Patterico's Pontifications

7/3/2004

Captain Ed Busts the Dog Trainer for Lazy Reporting

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 10:51 am

Captain Ed takes the Los Angeles Dog Trainer to task for laziness in its reporting on the circumstances of the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square last year.

In a story titled Army Stage-Managed Fall of Hussein Statue, the L.A. Times today states:

The Army’s internal study of the war in Iraq criticizes some efforts by its own psychological operations units, but one spur-of-the-moment effort last year produced the most memorable image of the invasion.

As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images — who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.

After the colonel — who was not named in the report — selected the statue as a “target of opportunity,” the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member.

. . . .

Ultimately, a Marine recovery vehicle toppled the statue with a chain, but the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the psychological team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.

I have no doubt that the Army report did say all this. And American soldiers may have rounded up some children to improve the photo-op. However, on the core issue of who decided to topple the statue, the accuracy of the Army report is seriously questionable. It took Captain Ed less than a minute of Internet research to find this account by Fred Kaplan of Slate — hardly a fan of Bush:

As I write this, 100 or so Iraqis are gathered in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, trying to tear down an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. Three men have set up a ladder, climbed up the pillar, and draped a long rope, noose style, around the statue’s neck. Now they have climbed down, and a few others, including one very beefy fellow, are swinging away at the pillar with a hammer. The task seems futile. The pillar is about 30 feet high and 6 feet or so in diameter. The statue stands about 30 feet on top of it. A couple of American Abrams tanks are loitering about; they could topple the thing in a minute, but they seem disinclined, for the moment—leaving the task, as they should, to the Iraqis. …

The crowd is still milling around Firdos Square, but they have stopped trying to topple Saddam’s monument. And now, here comes the American tank. The Iraqis are now tying a steel chain, no doubt U.S.-supplied, to the statue, and the Abrams M1 will serve as the toppler. Oh, no; it’s getting worse. Marines are getting up on the statue to pull it down themselves. One of them has draped an American flag over Saddam’s head. What a moron! The very picture of neo-colonialism, which will make front pages all over the Arab world. Now he’s taking off the American flag. No doubt, someone from Centcom, watching CNN, phoned the officer on the scene to chew him out and remind him of the orders against such displays.

A big sigh. Is this scene a sad symbol of the Iraqi people’s helplessness, after 30 years of brutal dictatorship, to master their own fate? Is this an equally sad symbol of America’s inability to liberate without conquering? Will the Iraqis need outside forces to oust not merely Saddam but the figments of his rule? Will the Americans help them without too strong a stench of arrogance?

As Captain Ed points out, Kaplan is hardly a tool of the Bush Administration — nor does his narrative from that day appear to be too fawning towards the Americans at the scene. Yet — if Kaplan’s eyewitness account is to be credited — it was Iraqis, not American soldiers, who made the decision to topple the statue. The Army apparently helped out (in a clumsy and heavy-handed manner) only when it became clear that the people were unable to topple it on their own.

It’s not enough just to summarize what the Army report says. The paper should give all relevant facts bearing on whether the claims in the report are true. Dog Trainer readers deserve to know that there is a credible eyewitness account that squarely refutes the conclusions of the Army report. Unfortunately, when the Times editors agree with the conclusions of a report like this, their critical thinking skills disappear, and they are content to allow their reporters to simply parrot the report’s conclusions. This attitude does not serve the paper’s readers well, as Captain Ed demonstrates admirably.


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