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Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman returns to Mudville with the fourth installment of his series Warrior to Warrior, letters from a Vietnam veteran to our soldiers in Iraq. See the intro to the series here).
Give Press Credit Where Due
By John Harriman
Dear Warrior . . .
Note to self: If you're going to anoint yourself a press critic, keep both eyes open, not just the one on the right.
I read a cool story Saturday about a kind of "America's Most Wanted" television show in Iraq.
The premise of the show is as plain vanilla as you can imagine, no special effects, no sexual innuendo, no blood-and-guts betrayals--no, wait a minute, that's wrong. The program is all about blood and guts situations brought about by terrorists.
The state-run Iraqi station sits a captured terrorist in a chair and turns on the lights, the camera and the questions. A voice off-camera is that of an interrogator asking questions about how the terrorist chose his profession.
According to the embedded reporter who wrote the story, one Edward Lee Pitt, writing for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, it's all the rage in Iraq. The whole country shuts down every night to watch the program.
What's more, the reporter reports, the program debunks the notion of the motives and origins of the terrorists, although Pitts still refers to them as insurgents. The terrorists reveal that they're not in the killing game as soldiers in a holy war in the defense of Iraq. No, they're in it for the money.
Pitts writes: "The program reveals that insurgents get paid about $200 for setting a roadside bomb, $200 to $500 for a car bomb and as much as $5,000 for detonating a car bomb near a mosque."
Other revelations in the very pro-Iraqi, pro-military story:
? Terrorists are now mainly targeting Iraqis instead of Americans.
? Alcohol, drugs and sex are used as rewards for a successful attack.
? Many terrorists are foreigners, mainly Syrians.
According to Pitts, ordinary Iraqis, incensed by the true nature of terrorists starring in the program, have begun ratting out other terrorists.
In a terrific punchline to his story, Pitts quotes one terrorist who was asked on-camera if he had any advice for young Iraqis watching the program.
"'Let them find a good job,' the terrorist said, according to a translator. 'This is not safe.'"
I mention this story for three reasons.
First, the report is good news for you in the fight against terrorism in Iraq. The program is an extraordinary step in the contest for the hearts and minds of the ordinary Iraqi citizen. People are watching this show in mobs and learning that terrorists are not fighting for them but for their own selfish motives. It's also a nice aside that terrorists are showing signs of getting discouraged.
Second, a U.S. reporter is reporting the story back home. So writers like me who complain about bias in the press ought to give a tip of hat to a positive report from the front.
Third, the reporter is Edward Lee Pitts. He's the guy who planted the question with a soldier from a National Guard unit, the 278th Armored Cavalry, about lack of armor way back when. You boys from the Montana Guard ought to remember because you were in the audience. The question led to the national uproar aimed at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his "You go to war with the army you have . . ." remark.
Personally, I never had a problem with the notion of a planted question. I figured Rumsfeld was a big boy. If he agreed to take questions from soldiers in an open forum, then any question was fair game. True to my expectations, he handled the question very well in his full response. But . . .
The uproar ensued because the other big boys in the game, the national press, took a piece of the full answer out of context and went after Rumsfeld, beating him with it like a two-dollar mule.
But that's old news. The new news?
It's time to give Edward Lee Pitts a pat on the back. I've read some of his other stories. He is given to reporting news on all sorts of positive developments. Saving lives, aiding Iraqi governments, even winning military victories. But this one? This story is priceless.
Good work, Mr. Pitts.
Till next week . . .
God bless you and Godspeed.
John is a veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam and a member of the American Legion. These columns are excerpts from an upcoming book of the same title. His current book, Delta Force #1 : Operation Michael's Sword is a fictional account of the 9/11 attacks and the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.