Sunday, June 11, 2006

The return of Jonathan Charles

Fresh from his piss-poor revelations about British army desertions, the BBC’s Jonathan Charles has turned his attention to claims of malfeasance in the US military in this week’s From Our Own Correspondent (6 minutes 15 sec in):

Transcripts of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ are usually provided on the BBC website but, for some reason, this week’s report by Mr Charles has not been reproduced. Scared that bloggers might take screencaps, perhaps?

Whatever the reason, here’s my own transcript, with notes:
The words sent a chill down my spine. Perhaps it was the normality of my surroundings which gave them such impact. This time I wasn’t in Baghdad, I was standing in a bar in the Canadian city of Toronto. The people around me were cradling beers in their hands, relaxing. The man in front of me had different matters on his mind.

Chris looked every inch a US marine from his shaven head to his bulging muscles. He deserted from his unit just two months ago, fleeing across the border from the United States to Canada. Chris had been proud to call himself a Marine but the turning point had come as he was undergoing final training before heading off to Iraq
I don't believe there are too many US Marines called Chris hiding in Canada, so I'm guessing he’s talking about Chris Magaoay. Here's a little background on this deserter from the Maui News:
Magaoay’s father, Ruben, said he learned of his son’s actions when he received written notice from the U.S. Marine Corps, which reported that his son was a deserter.
“I’m kind of disappointed,” the 43-year-old Pukalani resident said. “I thought he wanted to go to war.”
Indeed, Chris didn’t enlist until 2004. He volunteered to serve his country a year after the Iraq war began.

Anyway, back to Jonathan Charles' report:
His sergeant had apparently taken his men to one side...
(note the implication of furtiveness)
...saying he wanted to show them what war was really like. He had then supposedly pulled out a picture which featured him lighting a cigarette off a burning Iraqi fighter.
Not nice, but war’s a shitty business. However, who do we really want fighting for us? Soldiers of the sort some BBC pussy like Jonathan Charles would leave us with, ticking off bits of paper handed out by human rights lawyers, or men like Sarge with balls big enough to take a light off the burning body of someone who just tried to kill him? I would suggest that Sarge was doing the rest of his men a favour by weeding out the weak link.
He went on to tell them that if they killed a civilian they should just throw an AK47 assault rifle, the weapon favoured by insurgents, down by the side of the body and claim that the victim was a combatant.
And just how many AK47s do Marines take with them on patrol? I know these are tough guys, but how much extra gear are they expected to carry?
Here were further suggestions that American troops were carrying out unlawful acts just days after it was revealed that 24 US Marines might be prosecuted for the murder of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha.
I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, it was only last September on From Our Own Correspondent that I’d reported a similar case from Baghdad. Then an Iraqi working for the Reuters news agency had been shot by an American soldier as he was driving through the capital. When Reuters security advisers, all former British Royal Marines, arrived at the scene they saw the American troops laughing and joking around the body.
So they were, like, soldiers? Guys who were used to seeing dead bodies?
The Americans had refused to carry out a full inquiry into the circumstances of the shooting. This time, after hearing Chris’s story, I was hoping the Pentagon would be more receptive following all the bad publicity surrounding the alleged...
that’s better
...massacre at Haditha. I rang the Pentagon in Washington and was put through to the Marines’ press officer, a captain. He was polite enough, but his first response was to suggest that Chris was being disloyal by making the accusations against the sergeant. He certainly didn’t seem interested in conducting an investigation to discover whether they might be true.

I pointed out my report would be broadcast on the BBC within 48 hours. It would then be in the public domain, and if the sergeant did have such a picture he might destroy the evidence. I told the captain I was making the call now to give him time to act.
Memo to Isaac Newton. You were wrong - apparently the universe revolves around BBC journalists.
In subsequent phone calls and emails I provided the sergeant’s name and the unit to which he belonged. During our exchanges the captain told me he’d passed the information on to his superiors. No investigation was started by the time the allegations were broadcast. I continued to suggest to the captain that in the aftermath of what happened in Haditha it might be good public relations to be seen to be doing something.

A week and a half later there’s still been no sign that the military is looking into the matter or is remotely concerned.
Gosh, it’s almost as if there’s a world out there which operates without reference to the BBC.
So does the Pentagon care? Well, in frustration I put the question to someone with inside knowledge. Gary Solis has spent the past few years teaching military law at West Point, America’s military academy. He also knows what it’s like to be caught up in the heat of battle. He served two tours of duty as a soldier in Vietnam. He told me Chris’s tale wasn’t unusual. He sighed heavily and then said, “That’s what happens when troops are in their third or fourth deployment to Iraq. They get demoralised and trigger happy, because all they’re thinking about is getting home alive.”

Gary Solis admitted the sergeant’s alleged advice about not worrying if a civilian was accidentally shot was commonplace. He said that in the British military a civilian death would trigger an immediate inquiry but that makes soldiers reluctant to shoot when perhaps they should. In the American military, he said, there’s no such system so soldiers shoot a little too readily.

It would seem from my experience that the Pentagon has learned little from the uproar in the United States, Iraq and much of the rest of the world about Haditha. It might be an extreme incident but it would appear that a cavalier approach to civilian deaths in Iraq is more widespread than many might think.

The Pentagon is currently giving its troops their refresher courses in how to behave towards civilians, but as Gary Solis told me, in six months time the lessons will be forgotten and the excesses will probably resume.
I emailed Dr Solis to ask if Jonathan Charles had represented his views accurately. Here’s his response in full:
I do not recall saying anything like, "all they're thinking about is getting home alive," although I did say that which precedes that phrase. I don't believe I would have used the term "trigger happy." I did say something to the effect that any lessons learned through classes on battlefield conduct would soon be forgotten and soon there would be further incidents involving the deaths of noncombatants.

I say "I do not recall" not as a weasel-worded phrase, but because I have recently spoken to many reporters, hosts and interviewers and it is impossible for me to recall with exactitude each phrase I may have used. But I am confident that I would not have said anything about getting home alive and I doubt that I would have used so trite a phrase as "trigger happy."
Oh dear, has Mr Charles been sexing up his reports again? One might even begin to think that he has some sort of agenda.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

seems to me this self-important journalist wants to view war, with all its horrors (well, those alleged against the usa anyway) as something for journalists (well, bbc ones anyway) to see sorted out

perhaps the bbc governors could investigate

then the worst that could happen to "perpetrators" should be: "complaint upheld. action taken - none"

2:09 am  
Blogger max said...

The sort of sophisticated journalism the US is currently lacking. Luckily the bbc will remedy that when they start operating in America.

Great post DFH.

8:12 am  
Blogger Mark Holland said...

Good work DFH

11:53 am  
Blogger Brad said...

I think you meant Galileo, but your point is valid. The BBC gets airtime here on NPR, and yesterday they had a piece about Gitmo and one of the first interviews was an activist lawyer who said the three men were beaten to death by GIs.

11:52 pm  
Blogger Rastaman said...

This sort of thing is the whole problem with passing on anything reported by the BBC and I do mean anything.

The BBC has become a dhimmi promoter for Eurabia and nothing that comes from them is worth repeating. Ignoring their utterances would be far better. The plain truth is that this is one of those rare cases where ignoring a problem would make it go away. They wouldn't last long if no one listened to them anymore.

2:39 am  
Blogger DFH said...

Brad - I'm more bothered by my awful mixed metaphor "weeding out the weak link". Still, it was late and I had been drinking like a can of worms.

Rastaman - the BBC won't just fade away, I'm afraid.

9:38 am  
Anonymous IanLondon said...

burning Iraqi fighter

Strange, because I first thought this referred to a fighter jet rather than a person.

Looks like you took the same view as Charles, but if this was 3rd hand anyway, could he have made the same "mistake" ?

I don't know, it's your transcript.

12:59 pm  
Blogger AntiCitizenOne said...

"Rastaman - the BBC won't just fade away, I'm afraid."

Taking away their extortion abilities will make them die though.

1:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing.
Oes Tsetnoc | Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa | Kenali dan Kunjungi Objek Wisata di Pandeglang | Oes tsetnoc | Online Marketing | Electronics Gadgets | etips solution | Travel Guide

11:17 pm  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home