Baghdad Diarist Was On Guard When Questioned by Editors
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The soldier whose New Republic article about military cruelty in Iraq was labeled false by Army investigators refused to defend his accusations when questioned by the magazine, even after being told that the editors could no longer support him unless he cooperated.
In a recorded Sept. 6 conversation, the writer, Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, said from Iraq that the controversy had "spun out of control" and had become "insane" and "ridiculous" and concluded: "I'm not going to talk to anyone about anything."
Beauchamp stood his ground even after Editor Franklin Foer told him "that if you're not able to talk about this and able to stand by your story, I'm not sure we'll be able to stand by it. . . . You wouldn't have much credibility left in the public eye. . . . You basically made a vow to us that what you were publishing was the truth." Foer added that Beauchamp's wife, Elspeth Reeve, then a New Republic reporter, had said "that it's the most important thing in the world for her that you say that you didn't recant."
Beauchamp replied that she was a journalist and he was a soldier.
Despite the contentious conversation, Foer continued to defend the article days later. He did so again yesterday, reiterating that other soldiers whom the magazine would not identify had confirmed the allegations.
While Beauchamp "didn't stand by his stories in that conversation, he didn't recant his stories," Foer said in an interview. "He obviously was under considerable duress during that conversation, with his commanding officer in the room with him."
While the discussion "was extremely frustrating and engendered doubts," Foer said, Beauchamp defended his story in a subsequent conversation that was conducted with no superiors present.
In the Sept. 6 conversation, Executive Editor Peter Scoblic repeatedly urged Beauchamp to cooperate, saying that "Frank and his reputation have been dragged through the mud."
A transcript of the conversation was obtained by Internet columnist Matt Drudge, who yesterday also posted the internal Army report on the case. The report concludes that Beauchamp "is not a credible source," adding: "Private Beauchamp desired to use his experiences to enhance his writing and provide legitimacy to his work possibly becoming the next Hemingway." The investigating officer recommended that Beauchamp be given a "mental health consultation."
Beauchamp's July 13 column, published under the pen name Scott Thomas, was quickly attacked by conservative bloggers, sparking the biggest crisis for the liberal magazine since staff writer Stephen Glass was fired in 1998 for a series of fabricated stories.
Beauchamp had written that he and other soldiers had taunted a female soldier whose face was badly disfigured. The Army report said every soldier interviewed in Beauchamp's unit could not recall such a woman and called the account "completely fabricated."
The Army report also called Beauchamp's assertion that drivers of Bradley Fighting Vehicles deliberately ran over stray dogs "completely unfounded." And it dismissed as "false" Beauchamp's account that soldiers had played with the skulls of Iraqi children, saying just one skull was found and was buried with dignity.
Foer said the Army has refused to turn over supporting documents in the case, despite a Freedom of Information Act request, and then "selectively leaked" material to Drudge. In an e-mail to the magazine yesterday, Army spokesman Maj. Kirk Luedeke said he was "surprised and appalled that this information was leaked" and that the military would investigate.
Beauchamp, with the Army's encouragement, had agreed to talk to The Washington Post and Newsweek on Sept. 6, but canceled the interviews at the last minute at Foer's urging. Foer said yesterday that "given everything we have on the line, we have a right to have this exclusive line of communication with him."