Friday, June 30, 2006

New Accusations against U.S. Servicemen: Can We trust the AP?

Ryan Lenz of the Associated Press reports that five U.S. Army soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment are charged with the rape of a young Iraqi female and the murders of the female and three members of her family. Lenz quotes military spokesman Maj. Todd Breasseale as saying simply, "We're not releasing any specifics of an ongoing investigation."

Then Lenz cites "a U.S. official close to the investigation" as saying that one of the soldiers admitted to the crime.

Let's think critically about this report, first looking at the contrast between the named spokesman (Maj. Breasseale) and the unnamed source (the "U.S. official close to the investigation").

Problem 1: The official spokesman said that the Army was keeping mum on the details. But the unnamed source made a statement specific to the case. Why would this unnamed source, who was close to the case, go in a direction contrary to the official Army plan? Army CID personnel know better than to spout off about the details of a highly sensitive case, and if a person close to the case did go against orders to give Lenz the inside scoop, he or she will be in a lot of trouble.

I want to know who Lenz's unnamed source source is, and if Lenz was unwilling to divulge his source, why I should believe him.

We have already seen the Haditha story start to unravel from the moment that critically-thinking individuals began to look into the details of the case. We saw the same style of reporting: U.S. officials close to the case divulging details when standard procedure is to be quiet until the investigation is closed. I have a very difficult time believing the veracity of Lenz's story, precisely because he cites an unverifiable source. Furthermore, Lenz cites two more officials who made statements about the case on condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, Lenz is imbedded with an Army unit. That lmight lend some credibility to his story; then again, so was Geraldo Rivera- and he got booted out of Iraq for revealing tactically-sensitive information (his host unit's physical location) on live television during the invasion.

So Lenz's imbedded status really does not mean that he is a trustworthy reporter, only that he is a reporter.

Based on these findings, here is my view on this incident:

First, the investigation is ongoing. Let's see how things play out at the end of the day. If the soldiers are indeed guilty, line 'em up and squeeze 'em off in an execution held in front of the Iraqi people. The Army needs to send the message that soldiers who do these things will die, and the Army needs to do it in a very clear way to the Iraqis.

However, if the story is just another trumped-up fabrication like the Haditha massacre is turning out to be, then rip Lenz's credentials from his hands, send him stateside on his own dime, and lock him up in the stockade to await trial for providing aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war through false information aimed at demoralizing our troops.

Second, the Army needs to find these three unnamed sources and smoke them. Give them an Article 15 (nonjudicial punishment) at least, or bump them down to E-1 private and ship them to Adak where they won't be a hazard to anyone except the puffins. Cowards like these who willfully and arbitrarily act contrary to standing orders (and not revealing information related to a case is a standing order in a murder case) do as much damage to our troops' credibility and morale as any false story would. Spineless dogs like Lenz's unnamed sources need to man up. If they don't have the guts to give their names, they should shut up and follow their standing orders for the case.

On that note, reporters who cite unnamed sources should not be trusted. In the scientific world, in order for something to be proven, all the data has to be traceable and repeatable. Of course, journalism is not a science. It's a liberal art (which alone speaks volumes about its social vcalue). Lenz is not being a good reporter; he's being lazy. How do we know that Lenz has not made this up? Why should we trust Lenz if he won't provide credible proof for his information?

(Journalists are generally very sloppy with facts and sources if they can get away with it, and have even made stories up a' la Dan Rather if it suited their purposes. They need to be held accountable for their laziness. Okay- I'm off the soapbox.)

What is the bottom line with regard to these allegations? Simply that we must keep our minds open and wait for more information from verifiable sources, of whom Lenz appears incapable of providing. We also need to wait until the Army concludes its investigation before drawing our own conclusions. That may not be what Lenz and the AP want us to do, but it is the fair, responsible and necessary thing to do. I say "necessary" because the lives of five soldiers hang in the balance. Justice needs to be served here, and it can only be served by letting the whole truth, whatever it may be, come out as the investigation proceeds.

So keep your powder dry and your torches and pitchforks in the barn until we know for certain against whom our outrage should be directed.