QUESTIONS ABOUT THE New Republic's "Shock Troops" story that were raised at THE WORLDWIDE STANDARD late Wednesday continue to go unanswered. In fact, active duty soldiers and various experts have raised further doubts about almost all elements of the "Scott Thomas" account.
What we do know, according to the responses we've gotten so far, is that the badly burned woman described by Thomas does not seem to have served at FOB Falcon in the last 14 months. One active duty soldier who asks that his name be withheld writes in:
I was based at Falcon last year for six months with the 101st Airborne. I never saw a woman who fits Thomas's description. That's not conclusive since I haven't been there for almost eight months. But I can say this. The dining facility at Falcon is not large (maybe 200 yards by 50 yards) and the tables are very close together. I cannot remember eating a meal without having an officer or a senior NCO in earshot -- none of whom would tolerate such cruelty for a moment. Moreover, Falcon isn't that large and the faces become familiar quickly. One gets used to and comes to know everyone pretty easily.
Another active duty reader writes in:
In the 11 months I've been here [at FOB Falcon] I've never once seen a female contractor with a burned face. In a compact place like this with only one mess hall I or one of my guys would certainly have noticed someone like that. There are a few female contractors, I think maybe a dozen, but none fit the horrific description given in that article. Further, I've personally seen guys threatened with severe physical harm for making jokes of any kind about IED victims given the number of casualties all the units on this FOB have sustained. It is not a subject we take lightly. Gallows humor jokes do get told, but extremely seldom and never about anyone they actually know or are in the presence of.
Interestingly, it's the story Thomas tells of a soldier using his Bradley to kill stray dogs that has led vets and experts most confidently to assert that this is a work of fiction. Stuart Koehl, an expert on military hardware at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, writes in:
But even assuming that this guy was the world's greatest track driver, I still think the story as presented is pure BS. According to the story, the dog is on the right side of the vehicle, because the driver turns right to run it down.
I am looking now at a 1/32nd scale model of a Bradley, and I can say with some assurance that the driver's hatch is on the left side of the vehicle. Immediately to the driver's right is the engine compartment, the cooling grill of which rises above the level of the driver's hatch, making it impossible to see anything on the right side of the vehicle. Even if the driver was head-out, he still couldn't see anything to his right below the level of the top deck (all armored vehicles have significant blind spots close in, which is why they need dismounts to protect them from RPG guys in foxholes). So, if, as the blog says, the driver "twitched" the Bradley to the right, he must have used extrasensory perception in order to catch the dog. Because there's no way he knew the dog was even there.
And over at The Corner, a Desert Storm vet had this to say:
The article makes it sound like the BFV (Bradley Fighting Vehicle) is some sort of Klingon warship with a cloaking device and a sound silencer, capable of sneaking up on sleeping dogs and running them over before they can get up and move the 2 feet they'd have to get out of the way.
There's a whole lot more like that from vets and active duty personnel whose experience with that particular vehicle informs their judgment that the story "Thomas" tells stretches beyond implausible and into fiction.
And finally, there is the story of the mass grave, which is nearly impossible to prove or disprove without the assistance of the military, but which readers point out is strangely reminiscent of a story that came out of Germany last year that had German soldiers in Afghanistan desecrating remains there.
The uniformed men are seen holding up the skull and posing with it on a military vehicle. Another is seen exposing himself next to the skull. Bild's headline declares: 'German soldiers desecrate a dead person.'
< br> Other pictures show soldiers simulating oral sex with the skull, and one shows the troops having secured the skull to their vehicle like a bonnet mascot.
Suspiciously similar, but "Thomas" takes the story even further...his men were playing with the remains of children and one soldier, he says, wore a skull all day and night.
Of all the hundreds of comments and posts that have percolated throughout the blogosphere, to our knowledge not a single one is able to confirm a single aspect of "Thomas"'s account. For example, no one who has served at FOB Falcon recalls the woman at the chow hall. And the latest email to come in, just two minutes old:
I was actually in Camp Falcon earlier this month and I'm heading back from Afghanistan. I've contacted Captain Carson, the Public Affairs Officer for Falcon and I'll work on proving this Fact or Fiction.
Frankly, I don't believe ANY of this story. I've eaten in the Falcon chow hall and never saw anyone like the woman described.
And the man who wrote that...he stands behind his work: he keeps a blog at MattSanchez.typepad.com.
The New Republic has so far failed to address any of these questions.
Michael Goldfarb is online editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.