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Dod Document Dump: Grave Concerns

Remember that Pentagon program, revealed last month, that fed talking points to supposedly objective military analysts to push the Bush administration's line on Iraq? The Department of Defense just released thousands of documents from the program, so we asked Government Executive correspondent and TNR contributor Alyssa Rosenberg to sift through the documents and see what she can find:

One of our commenters on an earlier post joked about the "dangerous, bizarre and downright sadistic task" of going through 8,000 pages of DOD memos. The truth is, reading through these documents is more monotonous than anything else. The same statistics and stale phrases flash by my eyes page after PDF-ed page. And then something like this jumps out at me: "Talking Points on Mass Grave Sites in Iraq--May 30, 2003."

And for once they're not really talking points at all, just a sober plan for what must have been an impossible situation: How do you deal with families who are desperate to find their loved ones, even if only to confirm that they died and end an agonizing wait? And how do you allow them to resolve those questions while preserving evidence for war crimes trials? The answer seems to be that you fly in forensics experts who can conduct interviews, issue death certificates, and catalog the personal effects of the dead, and you work with community and religious leaders to explain to Iraqis why you hope they can prolong their searches and what you hope to find.

And if they can't wait anymore, you let them dig.

"At sites such as al Hillah where extensive digging has already begun," the briefing reads, "Military ... will help inform the families of the importance of careful exhumation, and provide them with water, shade, plastic bags, gloves and masks.... At sites that have not been subject to extensive digging, [the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance] will hire local Iraqis to guard the graves, and deploy humanitarian response teams to meet with families who appear at the sites to explain the problems with uncoordinated exhumation and inform them of ORHA's plans to assist in identification and reburial of remains."

The talking points present no clich