The Marine Corps investigation into the incident at Haditha, Iraq, has come to one major conclusion: There was no cover-up attempt. This is, of course, contrary to the claims made by Congressman John Murtha, that a cover-up occurred. In this case, the false claims have raced around the world - and have quite a head start on the truth. The truth of the matter is that the report does not exonerate the officers - it points out they failed to ask the right questions. It is not a good thing, but it is a far cry from the claims of a deliberate cover-up of known wrongdoing.
This is not the first time that such claims have been made. Last year, the claims centered around torture at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, most notably in a speech by Senator Richard Durbin on the Senate floor in July, 2005. The Department of Defense investigated, and determined that no torture had occurred. In fact, some of the incidents where the line was crossed came about due to provocation by detainees under interrogation (one incident involved an interrogator smearing a detainee with red ink after the detainee spat on her).
Later in 2005, there was Newsweek reporting that a Koran had been flushed. This led to riots after Islamist politicians used the coverage to fan a frenzy. Again there was an investigation - and it turned out that not only were the bulk of the incidents unintentional, but that the only flushing of the Koran was done by a detainee.
Another such incident involved the alleged massacre at Jenin in April, 2002. The resulting investigations from the United Nations found no evidence of a massacre involving hundreds (as claimed by various reports from Palestinian sources and echoed by human rights groups and the press). Instead, the total number of casualties was set at 52, of which only 22 were confirmed as civilians.
These incidents form a pattern. In these cases, the press jumped on the claims of massacres and/or torture. This resulted in not just a lot of time spent by the military responding to the original charges, but there were also the editorials and commentaries to deal with. These generated a lot of space, and many of those allegations get used by al-Qaeda for recruiting.
When the investigations are concluded, the original claims are often found to have been greatly overhyped. But all too often, these reports are buried in the middle of the newspaper, and do not make the newscasts. This results in the misleading impressions staying. All too often, this means that the troops overseas have a much tougher job than they would otherwise have. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)