Thursday, July 26, 2007

Scott Thomas identified

The Plank at the New Republic has a statement up about how they're doing careful research to double-check all the facts and stories in the Baghdad Diarist's pieces that they published in their magazine.
As we've noted in this space, some have questioned details that appeared in the Diarist "Shock Troops," published under the pseudonym Scott Thomas. According to Major Kirk Luedeke, a public affairs officer at Forward Operating Base Falcon, a formal military investigation has also been launched into the incidents described in the piece.

Although the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published, we have decided to go back and, to the extent possible, re-report every detail. This process takes considerable time, as the primary subjects are on another continent, with intermittent access to phones and email. Thus far we've found nothing to disprove the facts in the article; we will release the full results of our search when it is completed.
As Thomas Lipscomb points out in his comments to my post from yesterday evening, it was the responsibiity of TNR to have done this fact-checking before they published the piece. Their description that they gave ABC of running the story by embeds to see if it smelled right doesn't rise to the level of rigorous fact-checking.

And the author of the pieces has now identified himself.
My Diarist, "Shock Troops," and the two other pieces I wrote for the New Republic have stirred more controversy than I could ever have anticipated. They were written under a pseudonym, because I wanted to write honestly about my experiences, without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, my pseudonym has caused confusion. And there seems to be one major way in which I can clarify the debate over my pieces: I'm willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name.

I am Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.

My pieces were always intended to provide my discrete view of the war; they were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military. I wanted Americans to have one soldier's view of events in Iraq.

It's been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name.

--Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp
Well now that he has identified himself, it will be easier for the military to look into his allegations. Though his concern about his comrades in harms having their character being called into question rings hollow. His whole writing called that character and those experiences into question.

As Cassandra at Villianous Company so wisely points out, someone with real concern about humanity, if he'd witnessed an American soldier prancing around with a child's skull on his head would have reported such behavior to the authorities.
But there is another disturbing aspect to both the Private's and Franklin Foer's behavior in this matter. Desecration of a mass grave is a serious matter. What was his motivation in writing about it?

Certainly this is not behavior sanctioned by the U.S. Army. The right course of action for anyone witnessing such a heinous act would be, if indeed it really happened, to report the perpetrators to the command. Someone who would desecrate the grave of a child, who would place a piece of a child's skull under their helmet and wear it for hours, is someone in need of psychological help.

Did Private Beauchamp have no concern for this person's mental health, if not for the welfare of any innocent Iraqis who might be harmed by someone for whom the lines between right and wrong had so clearly been badly blurred? Assuming this account is true, (and considering so far no record of a mass grave has been unearthed in the vicinity of FOB Falcon, this requires a leap of faith) a crime was committed. His obligation was to report it. It is, possibly, understandable that loyalty might have prevented a young man from turning in his comrade, though this doesn't excuse him doing the wrong thing.

What excuses Franklin Foer? He would surely understand that the Army has rules against desecrating the graves of children. Did he think that simply writing an anonymous article satisfied our obligation to the Iraqi people, since he has apparently satisfied himself that Beauchamp's stories are "true"? His conscience is suspiciously easy to salve, especially for one who is so ready to believe ill of our armed forces.

This whole episode smacks of expediency, of an editor who believed a story because it aligned with what he wanted to believe and of a young man who, for whatever reason, wanted the freedom to say ugly things without the responsibility of backing them up.
(Link via Michelle Malkin)

Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin is a clearinghouse of information on Scott Beauchamp as people have started tracking down his MySpace page and blog posts that he's written elsewhere. You can judge for yourself whether the guy has a motive for writing what he did. He seems to have an ambition to be a writer as he writes in this post from last year.
ill return to america an author

bavarian stories in some sort of rounded metaphysical order...personality death stories intersecting with poesy home memory reflections. You begin with a place and an action and let it carry in every direction till the words are vibrating on the page, dripping in thick robust delapidated barnhouses of adjectives and time for the subtle gray faced calculations of a PERFORMED intimacy...go...but remember what Kerouac forgot: revision is spontaneous also.
a brief coming back to america introduction, stories about soldiers, prositutes, innocent students rendered featherless by dark rivets of experience and the decadence of human pursuits in every vein...and then there's the veins...follow 'em.
And there's a lot more in this sort of sort of pseudo stream-of-conscious writing style. I guess he's gotten a whole lot more than he bargained for as far as his exposure now.

To be fair, having read lots of teenage blogs and Facebook or MySpace writings, I wouldn't want to come down too heavily on what anyone puts in these sorts of posts. What kids used to write in their private journals and show perhaps to a few friends are now out there for the world to see and judge. (I tell my students to remember that when they post anything on the internet - they never know who will be reading it later, but most kids can't believe that anyone but their friends will ever read their personal flights of fancy.)

An army officer who is stationed at the same FOB that Beauchamp wrote about writes in to Blue Star Chronicles with his own refutation of what Beauchamp wrote.

I am a U.S. Army officer and have been stationed at FOB Falcon, Baghdad, Iraq since October of 2006. I am currently still here. The stories that “Scott Thomas” describes are completely fictional. From some of the things he talks about I am led to believe that this individual may possibly be in my unit since we are the only ones with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and I recall the child cemetery that was uncovered in our sector while constructing a Combat Outpost.
Red the rest of his point-by-point refutation of how none of the three egregiously horrible stories from the New Republic could possibly have been true. If only he'd been on the list of TNR's fact-checking squad. (Link via Villianous Company)