I Love the Smell of Pulitzers in the Morning

One of the quickest, surest ways for a journalist to obtain the life altering, career making award known as the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism is to expose aberrant behavior on the part of US Armed Forces service members. Service members make up a cross section of American society and at any given time there will be criminals within the ranks just as in society, though decidedly under represented due to the military's extensive efforts to cull them out. But criminal activity does happen in the military. And for an opportunistic journalist the higher up the chain this activity can be attributed, the better.

The ultimate goal of some reporters is to link a soldier's act to a specific order from a commander that can be traced to a policy decision from an elected leader, ideally in a political party unliked by the journalist. This is the Excalibur of journalism, jerking the story from the stone of the military—industrial complex to hold overhead for all to see the corruption that leads all the way to the top. Of course, the story like the sword would remain invisible if not for the super human ability of the anointed journalist.

One can understand this and even to some degree see the necessity of this methodology to check real corruption. As a veteran, I dislike the process but recognize it has a usefulness and legitimacy when carried out with integrity and for good cause. On the other hand, sometimes it is nothing more than a Pulitzer grab or even worse, a political hit piece.

The logical progression here is obvious. Find a soldier who did wrong. Find an order that was given that can be linked to the transgression. Find a senior commander or policy maker that laid the ground work for that order. De—legitimize the soldier's criminal behavior (as it should be) and that soldier's behavior de—legitimizes the orders, the policy, the war, and ultimately the political party holding office. Some journalists make the links fit in this chain no matter the legitimacy or human cost. In doing so, intermediary commanders are unfairly besmirched in the process of linking the chain to the ultimate target, the Commander—in—Chief.

An example of this journalistic methodology can be seen in the case of the Bridge at No Gun Ri. In 1999, the Associated Press reported an alleged atrocity covered up since the Korean War, its reporters winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism. The story revealed what was no doubt a case of soldiers firing on innocent civilians, though many of the details such as body count are still disputed. A key witness to the AP story later admitted he wasn't there when presented with his orders that proved he wasn't there. West Point historian, Robert Bateman has provided significant evidence that counters much of the AP research.

The focus of the research was not the act of killing the civilians, as often happens by mistake in war. The main point of the piece is that these soldiers acted under specific orders from the US military to kill innocent civilians, thus demonstrating monstrous intent rather than an understandable yet horrendous mistake. The US Army's Inspector Generals Office performed an investigation with the South Korean government that was reviewed by independent experts. This report made a final determination:

Neither the documentary evidence nor the U.S. veterans' statements reviewed by the U.S. Review Team support a hypothesis of deliberate killing of Korean civilians. What befell civilians in the vicinity of Nogeun—ri in late July 1950 was a tragic and deeply regrettable accompaniment to a war forced upon unprepared U.S. and ROK forces.

So the United States and South Korea decided it was an accident not an order despite the Pulitzer Prize.

This bit of history is significant now because bubbling just beneath the surface onto the pages of the New York Times, LA Times and AP are after the next Pulitzer Prize—winning expose. Four US soldiers are on trial charged with murdering innocent Iraqis.

It is not my place to dispense a verdict on guilt or innocence on that matter, but the reporting notes that one of the men admitted culpability. So it would seem we have bad actors caught in wrongdoing who are on trial and will almost surely pay for their alleged crimes. One would think case closed, but unfortunately no, not with the smell of Pulitzer in the air.

During the trial, some of the soldiers have made statements in testimony and in private interviews designed to diminish their transgression. They have made the outright accusation that the chain of command had given them orders to kill all civilians. And Pulitzer—sniffing reporters have leapt on the unfounded and refuted allegations as headlines for articles designed to smear America's true heroes.

The AP began the process with this article:

Accused troops: We were under orders to kill; date July 21, 2006: Troops: Under orders to kill — Conflict in Iraq — MSNBC.com

EL PASO, Texas — Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering suspected insurgents during a raid in Iraq said they were under orders to 'kill all military age males,' according to sworn statements obtained by The Associated Press.

This accusation is an integral part of the story and would seem to be fair reporting.

The AP also reported another witness who said 'he doesn't recall brigade commander Col. Michael Steele ordering the soldiers to "kill all military—aged males"' although this denial is buried much further into the story than the blazing headline. The sword tugging has begun.

This article is followed by another AP article by Ryan Lenz. The original story had been replaced with what would appear to be an abridged version. The original story contained this passage:

(AP) Soldier testifies commander ordered troops to 'kill all of them' |

Pfc. Bradley Mason, speaking at a hearing to determine whether the four must stand trial, also said that their brigade commander, a veteran of the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" battle in Somalia, told troops hunting insurgents to "kill all of them." Mason is not one of the accused.

And

Mason said the squad's 1st sergeant would tell soldiers they did a good job if they killed an Iraqi. Mason said he believed it was a competition for kills. "I know he said good job after we killed one of them," he said.

So now the AP has intimated that the senior NCO was also responsible because he told the soldiers 'good job.' To anyone who is familiar with the army it is obvious that the First Sergeant performs a logistical role in combat and could not know the circumstances immediately following the killings. This statement certainly reflects a soldier with an axe to grind and a reporter providing the wheel on which to sharpen it. Or perhaps it is more of a fabled sword than an axe. Either way, the journalists give a sense of expanding culpability in these articles contrary to testimony from other witnesses not implicated in the killings and mentioned in the articles themselves. 

And the trend continues. The New York Times is now reporting under the headline

G.I.'s Say Officers Ordered Killing of Young Iraqi Men, by Paul Von Zielbauer:

TIKRIT, Iraq, Aug. 2 — Four American soldiers from an Army combat unit that killed three Iraqis in a raid in May testified Wednesday that they had received orders from superior officers to kill all the military—age men they encountered.

And to further support the growing evidence of the barbarity of the command, the article notes:

Colonel Steele, who led the 1993 mission in Somalia later made famous in the book and film 'Black Hawk Down,' has a reputation for aggressive measures. In Iraq, as a commander involved in harrowing assaults against insurgents, he inspired the use of 'kill boards' to track how many Iraqis each soldier had killed over time.

On the bottom of Company C's kill board, Private Mason said, was a phrase to inspire soldiers in combat: 'Let the bodies hit the floor.'

So we see a coalescing image of a barbarous command. What these reporters are obviously lacking is any effort to put these statements into the context of war. In a court of law and on a newspaper page, killing a person sounds a lot different than in a combat unit. In a combat unit when you say kill them all, everybody knows you mean the enemy not anybody in the area. And keeping track of how many kills you have in combat is essential to measure unit effectiveness though it certainly may sound egregious in a court room especially when provided in a media report without context.

Further down in the piece it is noted:

Capt. Jason A. Sienko, who had recommended that charges be brought against the four defendants, told military prosecutors, 'We were to kill or engage any males on the island that were military—age.' The only exceptions, he said, were any men 'actively surrendering' or men who could not be killed without harming civilians. But Captain Sienko also said Colonel Steele had told his men not to kill indiscriminately.

Of course this is the case. Only a sick person who had no moral understanding of combat would take responsible orders to kill the enemy as free reign to commit murder. Considering that at least one of these men has admitted it, and another soldier has testified they threatened to kill him if he talked, it is beyond reason as to why these reporters would continue to portray the command as if it was capable of ordering this act. It goes beyond merely reporting the accusation.

Time and again these reporters apply irrelevant factoids taken completely out of context to support what is an otherwise obviously false allegation. These reporters are making a case out of thin air. It is almost as if they barely perceive the sword slipping from the stone and are desperately struggling to free it before they are exposed as false would—be—kings.

And joining the Pulitzer frenzy are Borzou Daragahi and Julian E. Barnes, LA Times Staff Writers with the article Officers Allegedly Pushed Kill Counts. Of course the LA Times reinforces the argument that this was a command driven event with quotes from unnamed officials: (must register to view)

The bigger thing here is the failure of the chain of command," said a Defense Department official familiar with the investigations.

And the LA Times goes even farther:

The military's primary report on the Haditha incident, completed this year, does not explicitly accuse the Marine command in Iraq of a cover—up. But the investigation cites several instances of information being ignored or evidence being destroyed, including log entries from the day the killings took place. The Defense official, who has reviewed the report, spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings have not been released.

Initial findings of investigators looking into the Samarra incident may be even more troubling. Military officials are investigating Army Col. Michael Steele, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade, whose soldiers are accused of killing the three Iraqi detainees.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Steele issued an illegal order to "kill all military aged males" and encouraged unrestrained killing by his troops.

On Wednesday, a military court heard testimony from a witness who suggested that a culture of racism and unrestrained violence pervaded the unit.

The account of Pfc. Bradley Mason and other witnesses bolstered the findings of investigators who say the brigade's commanders led soldiers to believe it was permissible to kill Iraqi men.

Of course it is true that in such a serious matter any allegation made by these men against their command will be investigated. The report doesn't bother to note what may be obvious to some but unknown to others. The fact that any investigation in and of itself means nothing as far as the accurateness of the allegations. The investigation will take place just to cover all the bases. The report also states:

A senior military officer has sent a potentially career—ending reprimand to Steele, an officer who once commanded a Ranger company sent into Mogadishu, Somalia, on a rescue mission that was recounted in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." However, the administrative action is not final because Steele has signaled that he is going to fight the accusations and the reprimand.

Steele has refused to testify in the case of the four soldiers, citing his right against self—incrimination, unless he is given immunity, prosecutors said.

What exactly is the basis of this reprimand? So far the only evidence provided against Colonel Steele at least publicly is the testimony of men who it would appear committed murder and are looking for a way out. One might expect a reprimand for any commander of soldiers involved in these circumstances despite the commander's leadership style. And more than likely it was matched with one for the company and battalion commander as well. This speaks nothing to the commands culpability, yet it is presented in the LA Times article as evidence that it may be worse than Haditha.

The colonel has a reputation as a tough but potentially reckless commander. Investigators have found that Steele handed out knives to U.S. troops as rewards for killing insurgents, a defense official said.

Tough but potentially reckless? According to whom? The soldiers on trial? Handed out knives? What combat unit doesn't hand out knives at the unit level in recognition for good work? But then, the LA Times expects you not to know that this is a common occurrence that is taken in the spirit meant, that you did your job well. The LA Times would put this completely innocuous bit of heraldry in front of the typical reader who does not know military customs to draw an image similar to cutting off ears in Vietnam.

The LA Times goes on to state:

On May 8, the day before the raid, Steele reportedly addressed a group of about 100 soldiers. "We're going in tomorrow," he told them, according to 1st Lt. Justin Werheim, another prosecution witness. "We're going to hit the ground shooting, and kill all the Al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents." The rules of engagement were unambiguous, Werheim said, and came down "several times" via Capt. Daniel Hart, who also has requested immunity. "We were to positively identify and kill any military—age male on the island," Werheim said. Another witness, Pfc. Jason R. Joseph, said the soldiers believed their orders were to kill any military—age males who were not surrendering. "They were to kill any males who didn't have their hands in the air," he said.

Clearly the Colonel's instructions were to target the enemy al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents. As evidence I provide one bit of reasoning. If these soldiers were under orders to kill everybody, why did the rest of the command disobey those orders? Why aren't there one hundred men on trial for murder? The answer can't be more obvious. Because the rest of the command knew the Rules of Engagement apply at every circumstance and don't need an excuse for murder.
But that obvious fact doesn't stop our media, not when there is a whiff of Pulitzer in the air. And Colonel Steele may be the next warrior brought down by the power of Excalibur wielded in the hands of those false kings.

Edward Anderson is the pseudonym of an employee of a major news organization who must remain anonymous.

One of the quickest, surest ways for a journalist to obtain the life altering, career making award known as the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism is to expose aberrant behavior on the part of US Armed Forces service members. Service members make up a cross section of American society and at any given time there will be criminals within the ranks just as in society, though decidedly under represented due to the military's extensive efforts to cull them out. But criminal activity does happen in the military. And for an opportunistic journalist the higher up the chain this activity can be attributed, the better.

The ultimate goal of some reporters is to link a soldier's act to a specific order from a commander that can be traced to a policy decision from an elected leader, ideally in a political party unliked by the journalist. This is the Excalibur of journalism, jerking the story from the stone of the military—industrial complex to hold overhead for all to see the corruption that leads all the way to the top. Of course, the story like the sword would remain invisible if not for the super human ability of the anointed journalist.

One can understand this and even to some degree see the necessity of this methodology to check real corruption. As a veteran, I dislike the process but recognize it has a usefulness and legitimacy when carried out with integrity and for good cause. On the other hand, sometimes it is nothing more than a Pulitzer grab or even worse, a political hit piece.

The logical progression here is obvious. Find a soldier who did wrong. Find an order that was given that can be linked to the transgression. Find a senior commander or policy maker that laid the ground work for that order. De—legitimize the soldier's criminal behavior (as it should be) and that soldier's behavior de—legitimizes the orders, the policy, the war, and ultimately the political party holding office. Some journalists make the links fit in this chain no matter the legitimacy or human cost. In doing so, intermediary commanders are unfairly besmirched in the process of linking the chain to the ultimate target, the Commander—in—Chief.

An example of this journalistic methodology can be seen in the case of the Bridge at No Gun Ri. In 1999, the Associated Press reported an alleged atrocity covered up since the Korean War, its reporters winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism. The story revealed what was no doubt a case of soldiers firing on innocent civilians, though many of the details such as body count are still disputed. A key witness to the AP story later admitted he wasn't there when presented with his orders that proved he wasn't there. West Point historian, Robert Bateman has provided significant evidence that counters much of the AP research.

The focus of the research was not the act of killing the civilians, as often happens by mistake in war. The main point of the piece is that these soldiers acted under specific orders from the US military to kill innocent civilians, thus demonstrating monstrous intent rather than an understandable yet horrendous mistake. The US Army's Inspector Generals Office performed an investigation with the South Korean government that was reviewed by independent experts. This report made a final determination:

Neither the documentary evidence nor the U.S. veterans' statements reviewed by the U.S. Review Team support a hypothesis of deliberate killing of Korean civilians. What befell civilians in the vicinity of Nogeun—ri in late July 1950 was a tragic and deeply regrettable accompaniment to a war forced upon unprepared U.S. and ROK forces.

So the United States and South Korea decided it was an accident not an order despite the Pulitzer Prize.

This bit of history is significant now because bubbling just beneath the surface onto the pages of the New York Times, LA Times and AP are after the next Pulitzer Prize—winning expose. Four US soldiers are on trial charged with murdering innocent Iraqis.

It is not my place to dispense a verdict on guilt or innocence on that matter, but the reporting notes that one of the men admitted culpability. So it would seem we have bad actors caught in wrongdoing who are on trial and will almost surely pay for their alleged crimes. One would think case closed, but unfortunately no, not with the smell of Pulitzer in the air.

During the trial, some of the soldiers have made statements in testimony and in private interviews designed to diminish their transgression. They have made the outright accusation that the chain of command had given them orders to kill all civilians. And Pulitzer—sniffing reporters have leapt on the unfounded and refuted allegations as headlines for articles designed to smear America's true heroes.

The AP began the process with this article:

Accused troops: We were under orders to kill; date July 21, 2006: Troops: Under orders to kill — Conflict in Iraq — MSNBC.com

EL PASO, Texas — Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering suspected insurgents during a raid in Iraq said they were under orders to 'kill all military age males,' according to sworn statements obtained by The Associated Press.

This accusation is an integral part of the story and would seem to be fair reporting.

The AP also reported another witness who said 'he doesn't recall brigade commander Col. Michael Steele ordering the soldiers to "kill all military—aged males"' although this denial is buried much further into the story than the blazing headline. The sword tugging has begun.

This article is followed by another AP article by Ryan Lenz. The original story had been replaced with what would appear to be an abridged version. The original story contained this passage:

(AP) Soldier testifies commander ordered troops to 'kill all of them' |

Pfc. Bradley Mason, speaking at a hearing to determine whether the four must stand trial, also said that their brigade commander, a veteran of the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" battle in Somalia, told troops hunting insurgents to "kill all of them." Mason is not one of the accused.

And

Mason said the squad's 1st sergeant would tell soldiers they did a good job if they killed an Iraqi. Mason said he believed it was a competition for kills. "I know he said good job after we killed one of them," he said.

So now the AP has intimated that the senior NCO was also responsible because he told the soldiers 'good job.' To anyone who is familiar with the army it is obvious that the First Sergeant performs a logistical role in combat and could not know the circumstances immediately following the killings. This statement certainly reflects a soldier with an axe to grind and a reporter providing the wheel on which to sharpen it. Or perhaps it is more of a fabled sword than an axe. Either way, the journalists give a sense of expanding culpability in these articles contrary to testimony from other witnesses not implicated in the killings and mentioned in the articles themselves. 

And the trend continues. The New York Times is now reporting under the headline

G.I.'s Say Officers Ordered Killing of Young Iraqi Men, by Paul Von Zielbauer:

TIKRIT, Iraq, Aug. 2 — Four American soldiers from an Army combat unit that killed three Iraqis in a raid in May testified Wednesday that they had received orders from superior officers to kill all the military—age men they encountered.

And to further support the growing evidence of the barbarity of the command, the article notes:

Colonel Steele, who led the 1993 mission in Somalia later made famous in the book and film 'Black Hawk Down,' has a reputation for aggressive measures. In Iraq, as a commander involved in harrowing assaults against insurgents, he inspired the use of 'kill boards' to track how many Iraqis each soldier had killed over time.

On the bottom of Company C's kill board, Private Mason said, was a phrase to inspire soldiers in combat: 'Let the bodies hit the floor.'

So we see a coalescing image of a barbarous command. What these reporters are obviously lacking is any effort to put these statements into the context of war. In a court of law and on a newspaper page, killing a person sounds a lot different than in a combat unit. In a combat unit when you say kill them all, everybody knows you mean the enemy not anybody in the area. And keeping track of how many kills you have in combat is essential to measure unit effectiveness though it certainly may sound egregious in a court room especially when provided in a media report without context.

Further down in the piece it is noted:

Capt. Jason A. Sienko, who had recommended that charges be brought against the four defendants, told military prosecutors, 'We were to kill or engage any males on the island that were military—age.' The only exceptions, he said, were any men 'actively surrendering' or men who could not be killed without harming civilians. But Captain Sienko also said Colonel Steele had told his men not to kill indiscriminately.

Of course this is the case. Only a sick person who had no moral understanding of combat would take responsible orders to kill the enemy as free reign to commit murder. Considering that at least one of these men has admitted it, and another soldier has testified they threatened to kill him if he talked, it is beyond reason as to why these reporters would continue to portray the command as if it was capable of ordering this act. It goes beyond merely reporting the accusation.

Time and again these reporters apply irrelevant factoids taken completely out of context to support what is an otherwise obviously false allegation. These reporters are making a case out of thin air. It is almost as if they barely perceive the sword slipping from the stone and are desperately struggling to free it before they are exposed as false would—be—kings.

And joining the Pulitzer frenzy are Borzou Daragahi and Julian E. Barnes, LA Times Staff Writers with the article Officers Allegedly Pushed Kill Counts. Of course the LA Times reinforces the argument that this was a command driven event with quotes from unnamed officials: (must register to view)

The bigger thing here is the failure of the chain of command," said a Defense Department official familiar with the investigations.

And the LA Times goes even farther:

The military's primary report on the Haditha incident, completed this year, does not explicitly accuse the Marine command in Iraq of a cover—up. But the investigation cites several instances of information being ignored or evidence being destroyed, including log entries from the day the killings took place. The Defense official, who has reviewed the report, spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings have not been released.

Initial findings of investigators looking into the Samarra incident may be even more troubling. Military officials are investigating Army Col. Michael Steele, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade, whose soldiers are accused of killing the three Iraqi detainees.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Steele issued an illegal order to "kill all military aged males" and encouraged unrestrained killing by his troops.

On Wednesday, a military court heard testimony from a witness who suggested that a culture of racism and unrestrained violence pervaded the unit.

The account of Pfc. Bradley Mason and other witnesses bolstered the findings of investigators who say the brigade's commanders led soldiers to believe it was permissible to kill Iraqi men.

Of course it is true that in such a serious matter any allegation made by these men against their command will be investigated. The report doesn't bother to note what may be obvious to some but unknown to others. The fact that any investigation in and of itself means nothing as far as the accurateness of the allegations. The investigation will take place just to cover all the bases. The report also states:

A senior military officer has sent a potentially career—ending reprimand to Steele, an officer who once commanded a Ranger company sent into Mogadishu, Somalia, on a rescue mission that was recounted in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." However, the administrative action is not final because Steele has signaled that he is going to fight the accusations and the reprimand.

Steele has refused to testify in the case of the four soldiers, citing his right against self—incrimination, unless he is given immunity, prosecutors said.

What exactly is the basis of this reprimand? So far the only evidence provided against Colonel Steele at least publicly is the testimony of men who it would appear committed murder and are looking for a way out. One might expect a reprimand for any commander of soldiers involved in these circumstances despite the commander's leadership style. And more than likely it was matched with one for the company and battalion commander as well. This speaks nothing to the commands culpability, yet it is presented in the LA Times article as evidence that it may be worse than Haditha.

The colonel has a reputation as a tough but potentially reckless commander. Investigators have found that Steele handed out knives to U.S. troops as rewards for killing insurgents, a defense official said.

Tough but potentially reckless? According to whom? The soldiers on trial? Handed out knives? What combat unit doesn't hand out knives at the unit level in recognition for good work? But then, the LA Times expects you not to know that this is a common occurrence that is taken in the spirit meant, that you did your job well. The LA Times would put this completely innocuous bit of heraldry in front of the typical reader who does not know military customs to draw an image similar to cutting off ears in Vietnam.

The LA Times goes on to state:

On May 8, the day before the raid, Steele reportedly addressed a group of about 100 soldiers. "We're going in tomorrow," he told them, according to 1st Lt. Justin Werheim, another prosecution witness. "We're going to hit the ground shooting, and kill all the Al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents." The rules of engagement were unambiguous, Werheim said, and came down "several times" via Capt. Daniel Hart, who also has requested immunity. "We were to positively identify and kill any military—age male on the island," Werheim said. Another witness, Pfc. Jason R. Joseph, said the soldiers believed their orders were to kill any military—age males who were not surrendering. "They were to kill any males who didn't have their hands in the air," he said.

Clearly the Colonel's instructions were to target the enemy al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents. As evidence I provide one bit of reasoning. If these soldiers were under orders to kill everybody, why did the rest of the command disobey those orders? Why aren't there one hundred men on trial for murder? The answer can't be more obvious. Because the rest of the command knew the Rules of Engagement apply at every circumstance and don't need an excuse for murder.
But that obvious fact doesn't stop our media, not when there is a whiff of Pulitzer in the air. And Colonel Steele may be the next warrior brought down by the power of Excalibur wielded in the hands of those false kings.

Edward Anderson is the pseudonym of an employee of a major news organization who must remain anonymous.