Dispatches from the Creation Wars

A Must-Read Kuznicki Post

Here’s how it starts:

Imagine you are walking down the street and see a box of ammunition. Do you

a) Walk blithely on by.
b) Pick it up so that kids won’t play with it.
c) Pick it up so that killers won’t use it.
d) Pick it up so the authorities can dispose of it safely.

If you live in Iraq, and if you answered anything other than a), congratulations. The U.S. government is paying people to kill you

read the rest and find out what he’s talking about.

Update: After writing this, Sandefur posted a response to Kuznicki’s article on his own blog, where he pointedly accuses Kuznicki of being “inclined immediately to believe the worst conceivable allegations about American soldiers” and further accuses him of reacting with “glee” to the report. I think this accusation is both extremely unfair to Jason and unjustified under the circumstances to make toward anyone.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing in Jason’s post that even comes close to suggesting anything like glee. Anger at the government for doing this? Yes. Disappointment? Absolutely. There is no glee there and I can guarantee you that Jason feels nothing but disgust over it. And Sandefur agrees that if the report is true, the government’s actions are “deplorable and extremely stupid.”

So the real issue comes down to this: is it reasonable to believe that the report is true or must one start from a biased tendency to “believe the worst conceivable allegations against American soldiers” in order to believe the report is true? And on that issue, I think Sandefur’s analysis is off base for several reasons. Here are his arguments:

But you’ll forgive me if I hesitate to believe the Post. And as Another War On Terror Blog points out, there’s good reason to reserve judgment until more facts develop. First of all, these allegations are made on the basis of allegedly classified documents obtained by the Washington Post, which the Post has not revealed for the public to examine. Second, they were obtained from lawyers for the families of soldiers who are accused of murder–who might be telling the truth, or might be trying to find some way to exonerate their loved ones. Third, the military is not in a position to reveal its tactics, so its hands are tied with regard to responding to these allegations in detail. Fourth, we are not told the context of details that might be important; we are given very sketchy allegations. Finally Army spokesman Paul Boyce has denied the allegations, stating that “There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of ‘drop weapons’ to make killings appear legally justified.”

Is it possible that the report is false? Of course it is. But I do not think one has to have a mindset of always accepting any accusations against American soldiers as true in order to believe it. First of all, the report does not merely quote unnamed soldiers; it quotes a specific officer who leads a sniper unit giving real details about the program and doing so under oath:

“Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy,” Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. “Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces.”

That’s very compelling testimony, under oath and from someone who carries out and likely favors the policy, and it’s pretty darn unlikely that the Post invented it out of thin air. On the other hand, the Pentagon spokesman’s denial is not a sworn statement and it comes from, well, the Pentagon. Who is more likely to be lying, the spokesman who, as Sandefur himself agrees, is likely forbidden from confirming the existence of the program to the public even if it did exist, or Didier? I think the answer to that is obvious.

I might also add that presuming that Didier is lying might more accurately be an example of accepting the worst accusations against an American soldier than anything Jason has said here. Jason’s is (quite reasonably, I’m arguing) accepting a credible allegation not against American soldiers but against a Pentagon policy that is being testified to by American soldiers.

The argument that the documents were given to the post by the families of those in trouble would be more compelling if the Post was merely making an accusation without evidence. But if the documents themselves contain admissions like the one attributed to Didier, this is clearly compelling evidence, not speculation on the part of those families. And the Post article cites other documents received that were apparently part of an official investigation:

Army officials declined to discuss the classified program, details of which appear in unclassified investigative documents and in transcripts of court testimony. Criminal investigators wrote that they found materials related to the program in a white cardboard box and an ammunition can at the sniper unit’s base.

It seems highly unlikely to me that the Post would cite actual documents from the investigation if those documents were not authentic. And to paraphrase Sandefur himself, given the long history of Pentagon lies, from the Gulf of Tonkin to Jessica Lynch to Pat Tillman, you’ll forgive me if I hesitate to believe a Pentagon spokesman.

The bottom line is this: while it is certainly possible that the Post report is not accurate, they’ve presented a solid prima facie case that it is. This is the sort of report, citing specific people making sworn statements, that is quite unlikely to be faked no matter how biased one thinks a media outlet is. One does not have to have some instinctive tendency to want to demonize American soldiers, with glee or otherwise, in order to find it credible and compelling. And as much as I hate to get between two of my friends in a disagreement, I think Sandefur owes Kuznicki an apology on this one.