are working in long stretches of urban guerrilla combat dogged by fatigue and sleep deprivation. This is likely one of the most stressful jobs in the world, especially when millions of people are screaming at you for failures that happened three years or more ago, and for decisions to invade Iraq that were made when you were still a teenager. Just as bad is the silence from the untold millions who have already written off your effort as hopeless. Add that to the fact that buddies are getting killed in front of you. (More than 70 killed in Beauchamp’s brigade.) I see what these young men and women go through, and the extraordinary professionalism they nearly always manage to exude awes me on a daily basis.

Lapses of judgment are bound to happen, and accountability is critical, but that’s not the same thing as pulling out the hanging rope every time a soldier makes a mistake.

Beauchamp is young; under pressure he made a dumb mistake. In fact, he has not always been an ideal soldier. But to his credit, the young soldier decided to stay, and he is serving tonight in a dangerous part of Baghdad. He might well be seriously injured or killed here, and he knows it. He could have quit, but he did not. He faced his peers. I can only imagine the cold shoulders, and worse, he must have gotten. He could have left the unit, but LTC Glaze told me that Beauchamp wanted to stay and make it right. Whatever price he has to pay, he is paying it.

So much depends on soldiers who are sometimes all too human.

The commander said I was welcome to talk with Beauchamp, but clearly he did not want anyone else coming at his soldier. LTC Glaze told me that at least one blog had even called for Beauchamp to be killed, which seems rather extreme even on a very bad day. LTC Glaze wants to keep Beauchamp, and hopes folks will let it rest. I’m with LTC Glaze on this: it’s time to let Beauchamp get back to the war. The young soldier learned his lessons. He paid enough to earn his second chance that he must know he will never get a third.

(Yon via an excerpt at National Review Online.)

I think that reads right, and I hope this controversy rightly focuses on Foer and his obstreperous fellow editors at TNR, rather than Beauchamp. Hopefully, he can find himself another kind of story to tell from his unfortunate experiences (however much self-inflicted).

Unless of course, he turns back to the dark side, as suggested by Allah Pundit at Hot Air:

The irony of all this is that it won’t change anyone’s mind. The left will dismiss the statements as coerced, even the circumstantial evidence re: the dog-killing. And then, in a year or two, when Beauchamp’s out of the service he’ll write a new piece for TNR or Vanity Fair or whoever claiming that it’s all true and he was “silenced” and you’ll just have to take his golden word for it, and then they’ll turn him into a free speech martyr.

Hat tip for the original post at Glenn Reynolds, and links to most major commentary up at Memeorandum.

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