By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Army investigators have concluded that the private whose dispatches for the New Republic accused his fellow soldiers of petty cruelties in Iraq was not telling the truth.
The finding, disclosed yesterday, came days after the Washington-based magazine announced that it had corroborated the claims of the private, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, except for one significant error.
"An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by Pvt. Beauchamp were found to be false," an Army statement said. "His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims."
But New Republic Editor Franklin Foer is standing his ground. "We've talked to military personnel directly involved in the events that Scott Thomas Beauchamp described, and they corroborated his account," Foer said. The magazine granted anonymity to the other soldiers it cited.
A military official, who asked not to be identified because the probe is confidential, said no charges were filed against Beauchamp. Instead, the official said, the matter is being handled administratively, with Beauchamp punished by having his cellphone and laptop confiscated for an undetermined period.
The Army probe provides ammunition to conservative critics who have accused the liberal magazine of publishing Beauchamp's "Baghdad Diarist" essays without adequate checking and being too quick to believe that American soldiers would engage in questionable conduct. It also revives fading memories of the magazine's 1998 fabrication scandal involving writer Stephen Glass.
Beauchamp, 23, who is married to New Republic reporter Elspeth Reeve, wrote last month that a soldier had used a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to run over stray dogs, and that others had found and played with the skulls of Iraqi children. Beauchamp also wrote that he and other soldiers had openly mocked a woman whose face had been disfigured by an injury -- but later acknowledged the incident had taken place in Kuwait before his unit was deployed, not at a Baghdad base as he originally maintained.
Foer said last week that the Army investigation was "short-circuiting" the magazine's efforts, in part because it had become impossible to reach Beauchamp.
The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine that has led the charge against Beauchamp, cited an unnamed military source yesterday as saying that Beauchamp had signed an affidavit acknowledging that his three articles were filled with exaggerations and falsehoods. That could not be independently confirmed, but it is common practice for the subject of an investigation to sign a statement confirming or denying the conduct in question.
Foer said the New Republic had asked Maj. Steven Lamb, an Army spokesman, about the allegation that Beauchamp had recanted his articles in a sworn statement, and that Lamb had replied: "I have no knowledge of that." Before going incommunicado, Beauchamp "told us that he signed a statement that did not contradict his writings for the New Republic," Foer said.
"Thus far," he added, "we've been provided no evidence that contradicts our original statement, despite directly asking the military for any such evidence it might have."
But Weekly Standard writer Michael Goldfarb said: "We have full confidence in our reporting that Private Beauchamp recanted under oath."
It is not clear whether investigators might have pressured Beauchamp into disavowing the articles by indicating that charges might otherwise be filed against him under the military justice code. A military official said Beauchamp had committed two violations, making false statements and not obtaining permission to publish the articles, which were written under the name Scott Thomas.
The Army statement did not specify what were described as Beauchamp's falsehoods and does not plan to make its report public. "The matter is considered to be closed," said Lt. Col. Joe Yoswa, an Army spokesman in Baghdad.
When Beauchamp went public last month, he said in a statement that it was "maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq." He said he had provided "one soldier's view of events in Iraq" that were "never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. military."
Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at George Washington University, called the Army's refusal to release its report "suspect," adding: "There is a cloud over the New Republic, but there's one hanging over the Army, as well. Each investigated this and cleared themselves, but they both have vested interests."