Information Warfare: Let's Smear Some Marines for the Cause

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April 27, 2007: There is now evidence that backs the Marines charged with killing civilians at Haditha in Iraq. If true, the new evidence would indicate that al Qaeda carried out another successful information operation that not only diverted resources into an investigation, but also provided some anti-war politicians ammunition to not only claim crimes had been committed, but that there had been a cover-up.

The initial Haditha investigations uncovered some apparent discrepancies in the Marines' stories, and a criminal investigation by NCIS was launched. This led to some criminal charges being filed earlier this year. Now, some of the charges have been dismissed, and it is beginning to look like the accusations of a massacre may be untrue, making it look like the story may end up to be more a case of the media getting it wrong. If so, this would not be the first time.

In 2005, Newsweek reported that guards at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down a toilet, triggering riots that led to a number of injuries and deaths throughout the Moslem world. There was just one problem with the report: Newsweek got it wrong. Investigations reported that there were very few incidents of mishandling, most of which were unintentional. The Koran had been flushed down a toilet - by Moslem detainees at Guantanamo Bay, not by the guards. The damage, though, was done - not only because record was never corrected, but because it probably aided al Qaeda's recruiting efforts.

Earlier that year, the claims were about torture at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, most notably in a speech by Senator Richard Durbin on the Senate floor. 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). Again, the results of the investigation, got nowhere near the coverage of the initial allegations.

The 2002 Battle of Jenin was another incident portrayed as a massacre by the Palestinians. The resulting investigations from the United Nations found no evidence of a massacre involving hundreds of dead (as claimed by various reports from Palestinian sources and echoed by human rights groups and the press). Instead, the total number of casualties was 52, the majority of whom were combatants, not civilians. Again, the results of the investigation failed to get the same level of coverage the lurid claims of a massacre.

In this day and age, it doesn't take long for a misleading story to spread out. The comments by Senator Durbin were promulgated across the world in a matter of hours, and al Jazeera featured them prominently. The same was also true of Newsweek's story claiming a Koran had been flushed by guards at Guantanamo Bay. In both cases, the charges were investigated. In both cases, the claims proved to have little, if any, bearing to what really happened. The claims of torture were found to be generally unfounded, and in the few cases where lines were crossed, corrective action had been taken, in some cases immediately (one such case involved an interrogator who smeared a detainee with red ink after that detainee spat on her). Worse, the lies were already spread around by the time the truth was determined and not reported. In the case of the Koran-flushing, lives were lost.

The media mistakes are becoming all too frequent to dismiss at this point. One such mistake might be innocent. But this has been "mistake" after "mistake", all of which have made the United States look bad. Worse, favorable stories have apparently been spiked. There also was a story for Time magazine about the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment by an embedded reporter that was rewritten by editors in New York because the original submission made the American troops look "too heroic". Several reports from Iraq have also been questioned by bloggers, adding to the controversy. It seems the troops don't get a break from the same press which is willing to run the latest claims from human rights groups and anti-war activists without question - even when past claims have been shown to be off base. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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