Fact or Fiction?

This is a story to keep an eye on.

The New Republic runs a piece in this week’s issue titled “Shock Troops” and authored by Scott Thomas–described by the magazine as a “pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Baghdad.” “Thomas” is the author of two previous dispatches from Iraq for the New Republic, both of which recount deeply disturbing anecdotes (in one, an Iraqi boy who calls himself James Bond has his tongue cut out for talking to Americans; in the other, dogs feast on a corpse in the street). His latest piece is even more disturbing. It recounts several instances of gross misconduct by the men in his unit, some of which are, to echo the title of his piece, deeply shocking–If they are true–a big if, according to several people with experience in Iraq. One described it to me as sounding like a “pastiche of the ‘This is no bullshit . . . stories soldiers like to tell.”

One of the New Republic “Shock Troops” stories is about soldiers in a chow hall openly and loudly mocking a woman whose face had been “melted” by an IED. Another is of a soldier picking up a skull from a mass grave with hair and rotting skin still attached and wearing it around all day, even under his helmet.

One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.

The private wore the skull for the rest of the day and night. Even on a mission, he put his helmet over the skull. He observed that he was grateful his hair had just been cut–since it would make it easier to pick out the pieces of rotting flesh that were digging into his head.More from Ace who wonders if Stephen Glass is back at New Republic.

Update: Powerline posts some responses to the call for information from those in the military. One points out how incredibly difficult it would be to maneuver a Bradley the way described in the story, another who is at the base where the chow hall incident was said to have occurred said that not only has he never seen anyone fitting that description, but that he can’t imagine anyone making fun of an IED injury considering how many people in their units have been affected by them. John Noonan at OpFor points out some reasons it is hard to believe the story of the skull-wearing soldier.

Update II (via Lucianne): The Weekly Standard has now published some of the responses they have gotten from people stationed at the base where the chow hall incident supposedly occurred, as well as responses to the other “Shock Troops” stories. The story sounds more and more unbelievable as more information emerges.

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