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November 14, 2006
A combination of blurring and smearing (Part 1)By Greyhawk
An examination of the impact of the Abu Ghraib story on the resulting conduct of the war in Iraq.
February, 2004, saw 21 US deaths in Iraq. Twelve were due to enemy action, nine were accidental. But in the background, events were already transpiring that would ensure that such a low number would never be seen again.
The first public indication of the gathering storm came the month before, in this January 26 CNN report:
The U.S. military's criminal investigation into potential abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Gharib [sic] prison in Iraq now includes reports from soldiers that military police took photographs showing soldiers hitting detainees, CNN has learned.The CID investigation began earlier that month when an American soldier at Abu Ghraib provided authorities those now famous photographs of detainee abuse.
Among those rounded up for questioning in the investigation was Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, a 38-year-old National Guard member whose civilian occupation was prison guard. Shortly after learning he was a suspect in the case, Frederick began writing his version of events at the prison:
Frederick began writing his journal on Jan. 14, only a few hours after Army authorities fetched him for questioning and searched his quarters at 2:30 a.m. that day. He mailed copies to his mother, father, uncle and sister, and decided not to send it by e-mail for fear that the Army would see it first.By March 20, the investigation had concluded, and the soldiers were charged. The American Forces press release is here.
The March 20, 2004 CNN report is here:
Six U.S. soldiers have been charged with offenses related to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at an Iraqi prison, the U.S. Army said Saturday.Although officers and enlisted through the chain of command had been implicated, guilt of the individuals actually participating in the abuses at Abu Ghraib would have to be determined prior to charging their superiors with any negligence or participation in the alleged crimes. Article 32 hearings - to determine if full Courts Martial were required, were scheduled for six soldiers at Abu Ghraib, including Staff Sgt. Frederick.
Around this point in time, CBS News producer Mary Mapes' would learn of the story. Although certainly no secret, the various press releases and announcements regarding the case had attracted very little media attention beyond the reports from CNN. Mapes knew she was on to something - while she may or may not have known whether she could successfully claim to have "broken" the story she clearly knew that obtaining the actual photographs - if they were graphic enough - would enable her to elevate the attention it had received thus far.
But in her own telling of the tale, in her book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, Mapes would portray herself as a crusading journalist, digging to uncover the story that the Pentagon was attempting to hide.
Here was our original tip: American military officials were investigating reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib. We were told that a number of US soldiers were involved and that an extensive collection of photographs, taken by the soldiers, was part of the investigation.A veteran of the military and journalism, Roger Charles was uniquely positioned to "consult" with CBS:
In his spare time (not that he had any), Roger worked with Col. David Hackworth on his advocacy Web site, Soldiers for the Truth.Note the dates - three days after the March 20 announcement of the completion of the investigation, Frederick's uncle ("Frederick began writing his journal on Jan. 14, only a few hours after Army authorities fetched him for questioning and searched his quarters at 2:30 a.m. that day. He mailed copies to his mother, father, uncle and sister...") was in contact with CBS (perhaps unwittingly at this point - he may have been duped into assuming he was dealing with an advocacy group designed to "support the troops".)
But the story was still weeks away from its worldwide television debut. Other graphic images would claim headlines first.
In March, 2004, the U.S. death toll in Iraq took a decided upswing. Though relatively low by today's standards, the numbers more than doubled from February, and culminated on the last day of the month. On March 31, 2004, a vehicle with four American contractors was ambushed as it passed through Fallujah. A mob mutilated and burned the bodies, dragging them through the streets and ultimately hanging them on a bridge. Photographs and videos of the event appeared within hours on front pages and news programs around the world.
Coalition forces demanded the handover of those responsible, but that demand was not met. In early April the United States Marines launched a major assault on Fallujah. Fighting was intense, and from the beginning the political factions behind the scenes were at odds with each other and with military commanders. News accounts focused on the suffering of the civilian population of the city. Then,
At noon on April 9, Marines and Coalition forces unilaterally suspended combat in Fallujah in order to hold meetings between members of the Governing Council, the Fallujah leadership and the leadership of the anti-coalition forces, to allow the delivery of additional supplies by the relevant departments of the Iraqi government and to allow residents of Fallujah to tend to their wounded and dead.
Coincidentally, also on April 9th, the Article 32 hearing (in which evidence is presented, witnesses are called, and the decision to pursue court martial is made) in the case against Sergeant Frederick was convened. In addition to a military lawyer, SSgt Frederick had by then retained the services of Gary Myers, one of the military defense attorneys in the Vietnam-era My Lai case. After the hearing, the presiding investigative officer ruled that there was sufficient evidence to convene a court-martial against Frederick. Any evidence collected (confiscated photos, etc.) would be available to the defense at this point.
According to Mapes' account, on that very day...
I got about a dozen photos on Friday, April 9. In Dana's tiny office in New York, we sat grimly and looked at picture after picture. Dan [Rather] came rushing in from across the street and the three of us looked huddled around the desk, flipping through the photographs silently. Jeff Fager and Patti Hassler came to Dana's office to see the pictures and had the same reaction we did. They just stared.Jackpot, as they say. Later, after the story "went public", Bill Lawson would explain his decision - even as CBS attempted to "cover up" the involvement of the defense in their efforts:
"The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on 60 Minutes," he said. "But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case."Some additional news from April 9, 2004, in Iraq:
U.S. troops fanned out across Kut, southeast of Baghdad, after meeting little resistance in the city, witnesses said, in a major foray by the American military into the south, where U.S. allies have struggled to deal with the uprising by the al-Mahdi Army, led by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.Time appeared to be running out for the anti-American cleric.
In background interviews with military experts, Mapes would be made fully aware of the impact of her photos on the war.
We were able to call on... retired Marine lieutenant colonel Bill Cowan, who'd had extensive experience in Special Operations...But persisted in her efforts to script a story of American "cover-up"
Once our interviews were completed, I began working on the script. At the same time, I finally contacted the Pentagon and told them what we had. I hadn't wanted to call too soon for fear the military would hurt my efforts to get information. The first thing the public relations officer asked me was whether we had the pictures. I know that made all the difference in the world to the military in terms of deniability.According to Mapes, at least one other "cover-up" was definitely underway
While I was waiting for the people at the Pentagon to make up their mind, I had to do something on the Abu Ghraib story that has never been part of my producing experience before or since...Part two is here.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 14, 2006 2:28 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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