Alan Bock is off next week, his column will
return Wednesday, June 7.
most fascinating (albeit somewhat depressing) aspect of the almost
non-ongoing discussion over whether former General Barry McCaffrey
ordered a slaughter of retreating Iraqi soldiers two days after
the cease-fire in the Persian Gulf undeclared war is the almost
complete lack of interest in the matter. The New
to its credit, ran an editorial that fairly competently summarized
the story told by
its former star investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in the New
Yorker. And the editorial called for an independent review
panel or an investigation by the Senate or the House. That' fine.
the networks have virtually ignored the story since its initial
two-day cycle which, because of McCaffrey's pre-emptive strike,
ran before the Hersh article actually hit the newsstands and therefore
before almost anyone had read the article. I wonder how many in
the mediacracy have read it yet. NPR did a decent initial story
but hasn't followed it up.
the Wall Street Journal gave McCaffrey himself an oped to
rebut the article and Newsweek
mentioned it in a May 29 issue that served mainly as a forum
for McCaffrey to justify himself. Foreign affairs columnist Georgie
Anne Geyer, ever a sucker for a man in uniform, did a column excoriating
Seymour Hersh that failed to show solid evidence of actually having
read or even skimmed Hersh's lengthy article.
WEAK, NON-SPECIFIC REBUTTAL
was most interesting about General McCaffrey's article in the Wall
Street Journal (essentially a rehash of the official statement
he released on Sunday the 14th as he was launching his
Hersh-berating media blitz) was its failure to deal at all specifically
with the most damaging allegations in Hersh's original piece. Never
mind the ancillary evidence that even though the official Army investigations
didn't lead to disciplinary actions, there is indirect evidence
that McCaffrey's conduct on March 2, 1991 was troubling enough to
military higher-ups that it could well have had an adverse impact
on his military career.
be sure, it is virtually impossible to rebut everything in a 25,000-word
article in a 1,000-word piece. And if you're not going to "dignify"
the attack by offering a line-by-line, incident-by-incident rebuttal
to each charge, you'll want to spend some time relying on authority
figures (Colin Powell) and general denials ("it is an article
that is both unfair and untrue"). But one effective way to
attack a long piece in a shorter piece is to pick one incident or
allegation, pick it apart convincingly, then assert that if the
writer got this important aspect so badly wrong, the rest of it
probably can't be trusted either. But McCaffrey relies almost solely
on general statements like "His story is dependent on accounts
from people who heard rumors of events and were concerned but who
themselves never witnessed anything."
POSITION FOR CONFRONTATION
Hersh, for example, doesn't come right out and say it, but he offers
a good deal of information that could easily suggest that General
McCaffrey put his troops into a position where they were almost
certain to come into contact with Iraqi troops heading toward Baghdad.
"While other American soldiers and their commanders stopped
and cheered the ceasefire," he writes, "McCaffrey quietly
continued to move his combat forces," expanding his area of
operations to be "within striking distance of a seventeen-mile
access road connecting the highway to the causeway, one of the few
known pathways out of the marshes and deserts in southern Iraq."
according to Hersh, "McCaffrey had moved his forces toward
access road without informing all the senior officers who needed
inside his own division operations center, at XVIII Corps, and at
Army headquarters," Hersh
strengthens the case for the inference that McCaffrey had moved
his troops precipitously by describing "an extended review
and planning meeting at King Khalid Military City" a few days
after McCaffrey's famous victory that began with comparing the reporting
logs of each division with the best available satellite data. "The
officers did not dispute McCaffrey's claim that the Iraqis fired
first," according to Hersh, "but the overriding issue
was the most basic one of all: why had the 24th Division
moved during the ceasefire into the path of the retreating Iraqis?"
It turned out, uniquely among Division commanders, that McCaffrey's
reported positions were dozens of miles off from what they really
least this is what Hersh reports, directly quoting high-ranking
military officers and an Army historian, reports. McCaffrey mentions
not a word about any of this, yet if Hersh is correct it might be
even more damning than the possibility that McCaffrey ordered what
amounted to a slaughter on the basis of little if any genuine or
dangerous provocation from the Iraqis.
his Wall Street Journal piece McCaffrey goes on the attack
against Seymour Hersh: "Several people Mr. Hersh contacted
now claim he misled his sources, fabricated statements from people
he never spoke with and made clear his bias and intention 'to bury'
McCaffrey. These claims are documented in letters and phone calls
to me." These are serious charges against a journalist who
claims to be a scrupulous investigator. Yet McCaffrey doesn't name
names of any of the people complaining about Mr. Hersh's methods.
does have a direct quote from retired Lt. Gen. Steven Arnold, who
he says wrote to the New Yorker to complain thus: "I
know that my brief comments in the article were not depicted in
an entirely accurate and were taken out of context … When the Iraqi
forces fired on elements of the 24th Infantry Division,
they were clearly committing a hostile act. I regret having granted
an interview with Mr. Hersh. The tone and thrust of the article
places me in a position of not trusting or respecting General Barry
McCaffrey, and nothing could be further from the truth."
Gen. Arnold's full letter is more detailed, explaining just which
statements were taken out of context and how. But while the statement
quoted by McCaffrey is unquestionably accusatory of Mr. Hersh, it
doesn't provide the outside observer enough information to be able
to guess which version is closer to the truth.