Scott Thomas Beauchamp is a U.S. Army private serving in Iraq. He came to THE NEW REPUBLIC's attention through Elspeth Reeve, a TNR reporter-researcher, whom he later married. Over the course of the war, we have tried to provide our readers with a sense of Iraq as it is seen by the troops. Usually, these stories have been written by journalists who have traveled to Iraq and interviewed soldiers there, but last January Beauchamp sent us a first-person vignette that seemed a powerful contribution to the genre. It told the story of a young Iraqi boy who befriended American troops and subsequently had his tongue cut out by insurgents. Conservatives and liberals alike praised this essay.
We granted Beauchamp a pseudonym so that he could write honestly and candidly about his emotions and experiences, even as he continued to serve in the armed forces and participate in combat operations. Over the next six months, he published two other short personal accounts in our pages. Beauchamp's latest, a Diarist headlined "Shock Troops," was about the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war. The piece was a startling confession of shame about some disturbing conduct, both his own and that of his fellow soldiers.
All of Beauchamp's essays were fact-checked before publication. We checked the plausibility of details with experts, contacted a corroborating witness, and pressed the author for further details. But publishing a first-person essay from a war zone requires a measure of faith in the writer. Given what we knew of Beauchamp, personally and professionally, we credited his report. After questions were raised about the veracity of his essay, TNR extensively re-reported Beauchamp's account.
In this process, TNR contacted dozens of people. Editors and staffers spoke numerous times with Beauchamp. We also spoke with current and former soldiers, forensic experts, and other journalists who have covered the war extensively. And we sought assistance from Army Public Affairs officers. Most important, we spoke with five other members of Beauchamp's company, and all corroborated Beauchamp's anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one solider, heard about contemporaneously. (All of the soldiers we interviewed who had first-hand knowledge of the episodes requested anonymity.)
Beauchamp's essay consisted of three discrete anecdotes. In the first, Beauchamp recounted how he and a fellow soldier mocked a disfigured woman seated near them in a dining hall. Three soldiers with whom TNR has spoken have said they repeatedly saw the same facially disfigured woman. One was the soldier specifically mentioned in the Diarist. He told us: "We were really poking fun at her; it was just me and Scott, the day that I made that comment. We were pretty loud. She was sitting at the table behind me. We were at the end of the table. I believe that there were a few people a few feet to the right."
The recollections of these three soldiers differ from Beauchamp's on one significant detail (the only fact in the piece that we have determined to be inaccurate): They say the conversation occurred at Camp Buehring, in Kuwait, prior to the unit's arrival in Iraq. When presented with this important discrepancy, Beauchamp acknowledged his error. We sincerely regret this mistake.
In the second anecdote, soldiers in Beauchamp's unit discovered what they believed were children's bones. Publicly, the military has sought to refute this claim on the grounds that no such discovery was officially reported. But one military official told TNR that bones were commonly found in the area around Beauchamp's combat outpost. (This is consistent with the report of a children's cemetery near Beauchamp's combat outpost reported on The Weekly Standard website.)
More important, two witnesses have corroborated Beauchamp's account. One wrote in an e-mail: "I can wholeheartedly verify the finding of the bones; U.S. troops (in my unit) discovered human remains in the manner described in 'Shock Troopers.' [sic] ... [We] did not report it; there was no need to. The bodies weren't freshly killed and thus the crime hadn't been committed while we were in control of the sector of operations." On the phone, this soldier later told us that he had witnessed another soldier wearing the skull fragment just as Beauchamp recounted: "It fit like a yarmulke," he said. A forensic anthropologist confirmed to us that it is possible for tufts of hair to be attached to a long-buried fragment of a human skull, as described in the piece.
The last section of the Diarist described soldiers using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to kill dogs. On this topic, one soldier who witnessed the incident described by Beauchamp, wrote in an e-mail: "How you do this (I've seen it done more than once) is, when you approach the dog in question, suddenly lurch the Bradley on the opposite side of the road the dog is on. The rear-end of the vehicle will then swing TOWARD the animal, scaring it into running out into the road. If it works, the dog is running into the center of the road as the driver swings his yoke back around the other way, and the dog becomes a chalk outline." TNR contacted the manufacturer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle System, where a spokesman confirmed that the vehicle is as maneuverable as Beauchamp described. Instructors who train soldiers to drive Bradleys told us the same thing. And a veteran war correspondent described the tendency of stray Iraqi dogs to flock toward noisy military convoys.
Although we place great weight on the corroborations we have received, we wished to know more. But, late last week, the Army began its own investigation, short-circuiting our efforts. Beauchamp had his cell-phone and computer taken away and is currently unable to speak to even his family. His fellow soldiers no longer feel comfortable communicating with reporters. If further substantive information comes to light, TNR will, of course, share it with you.