June 13, 2006
Haditha: When a Picture Cannot Tell the Whole StoryBy Clarice Feldman
I have no inside knowledge of what happened in Haditha, of course, but I can examine media stories for sourcing and quality of reporting. When the reports in Time Magazine and others are subjected to close scrutiny, there is much less solid evidence than one would expect a major media enterprise would require before making sensational charges against our military in wartime. All the more reason to presume the Marines' innocence until proven guilty, and to read with suspicion reports that condemn Kilo Company's actions in Haditha.
Although Time has already had to issue 3 corrections, I have more questions about other sources for the original story about a 'massacre' in Haditha.
One of the most damning reports about Haditha was Time's report on Haditha which, as noted earlier, the magazine has now corrected:
I e—mailed John Sifton and asked him to tell me in his own words what he had reported to Time. He promptly answered.
Here is the substance of his reply on the 'photo, taken by a Marine with his cell phone that shows Iraqis kneeling—and thus posing no threat—before they were shot':
Absent photographs of our troops actually shooting the Haditha residents, I don't see how what he says 'multiple sources in the military told Human Rights Watch.'—that they had photographic evidence that the civilians had been 'intentionally murdered'—can be true. Clearing operations would certainly kill civilians who might be in various postures when they died by shrapnel or arms fire.Equally problematic, not only are the sources kept anonymous, but so are the recipients of those 'reports' so I cannot comment further on the truth of the assertion that military sources told anything to Human Rights Watch.
But the MSNBC and NPR articles Sifton refers to in the second paragraph are online and can be checked. (I have also asked Jim Miklaszewski for more details but have not yet heard from him.)
Here is the NPR report's the sole reference to photos or videos:
There is no clue in this report who 'the government official' cited is. The term is, of course, a broad one, which could cover many people in and outside the military.
The MSNBC reporting on the photos in the original story was interwoven with the charges leveled against the troops by Congressman Murtha:
Such photographs might be 'ugly', but they do not prove a deliberate massacre occurred nor, of course, the motive of whoever shot these people. The phrase 'at close range' implies execution, but is almost meaningless, given that the shooting occurred inside a house or apartment, unless there are powder burns or stippling evident in the photographs.
If the Washington Post report that the Marines entered these houses because they were taking fire from them is true, and their report that they followed the standard procedure of tossing in grenades and shooting to clear the houses is also true, I do not see how these still photos, without more than this description, could disprove that account. It would certainly be an unfortunate incident of collateral casualties, but it hardly establishes that the deaths were the result of a deliberate act of revenge rather than the normal consequence of an attack on the troops from these homes and a close quarter military response to protect the troops from further harm.
Did NCIS investigators leak selectively from reports of an ongoing investigation as Sifton indicates they did? (Sifton says the NPR and MSNBC reports indicate that, but they do not in fact mention NCIS.)
I find the claim of NCIS leaks unlikely and asked an online JOM friend, vnjagvet, with JAG experience. He agrees with me and says it is unlikely.
So, if the MSNBC and NPR reports were not from NCIS, where did these early 'inside' reports come from?
Did they come from Congressman John Murtha, citing confidential material he'd received, and were they then sourced by the reporters as though they'd received the information directly?
Were these reporters, like Time, given that information from Sifton and then reported as if they'd received it directly from military sources.
Now, it is obvious to me that many on the left seem to think the military are brutes who may be attacked at will, as they are merely tools of the administration with no individual rights worth preserving. But if the leaks did in fact come from Pentagon officials, I want to know. Don't you? Shouldn't the Secretary of Defense also want to know?
And if the reports did not come directly from military officials, I'd like to know why MSNBC and NPR reported them in a way which suggested they had come from such sources.
Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor.