The rehabilitation of Scott Thomas Beauchamp may have been premature.
We are now to believe that two weeks after Scott Thomas Beauchamp issued the Mother of All No Comments to his editors at The New Republic on tape, he rang up Franklin Foer and told him that he still stood by all of his articles (minus the one little detail about shifting the melted woman story from the battlefield DFAC in Iraq to the rear echelon DFAC in Kuwait, and prior to Beauchamp’s entry in the war, details which render the story nonsense). We’re not supposed to notice that. We’re also not supposed to remember how TNR’s fact-checkers manipulated their Bradley subject matter expert with vague and misleading questions designed to lead the witness toward their point of view, rather than the facts, and we’re also not supposed to notice that to date TNR hasn’t responded to that allegation at all. Put that out of your mind. And there’s also one other hard fact that we’re to put out of our minds when reading TNR’s latest, and I’ll have more to say about that in bit. Here’s a taste of TNR’s update.
The September 6 exchange was extremely frustrating; however, it was frustrating precisely because it did not add any new information to our investigation. Beauchamp’s refusal to defend himself certainly raised serious doubts. That said, Beauchamp’s words were being monitored: His squad leader was in the room as he spoke to us, as was a public affairs specialist, and it is now clear that the Army was recording the conversation for its files.
The next day, via his wife, we learned that Beauchamp did want to stand by his stories and wanted to communicate with us again. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Beauchamp telephoned Foer at home and, in an unmonitored conversation, told him that he continued to stand by every aspect of his story, except for the one inaccuracy he had previously admitted. He also told Foer that in the September 6 call he had spoken under duress, with the implicit threat that he would lose all the freedoms and privileges that his commanding officer had recently restored if he discussed the story with us.
The documentary evidence says one thing, Foer says another, and he expects everyone to just take his word at face value. He offers no evidence at all that the second conversation even took place, just his word. There are several directions we could take this, but supposing that the second conversation actually took place and supposing that Foer didn’t put the “just heard from your wife, and she’s just gonna collapse from heartache if you wrote fiction” emotional screws to Beauchamp again as he did on Sept 6, Beauchamp admitted to Foer that he lied in official Army documents. I’m referring to the Army’s investigative findings.
Look at the second sentence, the one that begins with “He admitted…” That’s a flat recantation of two major and salient parts of his articles. Let’s go over them. First, killing dogs with a Bradley.
One particular day, he killed three dogs. He slowed the Bradley down to lure the first kill in, and, as the diesel engine grew quieter, the dog walked close enough for him to jerk the machine hard to the right and snag its leg under the tracks. The leg caught, and he dragged the dog for a little while, until it disengaged and lay twitching in the road. A roar of laughter broke out over the radio. Another notch for the book. The second kill was a straight shot: A dog that was lying in the street and bathing in the sun didn’t have enough time to get up and run away from the speeding Bradley. Its front half was completely severed from its rear, which was twitching wildly, and its head was still raised and smiling at the sun as if nothing had happened at all. I didn’t see the third kill, but I heard about it over the radio.
“I didn’t see the third kill…” implies that he was an eye witness to the first two. But in the Army investigation, he admits that he wasn’t an eye witness to any of it.
Now, the stratified mass grave.
About six months into our deployment, we were assigned a new area to patrol, southwest of Baghdad. We spent a few weeks constructing a combat outpost, and, in the process, we did a lot of digging. At first, we found only household objects like silverware and cups. Then we dug deeper and found children’s clothes: sandals, sweatpants, sweaters. Like a strange archeological dig of the recent past, the deeper we went, the more personal the objects we discovered. And, eventually, we reached the bones. All children’s bones: tiny cracked tibias and shoulder blades. We found pieces of hands and fingers. We found skull fragments. No one cared to speculate what, exactly, had happened here, but it was clearly a Saddam-era dumping ground of some sort.
He has put himself on the scene of a discovery that he recanted under oath. If he told Foer that he stands by his work, then he either lied to Foer or he lied to the Army under oath. It’s a binary choice, one or the other. Given the relative consequences of either action, which is the more likely?
The mention of the animal bones gets at the heart of Foer’s deceptive and repetitive claim that he’s “re-reporting” Beauchamp’s stories. Beauchamp made a factual claim to have been among a crew that discovered a Saddam-era mass grave that was stratified with household items at the top and the bones of children below. It was a skull from that grave that Beauchamp claims another soldier wore “like a crown.” If the mass grave doesn’t exist, then the story can’t be true. If TNR is really re-reporting the story, has it verified the existence of the mass grave? The Army says it doesn’t exist. Does TNR say that it does? Has TNR put any boots on the ground to find it on their own? We’re not supposed to notice that TNR has yet to weigh in on its existence or non-existence at all.
Foer can spin and twist his conversations with Beauchamp and various Army officers all he wants. He can suggest that the Army is being devious with him, that it’s strong arming Beauchamp, whatever. But if he can’t verify, after all this time, the existence of that mass grave, and since he now has official records documenting that his reporter has lied to somebody, Foer has no choice but to consider Beauchamp’s credibility as beyond repair and his stories as fatally flawed.
But he’s not going to do that. He’s going to continue to focus on the leak and make the Army out to be the villain. That’s been his standard tactic throughout, and that attitude probably contributed to TNR’s publishing Beauchamp’s fables in the first place.
Update (AP): We learned yesterday, as this was crumbling around TNR, that the left considers this story a terribly silly distraction from the “real issues” that they’re, um, no longer covering. Will TNR’s pushback create Strange New Respect for the saga of Scott Beauchamp among our liberal colleagues? Stay tuned!